Tuesday Topic: How Do You Keep From Drowning in the Needs?

Heather wrote to me with a great question that I hope many of you will answer.

I am a pastor’s wife and the homeschooling mother of two boys. The youngest was adopted from Ethiopia and has turned out to have a variety of special needs. His needs were all a very big surprise once we got him home, but God has used our sweet boy to open our eyes in so many ways. Now we are pursuing the adoption of a little guy with Down’s Syndrome from South Korea.

With all that our life demands between ministry, homeschooling and parenting one special needs child, I quite often feel overwhelmed by need. It feels like someone needs something almost every minute of every day. Unfortunately, I am the type of person that craves personal space and quiet and I really feel like I am drowning lots of days. I beg God daily for the ability to die to myself.

How do you keep from drowning in the great need of those that you love most and surround you on a daily basis? What do you do to stay in touch with the person you are? Do you even think that’s important?

This is such a great question for moms. I would love to hear how all of you balance this in your lives, and I know Heather would too. Take a moment to share your thoughts, even if they are simple, or if you are still wrestling with this yourself – we want to hear from you.

Encourage one another,


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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Tricia Sayre
    March 12, 2013

    Good question!! I can empathize with all of it! We homeschool our kids… 4 bios and 2 adopteds (I homeschooled my now 20 year old as well and he's still at home). So with 7 kids and being home with them all of the time, I feel your feelings of craziness, overwhelmed by needs every second of the day! I loved my quiet time and personal space and then God brought one child at a time to interrupt that for the last 12 years and it became eroded a little at a time. Now, it's just the way it is and I'm trying to remember it's a season of my life and one day they will be grown and that time and space will come back in some form. I pray before my feet hit the floor… unfortunately not a big block of time but enough to cry out for help for the day. I find time later in the day when homeschool is done to "get fed" spiritually… kids have their own hour of quiet so I can regroup/pray/read. I've had to rethink my expectations over the years- for home (being ok with some level of things not being perfectly clean), sometimes even my own room being taken over by children! I'm trying to take one day at at time and deal with the needs in front of me at the moment, otherwise I feel like I could drown. As for staying in touch with the person you are, I try to sprinkle in doing things I'm passionate about, scheduling fun things frequently in our schedule that I enjoy as well, schedule time with friends without the kids twice a month at night when my husband is home. I think our children need to see us passionate about things outside of parenting and need to see us having fun… so it's a win-win all the way around 🙂

  2. Jennifer Anderson
    March 12, 2013

    I have found that you have to let certain things go…sometimes that even means certain ministry commitments that no longer fit the needs of your family. I make sure I get time to myself daily in small chunks and I take bigger chunks about twice a month to refuel. I am also an introvert and like quiet and personal space. God made you that way and there is nothing wrong with that…you just have to find ways to make it work. I also have about a half dozen friends that really "get" what I am going through that i can send a text or email too for encouragement. I also have a once a month moms night out group with other moms of special needs kiddos

  3. Mary (Owlhaven)
    March 12, 2013

    Short answer: I write. Long answer: I stay up late at night to have a teensy sliver of life that is all me. I text a good friend when days get hard. I stash chocolate in the oatmeal bin to nibble when I need an afternoon pick-me-up. I take walks, alone or with my kids. I try to remember the bits of motherhood that make me feel like the very best mom– for me it's reading to my kids and playing games with them and taking them for walks– and I do THOSE things, just for a few moments nearly every day. That way each day I can point to a thing or two I did well, and feel more at peace about the other things I didn't have time to do. And speaking of things I don't have time to do– I focus on the majors (people, homeschooling,laundry, dishes, and living room) and consciously let other 'expectations' go. For example, we don't make beds very often around here. I rarely iron. My floors could be better mopped and my windows could use a cleaning, always. My flowerbeds are often weedy, and I dust maybe once a month. I have better things to do so I have released those chores AND the guilt that could come from not doing those things. Oh, also, train your kiddos to help you out!
    Blessings to you,
    Mary, momma to 10 including 2 from Korea and 4 from Ethiopia, writer, wife, child of God

    1. Mentor Mom
      March 12, 2013

      LOVE this . . . It is SO ME . . .

