A client I’m working with reminded me so much of myself I had to stop and sort of shake my head around to stay the me that I am now and answer her from THAT place instead of returning to the me I was then and answering her THAT way. What? I know, that was really confusing sounding. Point is, she is having a struggle that I remember so well, so viscerally, that it took some ninja concentration to stay focused.
You see, she has a LOT to do, and when I say a LOT I mean she has an infant a LOT, not just “I’m a busy person” a lot. She has a full time job and an infant. Those two make for a special kind of busy. The thing is, she really wants as much of her life as possible to stay the same as it was before the kids… clean house, orderly nutritious home cooked meals, time to exercise before work. And who wouldn’t want that, seriously, who wouldn’t?
I remember when my twins were infants… okay, no I don’t. I don’t remember that at all because I was averaging about 3 hours of sleep, but I do remember when they were still less than a year old. And I remember feeling discontented with the way things were. I was SO tired and SO busy, so occupied with all of the obvious required activities. When I had a moment to look up from feedings and diapers (and the occasional shower for myself), dinner prep, and dog care, I would notice how much needed to be done around the house. And I would try to do that too. As the kids grew older, I expected more and more of myself. Because I didn’t go back to work right away, I created other jobs for myself. I made all of our food at home with organic this and that hand harvested under fair trade conditions. I began making my own cleaning products and soap, lotion, etc. I still maintain that my homemade deodorant was the best I ever used. I adopted cleaning schedules so my house would be drop-in ready and so I would feel content with how it looked. I ran myself ragged making everything as perfect as I could, no evidence of the chaos that really was our daily lives. I never once stopped and asked who all of that was for. I never once questioned the need to do it ALL. Instead, I had this feeling that I was responsible for everything. And that feeling filled me with anxiety and resentment.
At some point I shared all of this with a brilliant coach and described myself as holding stacks and stacks of dishes in each hand, carefully moving through the world trying not to break them. She asked what would happen if I didn’t carry them all. I indicated that they would break. She smiled and gently asked if I couldn’t put some of them down… Oh, right.
Now here’s the tricky part. When we think about putting responsibilities down, we are so often tempted to give them to other people, preferably the people we think haven’t been doing their fair share. “I can’t do all of this. You need to do more.” Sometimes that is totally appropriate. When I went back to work and my husband gave up one of his two jobs, we needed to rebalance the domestic load. That makes sense, but as for all those other dishes I was carrying? Here’s the question that I think should have come first, before handing off responsibilities: are all of these dishes (tasks) really important? Why are they important? Can I lighten my load by making them less important? Is it more important for the distribution of effort to look fair to me or for the amount of stuff that needs doing to become more reasonable?”
I have, in times of overwhelm, asked my husband to pick up my dishes without determining whether or not they need to be dealt with at all, whether my standards make any sense. Sometimes asking my husband to do more to meet my standards would just mean making us both miserable. My standards didn’t take our reality into account. My standards were making things harder for all of us. I thought a fair distribution of misery was the solution; now I think a measured move towards ease makes more sense. And only I could make THAT shift.
I needed to stop worrying about what other people thought of my lawn, my home, my children’s clothes. I needed to create the life that I and we want rather than the one I thought we were supposed to have. Misery that is equally distributed is still misery. Making room for the imperfection that a full life brings also makes room for things like playing a game with your kid, sitting on the porch with a glass of ice water, reading FOR FUN, all of these wonderful things that nobody has to suffer for first, in hopes that they MIGHT have time at the end. What if we don’t have to wait for everything to be perfect to relax and have fun? What if all we have to do is believe we’ve done enough?
If you suspect you’ve done enough, but can’t quite get there without feeling a little queasy, or a little guilty, or a little resentful about what someone else isn’t doing, please do get in touch. I’d love to help you with that.