This content was originally posted on WrapsodyBaby.com, a website and babywearing business formerly owned by the author.

I spent many years as a single mother, juggling and dropping balls, trying to remember all the things I was in charge of, finding the things I’d misplaced. I had never heard of a family control center, let alone considered a mind map for the family control center.

Then, I met and married my second husband. Now I was remarried, juggling and dropping balls, tossing things to my husband who often either dropped them or tossed them back toward me, and finding the things he’d misplaced — or things he moved after I misplaced them. We had two more kids and my eldest three came home full time. (Previously, my custody arrangement was a shared arrangement.) It became increasingly clear that our twice exceptional family was falling into chaos. I began struggling to define the seemingly trillions of undefinable, invisible tasks I was responsible for remembering; the expanding galaxy of ideas I was in charge of managing.

Simultaneously, I began learning how better to manage my business as Wrapsody grew and thrived in spite of its status as an ambivalently attached sixth child. For five years, I had three children who were spending 2-3 nights a week with their father. While it was less than ideal, it meant I was able to very successfully split myself into two people: Three days a week, I was a businesswoman and a workaholic. Four days a week, I tried to be supermom, fitting a week’s worth of homeschooling and playing into a small bit of time.

Creating a mind map for the family control center

Now, with a full-time family and needy kids, the facade of my Self as a capable, strong woman was crumbling. I did what I always do when life falls apart for me: I began listing, counting, categorizing, and sorting. Beginning with the principles of the “E-Myth” series, I mind-mapped my business, my life, and my finances using Coggle.it. I worked to define responsibilities in my home and office.

Although sharing responsibilities with my spouse has NOT been a smashing success, I have learned to come back to the map so I can focus on one area at a time without worrying that all the things I’m juggling will come crashing down around me. And when life is overwhelming, I can decide what responsibilities to let go of. I consciously assess the number of spoons I have each day to decide how I will spend them. I often zone out on Facebook for a bit to rest my brain, but I find that engaging intentionally 1:1 by phone or in person tends to take a lot out of me these last two years. If you’re my friend or family member, you’ve forgiven me by now for not keeping in touch; for not sending notes; for not returning calls. Thank you for understanding, and loving me anyway.

Making this list, this “mind map,” let me understand that as a mother of 5 and an entrepreneur living with PTSD and the wife of a man who lives with his own sets of letters, it’s ok to feel completely spent at the end of each day. Somehow, my intuition saw this as I mapped out the “departments” of my company, so I was incredibly excited to carry it over to our family, even if it means my son complains that I “run this family like a business.” It’s better than how it was being run — like a disastrous act of juggling flaming poi.

With the business, I had begun by imaginging I was the CEO of a large team of executives, and I had asked myself what their roles would be — for instance, a financial officer and an IT director. For my family, it was the same. I imagined four capable leaders running the four main “departments” of our life — our finances (FINANCES), our connections and events (HOLIDAYS/ COMMUNICATIONS/ ENTERTAINMENT), our daily/weekly/monthly grind (OPERATIONS), and maintaining our home, vehicles, and other machinery (SYSTEMS AND MAINTENANCE).

Next, I began fleshing out each “department.” I began with the finances.

PS – It’s always evolving! As I published this post I realized that our UU Church and contributions/donations to those outside our family isn’t on here …. I think because the former is so intrinsic to ME but less important to my husband and kids …. and the latter gets tied up with the business. 🙂 Oops. Maybe next revision!

FINANCIAL DEPARTMENT

Because I own a business and a duplex, our “money in” or “accounts receivable” is a bit more complex than simply having those adults responsible for working, earn a paycheck. Our “financial officer” (me) had a “money in” person (me) in charge of making sure we earned enough each month AND collected money from those who owed it. This person was also responsible for making contingency plans when tenants did not pay rent (which was often) or the business hit a rough patch (every winter).

“Money in” had a coworker, “money out” (me). This person was responsible for knowing how much we owed and to whom we owed it — what were our annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily bills and expenses? This person kept track of the bills and made sure they got paid so that the power didn’t get turned off and the kids had food and Netflix. The “money out” girl (still me) also had to report back to the “financial officer” (conveniently, still me) to ensure that my husband and I didn’t overspend, to periodically explain the long-term budget expenses to my husband, and to tamp down on expenses when things got tight or someone went out to eat once or thrice too often in a month.

The financial department had one other employee, which was the “savings” coordinator (yes, also me). This person had to plan for birthdays, vacations, illness, car repairs. My husband has no ability to plan finances more than 36 hours in advance, so this particular department’s primary job function is “nagging.” At some point, the people in charge of “money out” and “savings” threw up her hands and handed my husband’s finances back to him, fracturing the family finances into two factions, but “money out” and “savings” continued to be in charge of all the expenses for the family, household, pets, and children. Budgeting, taxes, applications for assistance, etc., were the duty of the finance department.

Occasionally, I asked my husband if he’d like to take on part of the finance department, but he usually just laughed at me, and I’d remind myself that being aware of our weaknesses is a strength for us as humans. And I put my initials on all the pieces save “J’s job.”

SYSTEMS/MAINTENANCE

Working closely with the finance department was the head of “systems/maintenance.” I asked myself, “What are the things OUTSIDE of day-to-day bills and operations that have to be taken care of, stored, maintained, or solved? What systems protect our home or family?” Theoretically, there’d be an “employee” in charge of each “system” or “item.”