      Late nights. Texts to a dear friend. Chocolate (mine is in the form of an afternoon Mocha).

      Totally FORGET about other peoples expectations (and find balance with your sweet husband's expectations).

      Beds made? Ironing? Window cleaning? So not important in the big scheme of life.

      mama of 12 (incl. 2 from Ghana)

    2. Gwen
      March 12, 2013

      Hiding chocolate in the oatmeal bin is the most brilliant thing I have ever heard.

  4. Kara
    March 12, 2013

    I wrestle with this–though my three biological children have no special needs. I commend you, Lisa, and each adoptive mom who reads this blog. You are truly living an incarnational ministry that is super-human. I pray for each of you, that God would truly strengthen you in every way, for the needs that He meets through you every day!

  5. Jennifer Isaac
    March 12, 2013

    lately, I've been pretty firm about saying no to some of the needs that come at me from outside the family. it feels closed off, but i know it's for a season and i need to preserve the energy to serve my family. i have also grabbed back control of our calendar – I'm an introvert, too, and with three medical/special needs kids at home (and three kids impacted by medical/special needs), it takes every ounce of energy i have just to get through the appointments they require in this season. i have just started to block out "no appointment" weeks on the calendar so we can still find regular family routines and rest. And we've just started a "mom and dad hotel night" every other month. we used to get an overnight at home with kids off at relatives and respite, but my house often feels like a long to-do list these days. we don't have regular date nights, so I've found that taking what would be spent on two date nights is enough to find a nearby hotel deal on Priceline and dinner. : )

  6. Sara
    March 12, 2013

    This is a constant struggle for me – probably because the need feels constant. In reality, though, it's not. At this very moment, my children are all playing upstairs quietly. No one is fighting. Nothing is being broken (as far as I know, at least). It's lovely. Of course this came on the heels of an episode of lying, of skirting around chores, and some mild sensory dysregulation, but in this moment it's peaceful. Really peaceful. Sometimes these moments aren't long enough or frequent enough to feel sustaining or life-giving. This often leaves me with a shorter fuse and smaller patience than I ought to have.

    A good night's sleep for me is key. A quiet space in the morning to breathe, read my Bible, and collect myself for the day ahead are key. And yoga. Yoga is this new thing for me that I am finding to be a great coping mechanism, something good for both my long term physical health and my immediate mental and emotional health. Yoga is good. 🙂

    1. Tricia
      March 12, 2013

      I second the "yoga is good" Very helpful for me.

  7. Sara
    March 12, 2013

    What I meant to say before I prattled on about yoga is that I find that my perspective on the day's activities is really important too. I often neglect to recognize and be grateful for the peaceful moments that just spontaneously happen throughout the day. They might be few and far between, but they're there. I can often feel frustrated at the level of need, but pausing to celebrate those rare peaceful moments, either openly and with my kids or privately in my own heart, really helps me to slowly, moment by moment, shift my overall perspective to an honest but positive one.

  8. Sonya Hillrich
    March 12, 2013

    This link is a great, practical description of one mom's picture of self-care. I think it is a great example, not so different from what I have found to be helpful.
    Although I did fall apart last night, so I definitely don't have it all figured out. 🙂
    I have 5 kiddos, two from Ethiopia (one with more special needs than the other), from 7-17. I homeschool the two littles. A mom on a podcast I have since forgotten suggested that moms need differing amounts of self-care at different mothering seasons. I have found much comfort in that. If I need to plan more times of respite for myself, that is really ok. Even if it seems like it is not…
    Some things that work for me:
    –"Honey, can you oversee after dinner jobs while I go down & fold some laundry?"….sometimes just a bit of quiet refreshes me for the bedtime routine
    –every wednesday I take an hour at a coffee shop after my husband gets home (I have dinner ready for him to put on the table)
    –practicing Sabbath (between morning church & evening family night, little kids nap, big kids rest & we relax…no kitchen work, cleaning, etc)
    –we do showers for the 2 littles while I am finishing making dinner (they are independent…usually:) & this helps after dinner stuff move more smoothly & also gives me a bit of peace while I finish up dinner prep
    –2 littles always take an hour "quiet time" in the afternoon so I can hear myself think. This takes a bit of teaching & training starting off & reminders once in a while, but it is successful most days. We love booksshouldbefree.com for quiet time.
    These routines do offer time for the teenagers to wander through & need me, but it does *mostly* work out that I feel better prepared for moments of intense need by three or four kids… 🙂
    I am looking forward to reading other suggestions!

