Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Anticipating needs

Few experiences prepared me for the challenge of being a mom, but looking back, I can see how at least one part of my former life as a nurse has helped me.

In the ICU, many patients are either incapacitated, heavily sedated, or have a breathing tube so they can’t talk. Sadly, that’s the part many ICU nurses enjoy about their jobs. They can “get their work done” without having to answer call bells all the time. In fact, when a patient is feeling well enough to complain, that’s when the nurses know it’s about time to move him or her out of the ICU to the floor!

Invariably, even in the ICU, there is always a “bell ringer.” A needy, fearful patient who uses every excuse to get a nurse to come into the room. “Can you dim my light?” “Can you pull my covers up?” “I can’t get comfortable.” And my personal favorite: “Can you bend my straw?”

Since I only worked part time, I was low-man on the totem pole and got assigned these patients often. No sooner had I sat down to do some paperwork, the bell would ring. “Can I get something for pain?” I’d go in the room with the pain medicine, make sure the patient was okay, and then go sit back down. Now where was I? RRRING. “Can I get another pillow?”

Eventually, I learned two little tricks.

1. Anticipate needs.

If the patient was prescribed pain medicine “as needed,” I would check with the patient a little before the last dose would be wearing off. Before he had a chance to call me, I would offer it. I’d try to come in with the juice or a snack, an extra pillow and a warm blanket, before my patients asked.

2. A little phrase.

Instead of giving the patient his requested item, standing there impatiently while he took it, then rushing out of the room, I learned to wait for a few seconds. I would stand facing the patient, pretending I had all the time in the world (body language is everything!), and say a short little sentence:

“What else can I do for you?”

Sometimes, especially if the patient was particularly needy, she’d have a laundry list of items she was saving, ready to dole out one at a time, calling me every five minutes over the next twelve hours. But most of the time, the patient would be so surprised. When actually asked what they needed, most patients felt heard. “Uh, no, I can’t think of anything,” they’d say. I’d go back to my other patients and be able to get “my” work done, with fewer interruptions. It was a win-win situation.

I’m a little convicted as I write this, because I find myself falling into the “get my work done” mentality so often at home, where my children are neither incapacitated nor heavily sedated, and I suppose it's a little unethical to put something down their throats to keep them from talking! I get focused on all the things that go into running a home without remembering who all this work is for! My little ones, especially, hang on me, interrupt me, whine and cry, usually when I’ve just sat down to answer email or pay bills. But even my big kids bicker and get into trouble when I seem most preoccupied with my own agenda.

There are lots of ways we can anticipate needs as wives and mothers.

Regularly scheduled meals and snacks seem so mundane, but honestly, when I offer a snack before my children ask, it is more likely to be healthy, and they are less likely to whine about being hungry right in the middle of folding laundry, or 30 minutes before dinner's ready. I don't know why I am so often "surprised" that everyone's hungry around suppertime. I amaze even myself!

The need for sleep is something else we can anticipate. My younger two have had to be extremely flexible because of our older children’s schedules, but occasionally I bow out of some activities to make sure they have a somewhat regular bedtime. And we've done the same thing for the big kids. What about a child's need for a hug, a good laugh or a favorite meal every now and then? What about their need for help?

A few minutes of one-on-one time every day with each child is probably the hardest thing for me to anticipate. They need us to look into their eyes so we can tell them how important they are to us. But bad behavior often ends up being what gets my attention, and it is a huge time-sucker. If I ever added it up, I’m quite sure dealing with discipline issues takes more time than if I would have just said, “Hey, let’s sit down and talk (read a book/play a game) for a few minutes!”

With our husbands, we know they have certain needs. What if we anticipated this, and, rather than grudgingly waiting until they asked hinted, we offered it freely?

I think the fear is, “If I give an inch, they’ll take a mile.” If I give them attention, they’ll just want more and more of it.

But just like my patients, I’ve noticed that the opposite is true: the less I want to give, the more unreasonable their demands! I end up with an entire family of "bell ringers."

When my children know that I’m tuned into their needs - that they will be taken care of – they are more secure, whine less, and can wait more patiently for me. Not always, but generally speaking. And with my husband, well, let's just say that when I came to the point of freely giving, it revolutionized our marriage.

Robert Lewis calls this the Paradox Principle: We must die to live. It doesn’t seem to make sense, but it is true. It worked in my ICU, and it works with my family.

I'm wondering:

  • Do you have a "bell ringer" in your family?
  • When was the last time you asked your husband or your child, “What else can I do for you?”

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Matthew 6:8, NIV

46 comments:

Lauren@Baseballs&Bows said...

What a wonderful post! I do try to anticipate needs, but I don't do so well with the "What else can I do for you?" part. Thanks so much for sharing these thoughts!

kittyhox said...

That is excellent advice. And something it would have taken me years and more kids to figure out on my own, if I ever figured it out at all.

I think also that the change in attitude (anticipating needs vs. responding to them) makes tasks more satisfying and more of a pleasure rather than that "thing that gets in the way of what I'd rather be doing." Making a snack, or whatever.

