Have you HEARD!? The average working mom puts in over 90 hours per week, between domestic, parenting, and professional duties. That’s over 13 hours per day on-the-proverbial-clock, INCLUDING SATURDAYS AND SUNDAYS! AND the women polled in the study didn’t even have babies! Their kids were five or older!
People. Men, women, and society, WE CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS.
We HAVE to do better than this, if not for our own sanities, but because our children are WATCHING OUR EVERY MOVES AND LEARNING HOW TO DO THIS THING CALLED LIFE FROM OUR EXAMPLES.
So. The knee jerk solution may seem to be, “Ask for help, dammit! This research indicates that this is a female conundrum, so DEMAND that your husband share some of the domestic duties, nay, demand that he takes INITiATIVE so that you don’t have to be further burdened by mentally organizing what needs to be done all day long!” And to that, I offer a very professional response: Duh!!
Duh, your parenting and domestic “partner” needs to like, you know, be a partner. (If this fact is lost on your spouse, this post isn’t for you. Couples therapy is.) But that simple admonition doesn’t quite capture the remedy for many of us. What about the single moms? The military moms or the corporate widows with the traveling-constantly husbands who can’t exactly attend IEP meetings or wash dishes from Malaysia? What if your spouse is ALSO putting in 16 hours a day AND taking laundry initiative whenever possible, and, like you, is breaking at the seams? Many times the actual answers To complex problems require challenging societal, economic, cognitive, and emotional barriers to relaxation, more-so than simplifying and vilifying an easy target.
Imma be lazy here and just write: ***Insert paragraph on the importance of play, unstructured downtime, and relaxation EVEN FOR ADULTS.*** See what I did there? I’m challenging my sense of obligation because the quicker I get this post done, the quicker I can take a walk around outside while listening to my favorite podcast. ie: downtime.
Anyway, I get it. We need money; we need our kids fed and our deadlines met and our bosses satisfied and homework done and soccer games attended and the black stuff occasionally scrubbed off the pans and also to carefully duct tape that bra that keeps stabbing us with the underwire because Amazon didn’t have our size and we don’t know how to sew… errr I mean right? There are just some non-negotiable obligations in life, and those can quickly snowball into a rat race, or a hamster wheel, or a guinea pig experiment or a mouse maze or whatever rodent analogy you prefer because they’re all great.
And no, our government and economic climates and workplace cultures aren’t doing much to offset the logistical and economic burdens of working parents. Boo. These are some miserable pills to swallow at this moment in history.
But even-so. Here are some mindsets and behaviors to consider, some internal and behavioral processes that you CAN control, despite the existence of crappy realities that aren’t changing overnight despite our continued advocacy of paid parental leave and flexibility and blablabla:
1) Are you a compulsive DO-ER? (Is your life lacking connection, joy, and purpose?)
For some people, “busy” feels emotionally soothing and “relax” is an anxiety provoking word. Frenzied, constant activity (like eating, drugs, workaholism, etc), is often a mechanism to avoid emotional distress such as inadequacy, emptiness, and boredom. I don’t just assess for executive functioning difficulties with people who are frazzled because they “must” go grocery shopping 6 time should a week; I also assess for loneliness, depression, and lack of meaningful, valued purpose. If this is you, start by noticing your compulsive (not actually necessary, and more to quell icky feelings) activity and replacing the task/errand with texting or calling an acquaintance to intentionally deepen some of your relationships.
2) Are you drinking the kool-Aid?
We know that having more unstructured play AND fewer material possessions leads to increased levels of connection, emotional regulation, and well-being. Taking care of “stuff,” just as easily as “obligations,” crowd out both valuable time and peace in kids AND adults alike!
But neighbor Jones’ kid has 27 fidget spinners and is on 3 select sport teams and husband Jones has 4 cars and wife Jones has three walk-in closets full of clothes, all which require attending, organizing and cleaning. In a society that is anything but simple, keeping our goals for sanity sometimes requires intentional Simplification. (Says the person who SWEARS BY owning three pairs of shorts and six pairs of shoes and also a smallish house and with very few toys. For real, life is so much less burdened.)
And bonus: Fewer activities and less “stuff” equals reduced expense, which, depending on your job, could translate to fewer hours or stressful demands required.
3) Do you HAVE hobbies?
Ok, so even if you HAD time, what would you DO? What did you used to do before all this “busy” set in? Connect with nature? Art? Reading? Run? Garden? Sell sock puppets that look like Sex in the City characters on MySpace and host “Puppet Parties” in your grad school apartment? I mean I don’t judge. You just need to be able to answer that before you can tolerate “empty time” without twitching uncomfortably.
4) Do you give yourself (and your spouse) permission to relax sometimes?
Some people feel a misguided sense of guilt if they indulge in something for themselves. They think, “I should be reading my kid a bedtime story instead of making them read to themselves while I play Gin Rummy with my husband,” Or, “I should be scrubbing floors instead of spending time and money on this Saturday art class!” These parents feel a twitchy, self-doubt when presented with the opportunity to kick up their feet and read a book while the kids entertain the themselves in the yard after work. they think “What kind of a horrible mother am I? Shouldn’t I be playing with then or helicoptering? I mean how COULD I just feed them microwaved hotdogs for dinner!?!”