  9. Maria
    March 12, 2013

    I have been greatly helped by thinking through my priorities in the order suggested by Holly Pierlot when overwhelmed:

    Prayer – Person – Partner – Parent – Provider

    I believe it is important to stay in touch with the person you are and Holly does a good job of suggesting how as well as discussing situations where we may be too focused on ourselves (not usually my problem). I find that I have often been careless in letting the "provider" priority take too much of my time (work, obligations to those beside my husband and children) when I am overwhelmed. Parenting special needs and adopted children does not leave much room at times for the 5 th P!

    Pls check out the website:

    (Mother's Rule of Life)

  10. ahhodgman
    March 12, 2013

    Do you have to go forward with the new adoption? It seems like too much to handle at the moment.

  11. courtneycassada
    March 12, 2013

    i relate, heather. i'm a mom of 6 (but i don't homeschool) – but 2 aren't in school yet! 2 are adopted and 1 of those drains me DAILY with his issues (not technically "special needs" but it is to our family!) i am an introvert. i crave quiet. i need quiet time to THINK, to ponder, to figure out my purpose in a day. i am very intentional and canNOT fly by the seat of my pants. i think i've gotten better at that over the years (out of necessity) but it doesn't feel good.

    how do i keep from drowning? QUIET TIME EVERY AFTERNOON. i guard it with my LIFE. even on teh weekends and during the summer, when all the kids are home, we have quiet time. this is time where i can't HEAR you. the older kids can read or even play a game quietly together – as long as i can't hear you. my husband works LONG hours…so the days are LONG…and i need that quiet time to recharge in order to make it through the rest of the day!

    i also love to exercise. but do this either EARLY in the morning – or during the later morning when the kids are awake. it helps me feel like i'm taking care of myself – which i think is important.

    my husband and i also guard our time together as a couple in the evenings. of course there are always nights where we have meetings, or one of us gets together with a friend – but we always check with each other before we commit and we don't have back to back to back nights apart.

    i'm not saying i have it figured out. but these things help!

  12. Lisa H.
    March 12, 2013

    Hi, Lisa (and Heather)!

    I relate so much to Heather's questions because it's the life I also live as a pastor's wife, adoptive mom, and homeschooling teacher to some of my children. Here are a few answers that came quickly to my mind:

    1. Grow in discipline and schedules. When I was younger I didn't necessarily have a great schedule for how I did certain things. Now I know that generally speaking, I will do laundry on Monday, Thursday and a load or two on Saturday. I only wash bedding on Saturdays. I try to clean my car or write thank you notes on Fridays. My younger children now go to bed much more promptly than my older kiddos did. By 8:00 I am out of energy and ready for time with my husband and my older children….and for me too! I'm not naturally a super structured person, but I've grown in this area over the years and can see the benefits that come from the efforts.

    2. Grow in grace. While I'm continually trying to grow in my home management skills, I also have learned to give myself, and my family, more grace. If someone drops by and I have laundry on the living room chair (like now!) life will go on. If we have grilled cheese for dinner some days, it will be ok. I had to recognize that in parenting children with higher needs than my bio. kids, life would look differently and that is just part of God's call on my life for this season. I still try hard to keep up with laundry and food, because those are the things that have the biggest impact on my family, and help them feel cared for, but the dusting doesn't always get done each week, and I can live with that. Remember the verse from Isaiah that Jesus leads GENTLY those who have young….it's only as I've received God's grace to me that I can have the grace I need for my family.

