This child learned problem solving skills while he was staying at my home for a year.  Unfortunately, he tended to learn the hard way.

I suggested we both take a time away for 10 minutes to think about a minor conflict of opinion we were having. Taking a breather when emotions are high is a great way to come back and approach a problem that seems to have no other obvious solution.  A few minutes later, the conversation went like this:

Little Person:  I’m done now, right? It’s been ten minutes.

Me:  No, it hasn’t.  It has been five minutes.

Little Person: Okay, I won’t argue about it, but just let me say that women tell time a lot different than men!

Me:  I’d be willing to bet that this is not the last time in your life you will hear yourself say that, little man.

Parenting children can be a constant exercise in your sense of humor.  Watching for the light-hearted moments in parenting makes some of the tougher times easier to handle.

Time. It is said that “time is money.”  If that is true, what are you willing to exchange your time for as though it were currency to spend? Time becomes more of a sticky problem as you grow older and take on more responsibilities.  My question for you today is, “Are you taking time to take care of yourself as you take care of them?”

What did you like to do before you got married?  Before you had children?  Before you started fostering? Some things may no longer hold any appeal for you, but are there some of them that you wish you could do again?  If you are like me, there is never any time to do those things that you simply want to do to take care of yourself. But is it a question of time, or is it a question of problem solving?

Are you so busy you can’t take time to problem solve?

As a super busy mom with a demanding high-stress job working in the courts with victims of crime, I often wished I could get in the car and just drive by myself to clear my head.  When in the car, I had kids’ CDs playing, or someone was asking me for something.  Just a quiet ride in the car was all I wanted at one point.  I longed to get lost in good worship music on a peaceful drive; but I was a single mom, and that wasn’t going to happen.

Could it happen?  Could I problem-solve my way through to get this simple need of mine met without bringing about more problems than solutions?  The problem rolled around in my brain for a few weeks before the solution came. I realized I had to be bold and ask a friend to watch the children for a few hours for no other reason than I wanted to go for a ride in the car.  I had the solution, now I just needed the boldness to ask.

Most friends will babysit for a good reason –doctor appointments, school conferences, etc., but few would say yes for a frivolous, unnecessary reason.  One very good friend did, and I got my quiet ride to Sedona to enjoy the changing colors of the fall leaves with quiet worship music in the background.  Of course, I had such a good time that I went back and took the kids with me the following weekend.

While I don’t love problems, I do love the challenge of problem solving.

I taught my children to problem solve deliberately as part of their growing up experience. They needed to be quick to sort through issues and get to solutions.  Many people give up on great ideas, things they wanted or needed, simply because there was a roadblock or two in the way of the plan. Any glitch made them feel helpless. The solution?  Problem solve. My daughter became the queen of problem solving.

I had planned to attend a conference in Cleveland, Ohio, over a five-day period.  I would fly back to Phoenix on the sixth day.  However, on the sixth day, my daughter was being graduated from her school of ministry. I couldn’t miss that. It was in Tucson, two hours away from the Phoenix airport.  I would be driving during the ceremony, only to get there after it ended.  On the other hand, the conference was for work, so I couldn’t cancel it

Knowing my daughter was disappointed that I might not make it to this life event, I deliberately decided to problem solve.  Sitting at the kitchen table, I rolled a marble around in my hand, pondering options.  I asked her to give me time to problem solve.  Several scenarios came up such as flying home the last day of the conference. My employer would frown on that. Then my brain explored how to get to the graduation in Tucson early.  There was no time to fly to Phoenix, drive Tucson, and catch the ceremony. I decided to give my brain a few days to work on the problem.

Our brains continue to work on problems and sometimes surprise us with answers.

In a few days, as I expected, a solution came to me. (I need to mention I also pray over problems and believe I get wisdom in the process).  I only had to change my departure flight to the Tucson airport and fly out and return there. Yes, the down side was that I would drive four hours to Tucson to catch  flight, but I didn’t care. I would be at the entire conference, reduce my driving time to the ceremony, and be on time for her event. Did I have to change my plans a little bit to make it work?  Sure.  But it was a choice to exchange my time for something I wanted — like buying family memories, not with money, but with time.

It may seem like a small victory, but it was huge to my daughter when I explained the new plan. After that my daughter was hooked on problem solving.  I would occasionally walk into her room where she was sitting with paper and pencil. She appeared to be daydreaming, but I asked her what she was doing. She would say that she was problem solving something that seemed impossible.

How does problem solving work?

A study done by the University of British Columbia showed that our brains are much more active when we daydream than originally thought. Daydreaming is usually associated with laziness or inattentiveness. However, daydreaming or “mind wandering” as the study calls it, is very useful in the function of problem solving. The study said that as often as a third of our day is spent in mind wandering, involving three areas of the brain which were once thought to function independently. We don’t just daydream or just work attentively –apparently, we can do both at once. Our wonderful brains may unconsciously turn our attention from immediate tasks to sort through important problems in our lives.

The study said that people who were trying to solve complicated problems might be better off switching to a simpler task and letting their mind wander (University of British Columbia as reported in Science Daily, 12 May 2009.)  That confirmed something I  always taught the 16 kids I parented.  I encouraged them that if they get stuck on a problem on a test, skip it and go back to it later. I told them their brains will be working on it while they move on and come back. Until now, I didn’t know how that worked.

Back to the question of your goals

Back to my question about what you would like to do today or tomorrow or in a year or in the next five years?  Begin to tackle an easy problem.  Imagine your problem as a marble in your hand. You can pick it up and examine each part of it.  At some level, you will be letting your mind wander.  When I do something like that,  it helps me think of the problem as having more than one solution. I need to see only one of them.

I said all this to say that I genuinely want to see you take care of yourself as you take care of them.  Think of what you would like to do that would make you happy. You don’t have to spend money to do everything you want.  You can spend time that would have gone to other less memorable events.

What would rejuvenate you for the next difficult task coming along? Mull it over, pray about it, let your mind work on it.  Then explore all the options that come to you, choosing one that either is spot on or comes very close.  Rest, relax, rejuvenate.

Take time to take care of yourself as you take care of them.  Send me an email and tell me how you did that. Click here to contact me.