(The “Load”- the water drops on the right are indicative of how messy this all is…)
After a long, joy-filled summer with the boys the school year started with an abrasive jolt to our family unit. For weeks I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. Just when I thought I might be close to a grounded, centered state and less like a wild chicken running around with its head cut off, another stack of papers would be pushed my way to fill out or another person would ask if I could help with “just one little thing”. In my mind, they were asking for blood. They were asking for a part of my sanity. It felt this way at least because I was drowning in the paperwork, in the special requests, in the household duties that were impossible to keep up with now that we were all back in school, myself included.
I was essentially trying to be “part-time” everything. A part-time teacher, volunteer, cook, mom, office manager, etc- all of which, if you do the math, added up to more than two full-time jobs. Who can thrive working two hundred percent? No one. But we refuse to believe this. We believe that someone out there, (or someone we know on Facebook), there is a woman who is killing it. She is doing it all and she is thriving. Then we let the guilt and shame and “what’s wrong with me?” envelope us as we struggle with the fact that we can’t do it all and we are drowning.
My stress levels peaked when I found myself at the doctor with a stiff neck, lower back pain, and a case of shingles. It’s amazing what stress can do to your body. I left the doctors office with orders to “take it easy”, a prescription for muscle relaxers, and a realization that something was going to have to give.
The truth is I didn’t want to do it all- I never have. I am not type A. I am not what I would consider an avid overachiever. I am not a clean freak. I have no problem saying no to things. I try and stay focused and give my time to the things that really matter. I love my job and I feel I do meaningful work. I love being a mom and I know that being with your children is more important than doing things for them.
But even my considerably average standards still felt nearly impossible to attain. What was I doing wrong?
I wrestled with this question for a week or two with no clear answer, until one day two different articles on chores popped up in my Facebook feed. Having a chore chart for the boys was something I kept meaning to do. No time like the present. I downloaded some chore charts and sat down with the boys to talk about all the different things that needed to get done around the house to make things run smoothly. This conversation was the “buy in”. We filled in the charts together and posted them in an easy to reach place so they could check off things as they did them. The novelty of this new system had them excited and eager to help- for now, at least. I knew consistencyy was going to have to be the key.
Later that night, I sat down at my desk and stared at a blank chore chart. Without putting much thought into it, I grabbed a pen and started filling in the chart with all the “chores” I typically do in a day, a week, a month. Make kids lunches, Morning drop off, Afternoon pick up, Soccer practice, Fill out paperwork, School Functions, Cook dinner, Grocery shop, Laundry…I moved on to a second page as the list went on and on. To be fair, I included things that Christian typically does that also keep our family ship floating: Yardwork, take out trash/recycling, car maintenance, house work. I posted this list on the fridge and, for one week, I initialed each chore with my initials or Christian’s as they were completed. At the end of the week, we looked at the lists together- Christian, a bit reluctantly.
While I primarily did this for myself, so I could see how much of my energy was going to this family “to-do” list, it was eye opening for both of us. All of the invisible work that I had been doing was now plain as day, visible and concrete. I was doing a lot more than even I thought I was doing, and certainly a lot more than Christian realized. Our conversation was rich and involved. We talked about gender roles, why things have evolved the way they have, our individual work demands, what we want to model for our children, and what we can do to find a better balance as a family. There was no blaming or chest puffing involved but there was certainly a healthy tension in the room as we cleared up some misconceptions. We kept sight of the fact that we are a unit and we had to share the load for every part to function and thrive. The big take away was that my part-time work hours did not indicate that I was supposed to take on everything else. More perhaps, but not everything. Ultimately we came up with courses of action- delegate, outsource, or lower our expectations. I think we both agreed a combination of all three was in order and we may rely more heavily on one course of action depending on that particular season of our lives. For example, there is no way I can maintain my summer standards now that I’m back at work. Truthfully, we don’t have it all figured out yet, but we have tackled one of the most important parts- awareness. (As for that woman who does it all- she is either a mystical creature or a robot). I don’t assume we ever will have this work-life-thing mastered. But we are closer to a better balance that keeps the health and well-being of our family as it’s overall goal.
And thankfully, as we move into the second month of school, things are slowing down a bit and we are all finding our groove a bit more. Oh, and the paperwork has nearly come to a halt, thank God.