Compartmentalizing for the moment :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

Compartmentalizing for the moment

Cheryl Dickow

Photograph by Simon Zirkunow - (CC)

There are a lot of good and valuable tips that I have received over the years in my on-going efforts at mothering-- and it really has been an on-going effort. 

As anyone who knows me has heard, I haven’t found myself to be one of those women to whom baking, sewing and letting things roll off her back come naturally. I work at everything—or so it often seems to me. Working at things translates into a personal quest of seeking and searching wisdom for the home front.

It has also meant learning to love who I am and assume that along with my own foibles, there’s been some good things I’ve brought to the table, literally, even if they haven’t been home-baked or homegrown.  That is clearer to me as time goes by, although I still feel pangs of worry or guilt when it comes to my own mothering efforts: Could have… Should have… Would have…

But now, as my sons are all “adult” age (this is only by worldly standards because in my eyes they will always be my “boys”), I am much better at letting go of the concerns that I did it all wrong, or mostly wrong. I can see that everyone turned out quite well and while I hesitate to take full credit—because then I also have to take all the blame!—I do appreciate some of the great advicee I’ve been given along the way.

Interestingly, the most productive piece of parenting advice came not from a mother but from a career woman. At first I admit that I was not really paying attention to this woman’s words. After all, she was a full-time career woman with no husband or children and I was a wife/mother/career-woman/post-feminist gal making a go of things. I had much more on my plate than she did, I was sure!

A few minutes into our conversation, however, I began to hear her more clearly. When I made a connection through our similarities, I saw her through different eyes. I could hear how she was also feeling pulled in a thousand directions and weighed down with responsibilities for her own financial well-being and for the caring of her aging mother-- and all the while, wondering if God was calling her to the vocation of marriage, or if “this was it.” 

We were one and the same even if our daily personal experiences were worlds apart. We both wanted to live life in a joyful, successful way. We both wanted to answer God’s call, but also grow as He intended based upon our personal earthly experiences. 

And that’s when I really heard how she coped, how she managed and how she embraced every day with joy: she compartmentalized.

Compartmentalization wasn’t about organization. I was quickly able to see that you could be completely disorganized but still be able to compartmentalize in your mind and thus your spirit could be settled.

What this meant was looking at the day, that moment when your feet hit the ground, not from a “How-in-the-world-am-I-going-to-accomplish-everything-today?” perspective; but, rather from a “Right-now-I-have-to-make-breakfast” perspective. You train yourself to focus on a narrower picture of the demands on your time.

Compartmentalization is not about looking at the whole day, but looking at the first piece, the first step, and not even reminding yourself that there are more pieces—because even by just recalling the “whole picture” a person can be overwhelmed.  As the old adage says: take it one step at a time; put one foot in front of the other.

As this woman explained, she did not get up in the morning and look at her appointment book. If she did, her mind and temperament would lead her down the “How-can-I-do-all-this?” path. Instead, she learned how to take it one step at a time.

She learned to enjoy her morning routine of coffee and breakfast, whereas days gone by she drank coffee as she contemplated her day and began role-playing what would happen in this meeting and what would be said in that conversation. She confided to me that before she left the door to go to work she would often be exhausted from these scenarios she created in her mind!

That I could understand—she was speaking my language. I also liked that what she was doing was considering ways in which her God-given personality came with weaknesses that were hers to master; and that He also gave her strengths and grace from which to draw upon.

She continued by saying that she purposely chose to listen to relaxing music on the way to work, as opposed to her previous pattern of imagining the conversations and deadlines that were before her or wondering how she would grocery shop for her mom while also finishing a work project.

Ultimately, and somewhat ironically, this was the best piece of parenting advice I had ever received. 

Even now, twenty-some years later, I feel indebted to this woman for her honesty about her day and for the way in which God opened my eyes to this message. It wasn’t that we were completely separate women on completely different journeys. We were women doing our best to live out our lives with joy and peace. We were women interested in knowing how to turn weaknesses into strengths and how to keep stress from stealing our joy.

I can’t help but think how fortunate I was to have had her share her personal journey with me. And I wonder how much we miss when we dismiss the value of another’s message, because we erroneously believe that differences separate us-- rather than realizing that God has ways of drawing us all together, and that we all have something to learn and share with one another.

God is good that way, knowing what we need and bringing it to us when we need it.


Photograph by Simon Zirkunow - (CC)

Topics: Family , Friendship , Home Management , Meditations , Personal Growth , Workplace , Young Women

Cheryl Dickow is a Catholic wife, mother, author and speaker. She co-authored and published the best-selling All Things Girl books and co-hosted the EWTN 13 part televison series of the same name. Her company is Bezalel Books (Bezalel is Hebrew and means "in the shadow of God") where her goal is to publish great Catholic books for families and classrooms that entertain while uplifting the Catholic faith. Her website is where parents, teachers and catechists are invited to browse through titles.  

View all articles by Cheryl Dickow

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