    3. Recognize that you can't do everything or be everywhere. So focus on the things that only YOU can do. Only YOU can parent your children or be a wife to your husband. Someone else can teach Sunday School or organize a women's retreat. There will be other seasons of life when God might have you focus on those things, but for now, don't miss your family or their needs. At the same time, they can flex some to enable you to serve if you really have a passion for something and it's something that recharges you. This year I decided to teach my girls Sunday School class and I'm loving it! I prepare on Saturday evenings when my husband is also studying and the kids are in bed. And I organize a women's event 4 times a year, and my husband carries the load on that day. But these are things I've only done in the last few years. Before that I just couldn't add anything else to my plate. It's worked for this year, but I'm rethinking these responsibilities for next year, because we have two new children coming home to us this summer. Also, Andy Stanley has a principle that has greatly helped my husband and I in meeting the needs of our congregation. It's "Do for one what you wish you could do for all." I can't visit every elderly member, and my husband can't provide personal accountability for every man. But I can connect with one or two people that we love as family and my husband can handle accountability with two or three guys who are struggling. Of course I'll send a card here or make a phone call there, but I can't meet every need. This has been hard for me as our church has grown, but I'm making peace with it….

    4. Marry yourself a GREAT husband! I know I couldn't live the life I live if I had a different sort of husband. In the same way that God called me to share my husband's call of pastoring, my husband has accepted the call God has on my life to adopt and parent children. On many Fridays, my man's day off, he will "ride herd" so that I can exercise, go to a store by myself, and have lunch out. This is my time to recharge and have two consecutive thoughts! He understands how hard my days can be in dealing with needy children and is truly supportive and self-sacrificing to meet my needs. I love him SO much and we really are partners in ministry…..both at church and in adopting!

    I hope that helps some…I certainly don't have it all together but I'm encouraged by the growth I can see in myself as I look back over the last 10 years!

    Blessings in Jesus!

  13. Ashley
    March 12, 2013

    Unfortunately I don't have any advice for you, but I did want to comment and let you know that you are not alone. My husband and I have 5 children (ages 9-1), home school, both work full time (opposite shifts) and volunteer 25 hours a week for a ministry (Sole Hope). Two of our children were adopted from Ethiopia at age 6 (twin boys) and they both are highly demanding (because of various needs). I do find that a 7:30 or 8:00 bedtime and a cup of coffee with my husband at night help me feel like I can face the next day! :0) I will pray for you tonight! Hang in there Momma!

  14. Erin
    March 12, 2013

    As a fellow introverted mom, I wanted to suggest, first of all, to not feel guilty for needing some "peace and quiet" – God made you this way. I would also suggest that you take a hard look at what restores you the most (and possibly what takes it out of you!) and MAKE some time in your schedule for it.
    If you fall apart because you haven't taken care of yourself then EVERYONE suffers.
    with love and understanding, Erin 🙂

