Have you heard the story about the new secretary in a small office? At the end of her first week on the job, her boss asked her how things were going.
“I’m sorry, but I just can’t seem to get anything done. Every time I start on a project, the phone just keeps ringing.”
We may chuckle at this young woman who seemingly didn’t understand that answering the phone was a part of her job, not just another interruption. But as moms, we need that same reminder, don’t we? Interruptions are part of our job description.
Management advisors tell us to “plan your work and then work your plan.” This is a fine idea for corporate life, but it’s hard to carry out for a mom with little ones. Our best-laid plans often are laid aside when they intersect with the plans or needs of others.
Moms have a unique set of challenges in their work. Unlike those with most conventional jobs, it is often impossible to stick with one task until it is completed. Phone calls, needy children, and other demands constantly interrupt. We find ourselves scrambling to complete a project in snatched bits of time.
How then can we manage our time when faced with so many interruptions? Let’s look at how Jesus managed His time.
No one would argue that anyone in the history of the world had more demands on His time than Jesus did, nor more interruptions. Crowds of people constantly begged for His attention:
Some wanted His service: “Lord, make me whole.”
Some wanted to trick Him: “Is it lawful to pay taxes?”
Some wanted honor from Him: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
Jesus was torn in many directions. No wonder He sought out time to pray—so He could hear what the Father’s will was for Him that day. He knew there was enough time in each day to accomplish all that the Father had assigned for Him to do, but no more. We too need to seek out the Father for the day’s orders.
Sometimes an interruption is divinely appointed. Luke 8 tells about one of Jesus’s many exhausting days. He had set out across the Sea of Galilee, calmed the storm, and cast out a legion of demons into a herd of swine. Crowds waited for Him when He arrived back on the shore, all with expectations.
Jairus, a ruler of the local synagogue, begged Him to come and heal his twelve-year-old daughter. While on the way to his house, a woman who was sick with a discharge of blood touched the hem of Jesus’s robe.
Jesus could have ignored her to push ahead and meet Jairus’s expectations—after all, Jairus was an important man, and his daughter was critically ill. But Jesus stopped, spoke encouraging words to the woman, and then went on to the ruler’s home to raise the child from the dead. The woman’s interruption served a divine purpose, delaying Jesus until the child had actually died, thus bringing greater glory to God. By stopping on the spot to deal with the woman’s need, He accomplished God’s will for all involved.
So how do we handle interruptions in our homes? Here are some tips that may be helpful:
Even a young child can be taught that he is not the center of the universe. If you are talking with someone on the phone or in person, teach your child to wait patiently for you to finish. He can place his hand on your arm to notify you that he needs your attention; you can nod to him, acknowledging that you will break away when you can. Be sure to thank him for his patience, and don’t exasperate him by delaying too long.
On the other hand, help your children understand when to urgently interrupt you. I sometimes told my sons, “Don’t bother me for the next thirty minutes except in case of blood, flood, or fire.” They understood that in a true emergency, I wanted to be interrupted.
Sometimes we need to be interrupted. I have often thought that it is only by God’s grace that toddlers survive until adulthood, given all of the hazards they face! Thankfully, God has given women the ability to multitask. We can empty the dishwasher while keeping an eye on what is cooking on the stove and still be aware that “it is too quiet in there.”
Prevent electronic interruptions. Your children should not have memories of a mother who was constantly checking her cell phone. Remind your friends and family what hours you will be homeschooling. Then silence the ringer and let voice messaging handle calls from strangers. If you must keep your phone turned on, as I did when an elderly relative relied on me for emergencies, train your children to continue working while you answer it.
Likewise, if you are working at your computer, disable pervasive electronic interrupters like Facebook or e-mail notification sounds when you need to get something done. It is also possible to set your computer so you can work offline.
It is important to set goals, make lists, and follow schedules. But we must also realize that interruptions are an expected part of our job description as mothers. Build margins into your schedule. Allow extra time to get things done and to get out the door.
There are simply some interruptions that you cannot control. I cannot tell you how many times I had all five boys dressed and ready to go to church on a Sunday morning, and something would come up to delay us. This was an extra challenge because I was the church pianist. We would be ready to walk out the door, and the baby would have a head-to-toe diaper blowout. Or the hogs would have gotten out and were merrily uprooting our lawn and flower garden. Of course, after we rounded them up, everyone involved needed clean clothes. More than once, we took two vehicles to church.
And lest you think that your life will be free of interruptions once your children are grown, consider that this is a great time of preparation for a future season when you may be caring for an older relative. Or you may be assisting your husband in projects around the house, as I am. The management skills you learn now will enable you to carry the load God gives you in the future.
Philippians 2:3–7 has helped me to keep interruptions in perspective:
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.
As Max Lucado reminds us, God loves us just as we are, but He doesn’t intend to leave us that way—He wants us to be just like Jesus. Let’s pray for the patience to model our response to interruptions after the Savior’s.
©2015 by Marcia K. Washburn, who deals with frequent interruptions in her home in northeastern Colorado. Stop by her website at marciawashburn.com or like her at Facebook.com/MarciaKWashburn, where she shares tips and items of interest for parents and musicians.
Marcia Washburn is mother of five homeschool graduates. Visit www.MarciaWashburn.com for books, articles, and to sign up for her newsletter.