:)

Susanne said...

Wow, Katherine! Much to contemplate and then put into practice in this post!

Julie@HighFive! said...

Reading this truly has made my day! Great things to ponder before the little ones wake up, the older kids & hubby get home. Thanks!

dave & rachel said...

I just quit my prn job as an ICU nurse, Katherine, and this post spoke to my heart. I so know what you mean, and it rings true in family life as well. So good to think about, to challenge ourselves with. Thanks!

Nicole said...

The Lord totally speaks to me through your blog! Such good advice...Lord, please help me to apply it!!

Thanks again Katherine! It has been a hard day for me around here. I FEEL like it is mass chaos! I needed to hear this.

millermoments said...

Best post ever. Thank you. This is soooo so sooo true. Organization is what keeps me one step ahead of my bell ringers - knowing that a delicious dinner is on it's way helps ward off the crankies - with all of us. Thank you so much for this, Katherine. I will be a-ponderin' this for awhile!

Munchkin Land said...

Great post... great ideas! I'm definitely going to have to put this one into practice. Thanks Katherine!

LilyLakeMom said...

Great post today! I learn so much about being a better wife and mother by reading your blog. You've definately given me something to think about today.
Thanks! Lisa

Chris @ Come to the Table said...

It is so true and takes just a little effort.
Wonderful reminder today as we get busy with all the stuff on our schedule.

stephanie@{Olive Tree} said...

Goodness, that sounds exactly like my 4 year old - what a great way to put it. And you are so right - when I am on the ball with snacks and such, I am able to prep dinner in peace! :) And it's funny ... some evenings when my husband is reading or watching TV I will ask him if he needs something as I head to the kitchen; but when he asks me to get up and get him something I feel so inconvenienced. :) Thanks for pointing out where I need to do a little more serving for my family in a gentle way!

fAiThFuL cHiCk said...

ooooh....Good timing on this post. We have been doing the Five Love Languages for the past five weeks and a lot of that is about serving your spouse (children) in advance, before they are on empty. I tried it out this past week and I couldn't believe the response. I can see a difference in the kids, in my man...and, in me. GREAT post!

Love...

Jennifer@DoingTheNextThing said...

Wow, Katherine, that was convicting! I so often view my children and husband as interruptions to my "real work!" How silly. Thanks for reminding me of what the Lord wants me to do. He has, after all, given me all I ever wanted! Praise Him for His goodness!

Beck said...

Great post! I love the idea of pre-anticipating needs. That's so smart!

Cori said...

What a timely reminder! This seems to be a lesson that I have as head knowledge but have trouble putting it into practice on a regular basis. As kittyhox said, it really changes my mindset from one of being bothered by my family to having a servant's heart for my loved ones.

sharyn said...

So true! I really needed this today -- and I was able to put it into practice by getting dinner for the kids ready before they were going crazy and demanding the fish sticks be ready RIGHT NOW. There's a great scene at the end of "Gosford Park" (Robert Altman movie from a couple of years ago -- murder mystery set in an olde English country house type thing) where Helen Mirren, as the head housekeeper having a bit of an 'Oscar Speech' says something like, "What makes a good servant? I know what they need before they need it. I know when they'll be cold and put blankets on their bed, I know when they'll want breakfast and have it ready" -- that speech has always stuck with me. Sometimes I have a love-hate relationship wtih that idea, but mostly I like the idea of being able to anticipate, because not only does it make their lives better, it makes my life better too!

Thanks, as always, for your posts!

Christin said...

"I get focused on all the things that go into running a home without remembering who all this work is for!"

I loved that line. Well..okay, so I didn't LOVE it. I was convicted by it. :) Oh Lord...give us moms a *clue* so we won't get so hung up on the unimportant things.

Thank you for this one!

Andrea said...

I love this post, Katherine. And it helps assuage some fears I have about "giving too much".

I tend to fear that if I give too much, then they'll expect too much. But I love how you've phrased all this...that actually being in tune to their needs, *giving* more than what they will expect, will make them satisfied. (generally, of course :)

I think this is so important in the teen years...often we think:"they are old enough, they can do *whatever* for themselves..." when really, maybe what they would really like is to be "babied" a bit. I know I like to still be babied by my mother. :)

Great post.

Mindy said...

seems so simple, yet it is often so difficult to remember and apply. Thanks for this.

mommy-fied said...

Yes I've learnt to slow down in the mornings and just be 100% with the kids even if it's just for a while and it has helped tremendously.

Another paradox is the more busy we are the more we have to make time to pray. That's one area I need to work on!

Marc and Charity said...

Good stuff. I was just reading last night in book about how mom's have their own "kryptonite" - things that are our weaknesses that keep us daily from playing with our kids or spending time doing more important things. Yikes. I realized I've got quite a few of those! I'm so tired of saying "Just a minute honey"

Laura said...

Katherine - I know I keep saying it, but I really see you as a mentor to me. Your posts--and this one is another classic--are always brimming with wisdom, hope, and love.

Thanks for spurring me on to give and die to self - in order to receive and live.

Jana said...