Or alternatively, they may angrily apply the no-relaxation-allowed mindset to their spouse who dares express a desire to play Raquetball on Tuesdays after work with Frank and the finance department guys. Or something like that.
And to this I say: what do you want to be teaching your kids by example? That it’s okay to sometimes do something for yourself! That you’re not a hopeless, pathetic martyr, devoid of needs and vitality just because you went and popped out a couple kids! Furthermore, that it’s OKAY to ask for help or even assign chores to older kids (with cleaning or babysitting). OR, you could also occasionally instill the lesson that the world will NOT end if the floor remains temporarily crusted while you relax; ANNNNND that balance CAN be achieved and relationships CAN flourish by spending quality time with your family on a Saturday morning and then skipping off to the studio later in after afternoon. Holy moly, those are a lot of awesome lessons to teach your kid.
5) Do you think in terms of “20 minutes” at a time when overwhelmed and overburdened?
There are a lot of hours in a day, but sometimes we don’t squeeze-out all then productivity OR relaxation that we possibly can. The main reasons for this are: paralyzingly overwhelm, a sense that things take longer than they have to, and the social media vortex of distracted doom. I like to resist these forces by adhering to the “20 minute mindset” whenever life gets crazy, because it forces effieciency and resists getting “stuck.”
Basically, when I have a lot on my plate or just an overwhelming need for my own downtime or even quality time with the kids, I require each task to take no more than 20 minutes. If it takes more than 20, I often cut corners (pile up clean clothes instead of folding), shorten the task (one chapter of Harry’s Potter instead of 3; $5 of Chuck-E-Cheese tokens for three boys to share because holy-hell-let’s-get-outa-here, or shorthand/outline of my progress notes). Or I SKIP the obligation all-together (going to the grocery store can wait, as long as we have crackers, cheese, and frozen peas. The fundraiser can be skipped in favor or writing a small check directly to the cause.). And if I’m in need of downtime and a kid obligation (class/practice) takes more than 20 minutes, I bring a trashy romance novel to read while painting my toe nails and researching vacation spots…. I mean, you know.
6) Do you intentionally filter obligations?
Are you more impulsive/automatic about what what you do, or do you methodically send everything through the mental filter of: Is this really necessary?
For example: kid birthday parties with rented chairs, elaborate food, and actual farm animals. Another example: multiple kids playing all different sports, with several practices per week, 30 miles away because their friends from preschool play on that league.
Another example: mowing the enormous BAcK YARD that no one ever sees, more than twice a month. Or, for that matter, shaving your legs more than… ok, I digress.
7) Do you give yourself (and others for that matter) permission to say NO?
This is a super important one because if you are a chronic people pleaser, you’re probably a little duckling paddling her flippers furiously underwater while only appearing to glide along the surface. And that sounds like absolute misery.
Repeat after me: “Nope, no can do bake sale committee during work presentation season, but I’d be happy to drop off store some brownies from the COSCO bakery that I swear are to die for.”
Same goes with, “Nope, no, I don’t check emails after 6 PM,” and “Oh that sucks that your car is in the shop but I’m drowning in my own shit, so I might suggest you take an Uber to my house and we can commiserate over jellied saltines and pinot Grigio because just because I can’t give you a ride doesn’t make me a bad friend.”
8) Do you tend to catastrophize imperfection or disorder?
Do you tell yourself in your mind (or out-loud. Whatever floats your boat.) that an unironed shirt or an email typo or a dish in the sink or a microwaved meal equals complete calamity? Do you picture such an “idyllic” parent-child bond that the whiny fall-out of firmly-set-limits feels absolutely horrific? (Like, for example, when you roar that “MOM HAS LEFT THE BUILDING” after the fifth bedtime water request.) Or do you view your husband’s less vigorous sorting of towels and yoga pants to be grounds for taking over laundry duty?
For your sanity, you may want to begin to notice and change challenge your catastrophic conclusions. Effective exposure therapy for this one includes asking kids over 7 to be in charge of packing their own lunches, and biting your tongue about the two bananas and pound of goldfish.
Or, intentionally failing to put “picture day” on the calendar and rolling the dice that your kid won’t show up that day in crazy hair and a Mr. T track suit also makes for good exposures therapyX
9) Is your identity “to accomplish” or “to be”?
Who would you be if not a “doer,” or a “consumer-collector of things and obligations” for that matter? Would you be any less capable or effective or “enough”? Why does your identity hinge on being all of those things? SOciety’s influence? Sick workplace culture? Family of origin (workaholics?) influences? Something tangible to “prove” because you were typecast as “lazy” because you came from poverty or struggled in school or were bullied/abandoned by a parent or peers? If any of this resonates, it might be helpful to discuss this with a therapist and/or mindfully notice-and-release your compulsion to “accomplish” in favor of intentional presence.
Ok, that’s all for now, from the therapist who would like to also emphasize the importance of trusting yourself and your partner to do as much a possible while also allowing for relaxation, instead of score-keeping and bean-counting. There will be weeks when one spouse has more energy and more stamina and weeks when the other does- The assume that each is putting in what they can, motivates initiative, diminishes resentment, and makes sure no one isn’t walking in egg shells.
And PS, this is all taking into account the immediate reality of seriously effed- up economic/governmental/workplace systems that absolutely do not support the burdens of working parents…. THAT whole reality is a completely different post altogether.