Friday, July 24, 2009

Jonah Days: When Routine Goes Awry

The other day, Mrs. Anna T. at Domestic Felicity asked me what I do when my daily rhythm doesn't goes as planned. What happens, for example, when the kids are having a bad day, or James is going through a growth spurt and I'm tied to the couch nursing him every hour on the hour, or we've had a rough night because Sophia was sick or James was cranky, or I'm ill--yeah, no one told you in the mommy job description that there were no sick days, or when it just happens to be one of those days where nothing goes right and you can't even explain how it happened but everything you attempt either turns out to be an epic failure or simply never happens at all. What about those days?

Well, I try to begin every day with prayer. I admit, there have been days where the first thing on my mind has been a nice shower after getting covered in breastmilk at night, and then I'm starving and the only prayer I start my day with is a hurried grace before chowing down my breakfast. What can I say? I'm a sleep deprived nursing mother. That's no excuse, of course, and I do strive to begin each and every day with prayer, but I'm also trying to be honest that sometimes it doesn't happen. If it doesn't happen on "one of those days", usually I'm sunk. I let all the foibles and failures get to me, I feel like I'm litterally sinking as I try to tread water, and I can't keep my head above water. Then, I am humbled, and I remember that I can only get through my days on the strength of my Father and not on my own merit.

When I do pray on the morning of "one of those days," I find that it buoys me, even when things get tough. Morning prayers put me in perspective: I wasn't created to do laundry or to cook a three-course dinner or even to have clean floors. My vocation, primarily, has to do with love: love God, love my husband, love my children, love my neighbor. If I have done that, and everyone is clothed and fed, it is a successful day, in the broad scheme of things.

All very nice in the abstract, but on a Jonah day, even with prayer, it sometimes feels like I can barely keep my head above water, so how do I manage? Well, I don't know if this is true in everyone's situation, but for me, you can usually tell when it's going to be one of "those days" first thing in the morning. Breakfast doesn't come together or the kids are cranky, or you just know you're going to be low energy from the way the night before transpired and you just feel the storm a-brewing. This may sound dreary, but I actually find it helpful: I know what I'm dealing with and can try to adjust my expectations for the day accordingly--and get in some needed prayer at the get-go!

Next, I evaluate what I had planned for that day (usually, I draw up a "to-do" list the evening before), and I edit. I plan to make sure all three meals are prepared and cleaned up, and then I plan one activity for the morning and one for the afternoon. If I get more done, great; if I don't, fine. The most important weekly tasks are, of course, laundry, grocery shopping (which requires menu planning, of course), and cleaning. Errands, baking treats, and other such tasks can fall by the wayside if necessary. Typically, I will plan "making dinner" as my evening task (it needs to get done, after all), and my morning task will either be an "essential chore," such as laundry, which I try to get Sophia to "help" me with, as it keeps her amused (and in sight) or, if she's just really having a rotten day, I let the chore slide and we just get outside so she can work off some of her energy and so that I can ensure she will sleep well later in the day.

If you take a look at my weekly routine, you'll see that I only plan to do one of these "essential tasks" on any given day, and that they all appear at the beginning of the week. This is to ensure that they do, indeed, get done. If for some reason I can't even accomplish my one major housekeeping task on Monday (laundry), which rarely happens, then I can usually squeeze it in on Tuesday along with my organization and menu planning. And, Friday is always a mini-clean and errand-running, so if I need to, I can do the tasks that didn't get done earlier in the week on Friday and still have a relaxing weekend. This routine helps me not to stress out if one day is a total wash, because I know I have a buffer built into my week to absorb that day's tasks, if necessary.

On Jonah days, I try to commit to twenty minutes of prayer as soon as the kids are asleep for their afternoon nap. Usually, this will be while I eat lunch. Usually, it's a rosary. There's something about the rosary that is such a comfort for a frazzled mother's soul; something about the combination of familiar prayers, the reflections on Christ's own life, and the tangible feel of the beads in my hand. This gives me strength to finish out the day and often cheers and calms me. After prayer, if I'm tired, I nap, and if I'm not, I try to make up what I let slide in the morning.

I also try to make sure I always have one room of the house that is totally organized. Usually, it's my own bedroom, because, let's be honest, I have two young kids. Honestly, my house is normally rather put together, because organization calms me and mess distracts and frazzles me, and this is why I have to have one clean room. On Jonah days, if the living room is in shambles, dishes litter the kitchen counters, and Sophia is having a tantrum, I can put her safely in her room for a few moments, escape to my clean sanctuary and pray until I am in a fit state to serve my family again. I really recommend having a sanctuary somewhere in your home that is always kept the way you like for that purpose, even if it's just a corner--or perhaps a spot in your garden outside. Someplace that can calm your soul when you need a brief respite to ask the Lord to refill your cup.

I realize this post is a bit of my ramble, so to sum up: I advise the following steps to dealing with the days that don't go as planned:
  1. Begin with prayer.
  2. Keep perspective on your vocation (this is just one day of many).
  3. Establish a routine that will absorb the shock of a real disaster of a day without throwing your entire household out of whack.
  4. If you feel one of those days coming on, pick one task for the morning and one for the afternoon. If you can, deal with the rest during the children's naptime and/or after they have gone to bed for the evening. Remember, loving your family is more important than a clean house, and the world won't end if you have to put on a slightly dirty shirt. Cherish the day.
  5. Keep a sanctuary in your home that you can escape to for a brief respite when you need it. You cannot give to your family what you yourself do not possess; ask the Lord to refill your cup.

Nobody likes "those days," but Jonah days do come to all of us. When they do, it pays to be prepared, and it is also wise to take them like a duck: just swim along and let the rain roll off your back.


  1. Thank you so much for this post Bethany, it has come at a time when I seem to having Jonah WEEKs, your advice is wonderful.

  2. Bethany,

    This is excellent advice for anyone having a rocky day, thanks for the post :) We all need to remember to slow down and ask the Lord for patience when we're having a Jonah day---that's often when we get wrapped up in our issues and forget to go to Him! I occasionally find myself with way too much to do or just annoyed for some reason and realize I haven't asked the Lord for help. It always gets better when I do.


  3. As a homeschooling mom of four (ages 9-2), I have to say there is a LOT of wisdom in this post. Pray, do your best, and roll with it. I find I prioritize a lot on Jonah days (weeks), and I have to be flexible. Also, a sense of humor is an absolute must! If I find myself losing my humor, I put myself in time out (which the kids find hysterical, and usually puts everyone in a better mood). And humility. I get myself into more trouble with my pride than anything else.

  4. I love the name "Jonah Day". I think I may adopt it myself. You are so right to keep focused on Christ, relying on Him to get you through. May your "Jonah Days" be limited and your "Joyous Days" abound!

  5. Bethany, thank you so much for your helpful response!

  6. I just joined the homemaking link-up and what a beautiful post to start up with.
    Your "Jonah Day" write up was so good. Your insistence of starting with prayer has been my mainstay for this last decade of parenting I have been swimming through. You raised a very good point, that when you know it is going to be "one of those days" to just accept it, and come up with a realistic plan. I think we as women and mother's especially, view our Jonah days as evidence of a character flaw, or sin in ourselves, that has to be fixed. Not as simply the reality of life. A wonderful, wise reminder to be more like a duck, less like a squawking jay.


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