How does she do it? 12 life questions for busy radio host Jennifer Fulwiler

A regular column featuring everyday women and their secrets to juggling life and career that runs every so often (hey, we’re busy too, you know).

Writer and radio host Jennifer Fulwiler, mother of six children. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Fulwiler

It’s impressive enough that Jennifer Fulwiler hosts her own daily two-hour radio show on SiriusXM channel 129 and that she’s the author of the bestselling memoir Something Other than God. But pile on the six children—ages 3 to 11—that she is not only raising but homeschooling? That settles it—we need to know her secrets to success on air and around the house.

Though Fulwiler says on some days she “can barely deal with life,” after chatting with her, we beg to differ—this woman has wisdom worth heeding. Here she shares how she handles it all: radio, writing, homeschooling, date nights, and an overwhelming email inbox.

On getting the day started.

I get up about an hour earlier than most of the kids in my house get up—and then this gives me some quiet time to think and pray about what I want to do each day. I’ve found that to be really important. My husband calls it “being ahead of the curve.” You can have your priorities set before the craziness of the day starts to overwhelm you, so it really is life-changing to make that effort to get up early.

On getting to bed and having enough sleep.

I go to bed too late, and I’m tired.

I’m a night owl, I’m a big, big night owl. Left to my own devices, I would stay up till 4 o’clock in the morning. But typically, I’m asleep by 12:30 or 1 a.m. … and I’m working on that because I’m not really getting enough sleep. I know sleep is important, but that’s the best I can do right now.

On the importance of getting a day’s rest, especially Sunday, and if it ever happens.

It is important to me, and it never happens. There’s never a day of rest in my house! But I do try to avoid “work-work” on Sunday. If I have a writing deadline, or stuff for my radio show, I try not to work on Sunday. That said, I start “Sunday” at Vespers on Saturday, which is the really old-school way of doing it. So Sunday is actually Saturday evening through Sunday evening.

That said, sometimes I do take Sunday nights and go through email and order my to-do list. That way when I wake up on Monday—if I’ve taken the time on Sunday and my email is empty, the to-do list is updated and prioritized, I’m getting the week off to a strong start because I did that prep.

On emails: the number received and dealt with on a daily basis and your system for managing them.

If you count both public and private email addresses, then probably 80 to 100 emails per day—not including spam and promotions. Just things that people are wanting a reply from me for.

I have had to let go of perfectionism.”

One of the things that has really helped me start going through emails is to have a good to-do list system. I have that open and ready when I go through my email inbox, and then for every email, I say, “Is there an actionable item for me here? Is there something that I need to be doing?” If there is, I reply if necessary and then I add it to my to-do list and get it out of my inbox. It does lead to a really long to-do list. But at least everything is all in one place.

On making time for friends and what you all get up to.

I can’t do girls nights out once a week. So I invite my friends—people who have families or people who don’t—to just come have dinner with us. That’s a great way that I can get that socialization without maxing out my schedule.

We’ve cultivated a group of friends with whom our whole family gets along. It’s a great way to kill a lot of birds with one stone—we just get the whole families together. Or, if it’s someone who doesn’t have kids, I’ll invite them to come have dinner with the family.

Jennifer Fulwiler

Jennifer Fulwiler. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Fulwiler

I have had to let go of perfectionism. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had guests over and my house was cluttered and I hadn’t vacuumed in days and there were dirty dishes in the sink, but I realized early on that I don’t have time to do it all. And you know what? I’ve never had a complaint.

On making time for your husband and the things you like to do together.

A long time ago, my husband and I made it our #1 priority to assemble a great group of babysitters. Great babysitters don’t just fall from the sky. You have to do research. Now, when Joe and I realize it’s been a while and we really haven’t had that time to reconnect, we have a nice stable of babysitters we can call on so we can go out and have a dinner by ourselves on a Friday night or Saturday night—or even just go hang out at a bookstore. Anywhere he and I can go out and have an uninterrupted conversation as adults without our little eavesdroppers.

It was a nice lesson for my kids to learn that putting family first in your life doesn’t mean every single day is going to work out perfectly.

On motherhood and work and when/if the two collide.

I had to go to New York for my radio show, and it involved being gone on my daughter’s birthday. There was no other day I could do it. I just had to be gone. But made it up to her by taking a family trip to a big zoo she’d always wanted to visit. And it ended up being this amazing, wonderful trip we would’ve never taken if I wasn’t making it up to her for being gone that day.

It was a nice lesson for my kids to learn that putting family first in your life doesn’t mean every single day is going to work out perfectly. There are going to be some days where you need to make trade-offs that aren’t ideal.

On what slips by “undone” and how you feel about it.

I don’t even know where to start the list of things left undone …

So, ironing … I don’t iron. And if I try something on in a store and realize I’m going to have to iron it every time I wear it, I just don’t buy it.

Sheets … I don’t change the sheets in my house as often as I should.

Creative meals …. I have about 10 meals that are healthy and that most of the kids—not all of them, we can never get all of them eating the same thing—like. I’ve memorized the recipes; they’re very easy for me to make now. And we just pretty much eat those ten meals and that is it.

Hobbies … I don’t have other hobbies outside the work I do for radio and writing. And I have plenty of things I’d like to do. I’d like to learn to paint. I’d like to have a garden. I’d love to work on my make-up skills and do great hairstyles. But I accept that I just don’t have time to be pursuing those things.

On a typical workday lunch.

Typically I make a small chicken burrito and bring that with me to my office, and I just eat that at my desk. I have some fruit bars and stuff that I snack on if I find I’m hungry outside of that. But I try to eat light to avoid that afternoon slump.

On what’s possible to simplify.

I try to take a look at the areas of my life that are sucking a lot of time or energy or both. So for example, last year I felt obliged to put my kids in a certain scout-like activity. Everyone was doing it—and I felt like I would be a good mother if I did it, too. Then I realized that it was draining not only an enormous amount of our family’s time, but it was really draining everyone’s energy. I dreaded going to the meetings and my kids didn’t seem particularly excited about the activity.

So we decided to cut it out. It was such a great decision because that gave me more energy that I could put back into my family in different ways and more time to put into [activities] that build us all up.

It’s easy to get sucked into a feeling of obligation that if your kids aren’t in sports and music and scouts and a math club that you’re not being a good parent.”

So I would say as a general rule: I really look out for not just time things but energy things. And one of the areas that this also comes into play is kids’ activities. As parents, it’s easy to get sucked into a feeling of obligation that if your kids aren’t in sports and music and scouts and a math club or robotic club that you’re not being a good parent. But all of those activities combined can take up so much of the time you and your family could otherwise spend together. So, I look very carefully at kids’ activities and make sure we’re not doing too much in that department and that we’re leaving time to just relax.

On interruptions. When “system software updates” come up on your screen, do you: 1) Update now 2) Remind me for later 3) Never do it?

I never update software. I’m still the only person I know without the new Instagram logo on their phone.

On your “work/life” balance card score. 50/50? 70/30?

It depends on the week. I have weeks when I feel like everything is terrible and everything is out of control, but for the most part I would say things are going pretty well. While I don’t know what score I would give it out of 100, I will say it seems like our family is thriving and the kids are thriving. And I’m very happy with the work that I’m doing. I regularly think and pray and evaluate things and make sure I’m doing work for the right reasons. I feel good about the decisions we’ve made as a family, and I think things are as balanced as they can be right now. But ask me next week and I might have a different answer!

Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of five books and is a columnist for Her.meneutics and ThinkChristian. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, three kids, and one red-nose pit bull. Visit her at carynrivadeneira.com.

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