The list I came up with was as follows:

  • Medical insurance
  • Home/auto insurance
  • Yard tools
  • Clothing (with a family of 7 that relies on hand-me-downs, the clothing system is intricate!)
  • Car maintenance
  • Storage space maintenance (shed, basement)
  • Home maintenance
  • Plumbing maintenance
  • Electrical maintenance
  • Heating system (both oil/propane delivery and system maintenance)
  • Non-financial paperwork storage/tracking/completion

My husband decided he’d be in charge of holding a job that provides medical insurance, but any dealings with the insurance company, choosing providers, researching benefits, etc. would be my responsibility. He also said he would be willing to help with home maintenance projects, including some plumbing and electrical, but that he didn’t want to be in charge of project planning and execution. Also, I found myself exclusively in charge of hiring any contractors or outside help. My husband took charge of maintaining our snowblower and lawnmower and finding an alternative if they’re not maintained.

With that, I marked “K” next to “systems/maintenance” and everything except “yard tools” and “home maintenance,” which have both a “K” and a “J.”

HOLIDAYS, ENTERTAINMENT AND COMMUNICATION

Next came the holidays/ entertainment/ communication portion. As I worked out the details of this category, I realized I had to let go of the “supermom” urges and focus on what was *really* important to me. Therefore, my list of holidays, etc., is going to look quite different than yours, I think, but I’ll share anyway.

The three holidays that are most important to me are Halloween, Christmas/winter solstice, and the summer solstice. Planning for each of these events is a major undertaking, so I gave each its own theoretical “employee” or “event planner.”

Next were birthdays. I love to make a big deal about my kids’ birthdays, so “kids birthdays” got its own person in charge of that “department.” With five kids, it’s a big job!

Jonas and I each got a “department” for our birthday. I separated them this way because I realized that visually, it would be easy for me to make cuts to either of those events if I got overwhelmed. Also, “Jonas family” and “Kristi family” each got their own department. In our first years of marriage, I had tried to be in charge of all these birthdays, but I often couldn’t get my husband to sign the cards I bought for his family or get the addresses I needed, so I decided I’d need to let go of my love of celebrating birthdays there.

Other departments were:

  • Family outings (like going to the beach or movies)
  • Parties/get-togethers
  • Communication with teachers
  • Visits/traveling
  • Vacations
  • Staying in touch with friends/relatives (ie Christmas cards)

I asked my husband to take a look at the list I’d made to see if he wanted to take responsibility for any of the items in this category. He didn’t, but said he’d like to have input on birthday and family parties and would help with Christmas. This year, he declared he’d be in charge of Christmas cards, so I didn’t save any “spoons” for sending out Christmas Cards. Since I’m already using this system, it was easy for me to assess and realize that I couldn’t send them out or remind him more than five times when he forgot to follow through, and it allowed me to feel (mostly) ok about skipping it this year. The best part about this system, for me, is the ability to prioritize my energy.

After getting feedback from my husband on this section of the list, I crafted myself another theoretical managerial hat and counted the balls in my juggling pile. Knowing what they are, and how many there are, is incredibly helpful for me!

OPERATIONS

This category was the most difficult and is most continuously evolving. Again, I own a home built at the turn of the 20th century, I run a business, I have five children, all gifted, and several of whom fall officially into the “twice exceptional” category. I have very little time for relaxing and hobbies because my days are full of the work of raising a family.

I began trying to break the things into categories.

  • Food – Meal planning, grocery shopping, dealing with leftovers/fridge/panties
  • Childcare
  • Getting mail in and out of the house
  • Researching and executing large purchases like cars, dishwashers, etc.
  • Moving clothing in and out of circulation
  • Hiring professionals for systems/maintenance/financial/etc.
  • IT/Electronics maintenance/setup
  • Medical appointments — dental, vision, audiology, therapy, checkups, vet, urgent/sick care, labs (in our family, this means 14 dental cleanings, 4 eye appointments, 1-2 audiology visits, a speech therapist and a few other therapists, two vet visits, and 7 checkups each year as long as nobody gets sick — almost a full time job!!!)
  • Yard maintenance — snow removal, deer tick control (by leaf removal and lawn mowing), yard cleanup
  • Spring/deep cleaning
  • Tidying/organizing
  • Trash/recycling – Cart trash to and from street, recycling to transfer station each week, general debris removal
  • Lifting and moving heavy or bulky things
  • Daily/weekly “stuff” of living
    • Dinner – including storage of leftovers and cleanup
    • Breakfast/lunch
    • Catbox/pet cleanup
    • Dishes
    • Laundry
    • Floors/lead control
    • Evening supervision of the kids (homework, baths, etc).
    • IEP/504 meetings/followup/etc.
    • Extracurricular activities
    • Ton of other crap (yes. This is what I put on my list).

In the end, my husband didn’t choose to put his initial beside many of these items, but even still, I feel so much more sane now. I’m able to plan my energy better, and I can decide what to let go of. For instance, I can delegate dinner to one of my older children when I know my day will be filled with speech therapy and an IEP meeting. I’ve been able to feel very confident creating a “chore system” for the kids that is fair, in spite of their insistence to the contrary. I’ve told my husband and my two eldest children that they are in charge of their own laundry. I’ve cut back the number of parties and get-togethers I attend. I’ve stopped wrapping gifts and beating myself up when I don’t send my brothers and sisters-in-law a birthday card.

And I got rid of our couches and kitchen chairs as I didn’t enjoy owning them enough to clean piles off them or keep moving the chairs and cushions back to where they belonged.

Do you think mapping the pieces of your life like this would work for you? How have you simplified your life? What are your favorite cheap meal-prep tips for a mom who tries to serve meals for our family of 7 with as many local/organic trappings and whole grains as possible on a budget of about $10/meal? Please leave your ideas, thoughts, and tips in the comments!