As a mother of four kids, there is a phrase that I hear regularly: “I don’t know how you do it!” I hear it all over the place, from the grocery store to the office to the school pick-up line to the airport.
I hear it from friends, co-workers, and strangers. From those who have fewer children than I do, they usually follow that up with “I mean it’s hard enough with my [one or two], I cannot imagine how you do it with four kids!”
My response to this varies by the day. Some days, I feel like I’m nailing this working-mom-of-four thing. My house is clean and tidy, I’m staying on top of my work, and everyone is still alive and well-fed.
Other days, not so much.
It’s hard to be pulled in so many directions—to have so many competing voices, so many lovely people wanting my attention, ears, and time. Not to mention managing a household this size…Do you know how much food, time, and energy a family of six requires? Do you know how much laundry, clutter, and dirty dishes are generated by six people? It’s a lot.
And while my family is great, everyone has a different threshold for dealing with all the things. Some aren’t bothered by the clutter or mess. Some don’t notice that laundry needs to be done until they’re out of socks. Some wouldn’t mind if the dishes went undone, or floors and bathrooms stayed dirty.
I’m sure I have the lowest threshold in terms of how much clutter and uncleanness I’m willing to live with, and the most stamina for working until it’s all clean and tidy again. But as you might imagine, that combination is a recipe for overwork and overwhelm. Because then I take on more and more (telling myself if I don’t do it, it won’t get done) and start singing my martyr song. Cue the resentment.
I’ve known for a long time that I have super high expectations and hold myself to standards that might be less than realistic. But that’s just how I’m wired, I told myself. When work is piling up, deadlines are looming, and the floors are dirty–I just dig in and work harder and faster and longer until it’s all done.
Some people practice “letting go” but that’s never been my style. I’ve never been interested in easing up on my expectations to relieve some pressure because I like having a clean and tidy house, I like completing work projects on time, I like cooking dinner, I like doing the laundry. Even if I feel like I’m losing my mind sometimes to get it all done…
Yes it’s stressful to get there but the end justifies the means, right?
Recently a friend encouraged me to reflect on how I’m treating myself by having to have it all together all the time. He raised the question of how kind I’m being to myself. The real work, he said, will be to explore why I need to hit the mark so consistently. Is it out of a desire to be seen a certain way?
Too close. Too…possible.
I don’t want to believe it’s true.
Is it possible that I’m not doing all the things for the right reasons? Is it possible that I take on too much because it makes me feel important or valuable or worthy?
Sigh. Inner work. Not as easy as housework 😉
Next time you see me or another friend who *you think* has it all together, ask them how they’re doing. Don’t let them get away with a quick, easy answer. Mention that it looks like they’ve got a lot on their plate, and ask how they’re really doing.
And if there’s an opening, maybe mention something you value about them that has nothing to do with what they produce, do, or accomplish. If they’re an overworked overachiever, it might just be the most helpful thing you can say to gently help them get their heart re-centered.
The hustle is real for many of us. But maybe it doesn’t have to be.