  15. Katie Patel
    March 12, 2013

    Wow, I can so relate to this question!! Its one I asked my husband, tearfully, when I told him I felt like the life was getting sucked out of me, and that no matter where I looked, someone had a NEED. I think I even hate the word NEED, ha ha.
    My hubs told me to find things that poured into me, things that refilled my tank, things that I loved to do. So, my first thing was to read, for pleasure. Books, for me, take me 'away' and let me take a mini vacation from what is going on around me. I make sure that i always have one (or two, or three) books going at a time. How do I have time for that? I snatch time…bits and pieces here and there. And as one poster commented above, I stay up a little later to get some reading time in.
    Music: specifically praise music. Somehow, for me, it fills my spirit to hear others' words in praise to God… a lot of times the lyrics will just fit so well with where I'm at, and it give comfort to know I'm not the only one that feels like I'm drowning, and that is crying out to God for relief. One lyric inparticular really grabbed me, it goes "Your streams in the desert dry" (I think it's from Aradhna, a Christian Indian band). Anyways, I did a word search in the Bible for streams in the desert, fountain of water, etc. and was SO BLESSED by what I read….how God is literally the living water that fills us when we are so dry. Its something I've heard over and over, but never did it have such special meaning for me until I was in this place of feeling like a living desert. It has become a word picture for me to lean on in those times that I'm just at the end of myself, and still the needs keep coming, from all directions (I have four girls, 5, 7, 7, and 9..two bio and two adopted.)
    Anyways, kind of a ramble but I just encourage you to seek Him to fill you up, and even Him to tell you some practical things specific to *you* that will refresh you..after all, He made the unique person that you are and He knows the little things that can delight you and give you a breath of fresh air.
    Oh, and one other thing…fellowship with other "trauma" moms….that is a big help too. Lots and lots of hugs and encouragement…keep sluggin' it out….praying refreshing stream of living water over us all!

  16. Bramfam
    March 12, 2013

    Be more scheduled – I wasn't for years but have to now:)

    Let more go that's not important- ask God to help you with this.

    Ask your husband for wisdom, we try to figure it out ourselves too often.

    Take up exercise again. Just started swimming in the early a.m. with a friend. Never swam before.

    Yes. You are important. Remember…. "What fills me up?"

    Early to bed when big kids don't need to talk. Early to rise with hubby. Quiet time… Renew my mind with truth…
    So prone to believing the enemies lies.

    Seasons…. All about seasons. Perspective.

    Breath and be thankful! Love…One Thousand Gifts.

    Sabbath is a must. We're getting back to it ourselves.

    Pray more. Worry less. Sounds trite but God has impressed this on me so strongly. Brings so much more peace.

    I have five. Two married. One expecting. One going to college. Homeschooling two. One adopted. Very involved in Healing Prayer ministry at my church, so I have to plan very carefully. A very real struggle for me right now. But asking God for wisdom every day. Want to be present in my kids lives. They are grown and gone so quickly:)

    All in all relying on His presence and minute by minute input to keep my crazy life on course. But He IS faithful!

  17. Christine N.
    March 12, 2013

    I never checked any of my babies into childcare at church until they were 9mo to a year old. The newest baby is foster and I had to get over the mama guilt of treating him "differently" than I treated them, but that hour and a half of holy yoga on Wednesday nights is totally recharging for me. I also believe that if he was biological that I would have checked him in too – just because he's the 4th child.
    I also do quiet time every day. After lunch as soon as the baby goes down the three older have to be in their rooms and quiet. It's really good for me to have that silence for about an hour.

  18. SleepyKnitter
    March 12, 2013

    Such a good question!

    “Taking care of me” was -too- much of a priority when our first little one arrived, and so was a huge frustration when I didn’t get that time that I was used to (I didn’t become a mother until I was 38, so I was definitely used to a lot of “me” time), and I think that frustration and selfishness on my part was harmful to our first child’s attachment to us. I am NOT saying “me” time is selfish — only that I personally used it at a selfish level. Over the last five years of parenting, I have learned to give away (some of) the more selfish part of “me” time but to hang onto the parts that keep my sanity in the midst of our kids’ plethora of special needs. I do hide chocolate in both the pantry and my bedroom closet, do spend time surfing adoption blogs like this one (thank you, Lisa, for your wonderful transparency!) after the kids have gone to bed, do hang on to my Bible and prayer time and a few other helpful things, but I have dropped a lot of the creative, relaxing, but still very self-serving hobbies that I pursued before (knitting, sewing, painting, etc.), and have replaced those with craft time with the kids, a loud, crazy, sometimes fun, sometimes miserable time. I really miss the selfish, quiet, relaxing, grown-up creativity time I had before! But little of it had anything to do with my eternity or, more importantly, with my children’s eternity, and the time I spend with my three little treasures now is worth walking away from how consumed I was by those hobbies.

