Health & Well-being

Let me think about that: Avoiding overcommitment

Parenting Place Avoiding overcommitment

There will always be worthy causes and people who need our help. There will always be things we can do, and many of them will be wonderful things, but we never need to do All The Things.

The point of this article is not to discourage you from signing up to stuff full stop. Signing up, joining in and volunteering can be great – for parents and kids alike. Joining the PTA, for example, can be a fun way to engage with your child’s school, meet other parents, share some of your skill-set and give something back to your community. Joining multiple committees, however, while also coaching a hockey team, running a book club, volunteering for school camp, doing kindy's laundry etc etc, all while trying to keep a family fed and watered… not necessarily as much fun anymore.

So how can you be a kind and helpful human, look after your loved ones and look after yourself, all while staying reasonably sane and avoiding overcommitment? Here are a few strategies to keep in mind.

Know your priorities – and be okay with them

Something as practical as writing a list of all your commitments can help here. Most of us have a bunch of commitments and responsibilities that we just get on with each day without really thinking about it. If we listed them, we might be surprised how much is on our plate. If you’re considering whether it’s practical to take on another commitment, a list like this could be helpful as it reminds us just how much of our time is already accounted for.

We only have so much capacity, and that’s absolutely okay

While it might be easier said than done, have a go at listing your commitments in order of priority. There will be some that are non-negotiables, and they obviously go at the top. But in times of reassessment, maybe those commitments towards the bottom of the list could shuffle off. Which leads me to my second point:

Know your limits – and be okay with them

We only have so much capacity, and that’s absolutely okay. When we know what our priorities are, we start to get a clearer picture of how much time we need to take care of those priorities each day/week/month. Once we’ve factored in some margin, we can see how much time is left over (if any!) and we get a pretty clear idea of where the edge of our capacity might be. Yes, we could do some stretching, and for a while that might be okay. But in the interests of self-care (an essential component of whānau care), we could also acknowledge our limits.

Know what you’re signing up for

How much time will be required? Oh, there’s a meeting once a month? Great, that might fit in... But it pays to double-check – will anything else be asked of you outside of that? Okay, you also need to write and distribute the minutes, prepare the agenda, check in with the treasurer, recruit some more members and raise some more donations. And wash the uniforms once a year and write the annual report once a week… or was that the other way around…?

When some of our time is requested of us, we need to carefully consider our response.

Have an awesome calendar/planning system

Any sort of visual family calendar can be super helpful to give you a picture of where everyone needs to be each week, and when. Calendars and diaries also highlight pressure points and clashes, and may shine a light on where you need to adjust commitments. For some, time-management is 100% digital, while others will be lost without their pen and paper diary. The key is finding a planning system that works for you, and then remembering to use it!

Let me think about that

Time is precious! It’s a valuable commodity but we can’t make any more of it – what we get is what we get. Hence, when some of our time is requested of us, we need to carefully consider our response. Many of us find this hard but it’s absolutely okay to say “No.” It’s also 100% acceptable to say “Let me think about it, and I’ll get back to you.”

It can help to have lines like these practised and ready.

  • “Sounds great, but I’ll have to check my diary before I commit.”

  • “Thanks for the opportunity – it’s something I’m interested in but I don’t have the capacity at the moment sorry.”

  • “I’m keen to get involved one day – call me back once the kids have left home and I’m nearing retirement.”

More family time is always a win

As uncomfortable as it can be to say no to things, and as awkward as it can feel to ‘retire’ from time-consuming commitments that you no longer have capacity for, a clearer schedule ultimately means more time for our families. And more time – fingers crossed – for ourselves!

Back to the diaries and family calendars – while they’re handy to remind us of what we’re supposed to be doing, we can also use them to remind us to do not much at all. Blocking out time in your weekly schedule for simply hanging out at home is a great way to ensure the family gets some refreshment, reconnection and rest. And these appointments are just as valid as board meetings and dance rehearsals, so you can genuinely reply to any clashing requests - “Sorry, we have something else on at that time.”

There are seasons

Most parents lead pretty hectic lives, 24/7. Raising kids is demanding! But, there will be times when you’ll have more capacity than others, and there’ll be times when you’ll feel more stretched than others. For example, newborns are one sort of demanding, teenagers are another. There may be a season in the middle where your cruisy kiddos just go with the flow and you have oodles of time to pump out the monthly PTA newsletter while they’re totally absorbed with Lego and DIY slime. (No guarantees though.)

There will likely be a season of caring for aging parents, perhaps a season of supporting sick relatives or friends. And sometimes the most demanding of seasons collide and you find yourself the jam in Generation Sandwich. Thinly spread jam at that.

And sometimes the most demanding of seasons collide and you find yourself the jam in Generation Sandwich.

As someone feeling a bit jam-like right now, can I highlight once again the importance of taking care of yourself. Some very special people in your world are needing you right now, and as challenging as that can be, it is a privilege to be available. But some wise choices around what you give your time to are vital. This may be a season where you can’t say yes to anything else outside your top priorities, and that’s more than okay. Because you don’t have to do, fix, support, sew, organise or fundraise for everything. Not ever, but especially not in this season.

The thing about seasons is they change. Some seasons we’re all about giving, others we’re on the receiving end. It has famously been said there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. Seasons are purposeful; they can be trusted. And (sorry if this is getting a little sentimental), that is the beauty of seasons; the beauty of life; the beauty, even, of sandwiches.

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam is a passionate communicator, especially on topics relating to families. After 20 years in Auckland working mainly in publishing, Ellie now lives in Northland, with her husband and their three daughters, where she works from home as content editor for Parenting Place. Ellie writes with hope and humour, inspired by the goal of encouraging parents everywhere in the vital work they are doing raising our precious tamariki.

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