I LOVED this post! So, so true. You put it in such a way that it actually seems POSSIBLE! LOL! I'm greatly inspired. Thanks!

Brenda said...

Katherine--this was so well said. I came over from Andrea's (The Flourishing Mother) and she was right---this was a great post! Thanks for the encouragement.

Etta said...

Great post. My little one is my bell ringer. If I am sitting (at the computer, at my desk, in the living room, etc.), he wants to be in my lap. This is a great reminder to give him attention before he demands it. I might get more done!
And the anticipation of needs--good stuff. That is why we have snack time right after naps!

candace@twinsagain said...

I really appreciated your post - as always! I, too have 5 (ranging from 10 yrs to 7 months) and am have a hard time anticipating anyone needs. I feel like I am in "response" mode so much of the time right now and I don't suppose things are going to let up anytime soon. Your posts overflow with such wisdom - I always go away feeling inspired to be a better mom, wife and child of God.

Raquel said...

oh so true... all of it, thank you I needed to hear this today

Ladybug said...

What wonderful advice and oh so very true. I often find that just when I sit down to fill orders for my business, return a phone call, etc., the whining begins. I am going to take your advice and try to fill those needs before I sit down to tackle the other stuff!!

Jen said...

Great post.....my bell ringer is Madison...before bed...she just cannot let go of us. She finally does...after of course we are frazzled.

(((((HUGS))))) sandi said...

This is such a great reminder! I also struggle with getting in the daily one-on-one with each child~thank you for the encouragement! (((((HUGS))))) sandi

Ann V.@HolyExperience said...

A Needful Word to this sojourner.
And I am most grateful.

Thank-you, Katherine...
Ann

Emily (Laundry and Lullabies) said...

I've definitely found this to be true of my toddler. Thank you for the reminder!

Family O'Foxes said...

That was so uplifting and something I need to read! Thank you! Keep writing to encourage us! :)
~Amy

Amanda ‹(•¿•)› said...

This post really speaks to me today, thank you.

Melanie said...

Great post. Thanks for including the verse at the bottom- even more reason I should be doing this. Great writing!

Desiree' said...

This was an awesome post!! I am very familiar with Robert Lewis having gone to Fellowship. Is that where you go? This post should be sent to focus on the family or something!

Melinda said...

Ouch. That hurt because it was so true. I'm convicted of trying to get it all done rather than helping and serving needs. Thank you for this post. I'm going to be printing it off and putting it somewhere I can read daily.

Hugs,
Melinda

Lisa B @ simply His said...

This is a wonderful post! You know, I feel soooo low admitting this -- I've only got 1 child and I have problems keeping up with her! I cannot imagine what it would be like to have more than 1, much less 5. When my daughter was a toddler, I did a much better job of anticipating what she would need/want. Somehow I seem to have gotten far away from that now that she's eight. Thanks so much for the reminder!!

Callista said...

Great post! I've learned that when my daughter is constantly bugging me, it's because she needs some attention. If I just stop what I'm doing and play with her for 15 minutes, then she'll happily play by herself for awhile after that.

Lori - Queen of Dirty Laundry said...

WOW, what a lot of comments you have! I've been looking forward to getting over here and catching up on your posts, but waited until I had enough time to savor them!

I one turbo bell ringer and two moderate ones, and I will be putting your suggestions into practice TOday.

It's embarrassing how often I have to remind myself what my job is!

s g said...

Great posts on thinking pro-actively! I've added a link... Thank you!

Christina said...

I LOVE this post! Thanks so much! (I, too, have five children!) I will be thinking of this often and it will be effecting my actions too, hopefully!

Bella said...

I was brought up this way and with my 4 boys and my husband, I would have thought by now they would be giving back (not necessarily to me, but to others around them)...wonder if they do it when I'm not around to hear? Awesome post!

Anonymous said...

My husband and I were just talking about this same topic. Not only anticipating our kids needs and providing for them before they ask but also distinguishing between their needs and wants. I think many parents get those two things mixed up sometimes.

Anonymous said...

THis post almost made me cry. I've always been the one to anticipate the needs of my kids and spouse... better with kids than spouse though. Everyone complained I didn't focus enough on the house, it's ok to let kids cry, blah blah. Now my kids are whiny, my eldest talks back and I have so little patience left at the end of the day. I'm rather rough to begin with so you can imagine my eldest taking a step back after just looking at me. My house is in no more order than it started out and no one is happy. THanks for reminding me I was doing a better job before I took other peoples advice.

Anonymous said...

THis post almost made me cry. I've always been the one to anticipate the needs of my kids and spouse... better with kids than spouse though. Everyone complained I didn't focus enough on the house, it's ok to let kids cry, blah blah. Now my kids are whiny, my eldest talks back and I have so little patience left at the end of the day. I'm rather rough to begin with so you can imagine my eldest taking a step back after just looking at me. My house is in no more order than it started out and no one is happy. THanks for reminding me I was doing a better job before I took other peoples advice.

Katherine
Mother of a 6 yr old and a 2 yr old
P.S sorry, I didn't identify myself at first.