    The bigger issue, though, has gradually become not so much being overwhelmed by how much my treasures’ needs keep me from “me” time, which I’m learning to deal with, but rather how overwhelmed I feel in trying to meet their many, many special needs at a level that could bring them healing: physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual, etc.. Each of our three are unique — I don’t know how families with ten or twelve or more adopted/foster children manage! With each of our children, I often have the feeling that if we could just find the “right” therapy, the child would come to a place of full healing.

    I have often used this illustration to explain our children’s situation: Their background of having been abandoned, neglected or abused, and then adopted by strangers from a different race, language, and nation, is like a situation, maybe a car wreck or a house fire, in which people have been physically burned but survived and taken for medical care. Many adopted/foster children have been “burned” over 80, 90% of their body, so to speak, due to the trauma they’ve experienced, and they need huge, powerful intervention from everyone around them in a long-term, ongoing way just to make it through the next week. With my children, it is more like they’ve been “burned” over, say, 30% of their body — they are definitely injured, they are in real pain, and their injuries could develop into long-term problems, even fatal infection, but they stand a solid chance of recovery with the right intervention, if only the people who are committed to intervention would take them seriously in spite of the fact that their story is not as dramatic as another adopted/foster child’s might be. I feel that I don’t have the knowledge to bring them that healing, but that if I could just find the “right” intervention, my children could lead “normal” lives in spite of their scars. And because I haven’t found that “right” intervention yet, and can’t afford what IS available, I feel overwhelmed by their needs, just like any mama would whose child has been physically burned in a fire but can’t receive medical attention. Yes, the mama can do a lot for her child changing the bandages and so forth on her own, but she knows there is far better care out there that can make a far greater difference in the child’s future. I think this is probably my number one struggle in parenting these darling, precious children, and I haven’t yet reached a place of peace with it.

  19. Shannon
    March 13, 2013

    I agree with ahhodgman about holding off on the adoption of the sweet South Korean boy if you can. The drowning daily seems serious to me & I can relate as an introvert who needs my personal space too. I know I don't know you at all, just felt I should encourage waiting on the adoption if you can until you feel better on a more regular basis. I know God is big & trustworthy, I also know it's wise for us to know our limitations. Many of these suggestions are so helpful, I hope you find more peace in the day-to-day. Thank you for being vulnerable with your question and opening yourself up to encouragement. 🙂

  20. crazycatruns
    March 13, 2013

    Ugh. This hits too close to home lately. I've had to REALLY look at what are "needs." Something I might have considered a "need" 6 months ago simply has been bumped down in priority. Similarly, I have learned to be careful about not noticing the needs of my non-needy children. The needs that are so quiet, so unobtrusive, that they aren't always met because they don't feel like an immediate fire. Also, you can give and give and give and (If you are anything like me) you'll go crazy and un-do much of the good you've done. Make yourself and YOUR needs a huge priority. You can't take care of others if you don't care for yourself.

    1. Jennifer Isaac
      March 13, 2013

      I so appreciate what you have said here about not noticing the needs of your non-needy children. We have very much tuned in lately to what our "healthy" bio kids need – the needs of being impacted by life with an overwhelmed mom and special/medical/behavioral needs are very significant. We have one child who could always be very easily "set on the back burner" – and we have to be very intentional about not letting that happen – he is also the child who loves to talk when he gets you one-one-one but will quietly withdraw and simmer during chaos. It would be so easy to let that slip during the difficult times, so we make sure that he is getting to ride with us on errands, etc. to get that time – his very real need that could easily be left unmet. Our other bio child's needs simmered low for quite some time and have boiled over in recent months. It is taking a very firm line in the sand about how very little else we can add to our plate (and our calendar) and very intentional "letting other things go" to keep balance in our family and to make sure that we're meeting the needs of all our kids – the quiet needs and the blatant ones. And it is requiring some honest "taking stock" of what needs our family can add during the few years in front of us as our kids move through adolescence.


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