It’s the end of the day and I’m sitting on the couch, exhausted. The kids are asleep and I find myself going through the list of things I wish I’d accomplished… Cut M’s razor-sharp finger nails, cleaned the house better, given everyone more focused attention, maybe worked with E on those darn A, B, C’s.
I have to remind myself of all the things I did do. I wrangled two small children to and from swim lessons, met a friend for a mini-playdate, made (and cleaned) three healthy meals, worked during M’s nap, cleaned the yard…
Whew, when I go through the list, I get it. No wonder I’m tired, (and that’s not even taking into account the rough night of teething the night before).
As moms, we expect a lot of ourselves. We think we can be the nurturer, cook, housecleaner, teacher, chauffeur, nurse, employee, wife, friend… the list goes on. We expect ourselves to be all these things and then beat ourselves up when we don’t do them each flawlessly, and in entirety, every single day.
However, maybe we need to learn to allow other people to fill some of those roles. Teach our kids, feed them, clean our houses. You know, that village everyone talks about? Obviously, money makes this easier, but family and friends (and partners!) can contribute, too, if we let them.
And then there’s this other novel idea. Someone I respect suggested it as an antidote for doing too much all the time. We should give ourselves permission to accomplish nothing. Kids (and often dads) are great at this. But, the very thought of it confuses my brain. In fact, I’m terrible at it. So I tried last Sunday and ended up still doing a million things. But I’ll try again because I know it’s important. When we learn to ditch the to-do list we become more present and actually live our lives.
And, I think it might be part of the solution for the motherhood blues. Because, four and a half years in, with two small children, those blues catch me by surprise some nights, as I race to bedtime with everyone tired and a list of too many things left to finish. This is when everything becomes a power struggle and I feel like I’m going to lose my mind. I just want to be done. Not with motherhood, but relieved of the nightly feelings of overwhelm.
The other night my dad looked at me, after having helped me juggle my children at his house for a couple hours, and said, “I can see how taking care of them is a full-time job.”
It was such a simple statement, but it meant so much to me. I felt seen for all those moments when I’m trying to cook and someone is climbing my leg, or I just want to lie down for five minutes and suddenly two girls are jumping on my bed. Motherhood is tireless. There’s always more to do than time to do it, and often the necessities fill in all the cracks of the day, so well-intentioned time together gets replaced with other things that need to happen, like doctor’s appointments and laundry.
I look at my parents and wonder how they felt. Were they so hard on themselves for not being able to do it all or are my feelings the byproduct of an age where we make it all look effortless on social media? I know it wasn’t easy, then, either. My mom tells me all the time. But did she beat herself up for not having taught me more things by the time I was four?
I doubt it. Not only was she a preschool teacher (and I vividly remember adorable flashcards), but she probably let other things go in order to teach me the alphabet. We lived out in the country and the internet didn’t exist yet. We had less stuff (both literal and figurative) cluttering our lives and I’m certain she knew how to let go of the list and just be with me.
And, really, that’s my biggest fear. Not that I didn’t mop the floor or skipped that mommy and me class, but that I’m missing something by being so busy all the time. A friend was visiting with her two boys the other day and I liked what she shared. She told me she focuses on spending time with her kids during their wakeful hours (instead of cooking and cleaning) and then everything else fits into those other moments. There's still too much to do, but she stops to be with them. I want to be more like her.
But then I look at my day and realize I’d have to let something go. I work part-time and somehow fit my work into many of the moments when my kids are sleeping or the grandmas are helping me. When my kids and I are together, I have to also cook, clean, and juggle things like swim lessons and the gym. Our lives are full and I resist letting any of it go, (minus maybe the chores).
So, I’m coming to terms with the idea we simply can’t do it all and that’s okay. My kids are getting enough from me with what I’m giving them. This is a huge statement we should all think about. Yes, I’m working to give them more focused attention, but I’m also recognizing they get a lot from other people. Grandparents, teachers, my husband. They still spend a lot of time with me and I need to give myself credit for everything I’m doing. It benefits them. It’s enough.
It looks different for every mom and that’s fine, too. We all have to pick and choose what fits into the limited hours of the day. The trick is being able to look back at it all and feel confident we prioritized the way we want to spend our lives. I know I still have some work to do around creating chunks of time where we “accomplish nothing,” but I also realize I’m doing a lot right. We all are, if only we’d stop to think about it.