Thursday, June 10, 2010

Making it work after work

The cat's screeching hungrily at the back door. Each kid has his own color of sticky stains down his shirt. The little one's bleeding. Your full DVR queue beckons, mocking, just like that sofa which is as plump and soft as the bags under your eyes. Everybody's frantic for a glass of milk. Everybody needs to be cleaned and read to and snuggled. The hungry husband is due home any minute and you forgot to defrost any meat. Your sad fridge greets you with spoiled produce; as you make your way to the pantry you see that the puppy has seized the moment to pee on the floor.

How do you make it all work after work?

Guess what, Wonder Woman: You don't.

Let. It. Go. You can't do it all. "Doing it all" is as bad as "having your cake and eating it too"--the stuff of misery when you can't live up to the standard. You're only one person. Doing it all might mean you keep up the facade, but it might also mean you sacrifice your sanity. Take care of you and your family, but let the guilt go. Laundry never proved anything. A mopped floor was never cause for sainthood. Dishes never sent anyone to hell.

Step one: Acceptance. Realize you're already doing something amazing for your family. That spoiled produce? You bought it with all the hours you put in diggin' dirt for the man. In this economy, it's probably a necessity that every able adult in your house brings home an income. Maybe you're the only adult and nobody eats if you don't work. You have food and a home and a place to sleep. This is no small thing. The first step is to breathe and realize you're not going to be able to do what a stay at home mom does in a day. Guess what? You're not her, and you are doing your best. Your mom was right. Do your best and that's all anyone can expect of you. Some days you're going to "use up" the best part of yourself at work. That sucks. Forgive yourself now.

Step two: Frog. Eat it. There's a reason that the quote about eating a live frog first thing in the morning is so popular: it's good advice. Don't go hunting amphibians. It means to do your most dreaded task first. Get it over with so you can move on without a millstone of worry around your neck. High on the frog list for many moms? Exercise. Most moms hate to get up early... almost as much as they hate to take care of themselves. But when we do it--when we eat that frog and sweat it out at oh-dark-thirty--we feel great all day. We know that when the kids go to bed and we find five minutes of peace, it's really peace. It's gifting yourself freedom from guilt. If you can accomplish that dreaded task first thing, whatever it is, it's off your plate and out of your head. So put a load of laundry in before you take the kids to school. Do a load of dishes before breakfast. Any small thing you do first is one less thing to do later. If that thing you choose to do first is for you, you're starting off your day establishing your own health and well-being as integral components of a healthy family.

Step three: Plan. Remember that hour you passed this morning in a mind-numbing meeting? When all you could do was watch a clock while you listened to other people pontificate? How about putting that time to good use by planning your evening on a little scratch paper? Simple Mom has a downloadable Docket and Weekly Checklist that work nicely and are easily adaptable to the tasks you prefer. Use that down time--or lunch time, or break time, or driving time--to plan. What should you cook for dinner? What important things were you supposed to do for each kid tonight? What/who needs to be clean for tomorrow? Who needs to be called back? A little bit of planning goes a long way. When you have a list down, you can prioritize. And when you write things down you can let them go: you don't have to worry that you won't remember them. Making lists is freeing. Allow yourself to put the burden down, if only on the paper.

Step four: Attack. Choose the easiest thing on your list and do that first. Then choose the next easiest and do that. Start small. Cross things off; it feels so good. Do one thing on the list before you change from work. Do another before you let yourself sit down. And when you do sit down, let it be true down time. If you have to tell your children that they can't talk to you for a half an hour while you unwind from work, they will survive. In fact, they might actually enjoy their time with you more if you're not coming down off a mountain of stress. If your little ones are too little to play by themselves, lay on the floor and play with them. They will happily climb over and around you. Once you feel like you've done enough, stop. You won't have to worry tomorrow about what you were still supposed to do, because it will still be on your list. You don't have to do everything. Each evening needs its own emptiness. Yes, you're home from 5:00 until you drop dead asleep at 12:36 AM, but that doesn't mean every minute needs a task. It's tempting to fill that space, but you'll regret it. Do some, and then let go. You'll be better for your family tomorrow if you do. Allow elbowroom in your evening so your family can define itself--beautiful things happen when nothing extraordinary is happening.

Step five: Prep. Step five is not going to happen all the time, so you have to rejoice in it when you can but allow it to fade into and out of your life. Your mom was right about one more thing: if you lay things out the night before, life's much easier the next day. Have kids lay out clothes. Make lunches. Press work clothes. Make a list of what you need to remember tomorrow--it might be simpler to keep a small white board in the kitchen or other central area. Take some meat out of the freezer to defrost for the next day's dinner. If you're feeling like a superstar, wash, chop, and prep your produce when you get home from the grocery store (you'll be more likely to eat it before it goes bad). Find the kids' backpacks and shoes. It's amazing how much easier that all is at night.

Most importantly, if you fail at every step listed, laugh it off. You're there for your family which is the most important thing you can do. Spend time with them. Love them. Admit to them that you're having a hard time or that you need help if that's the case. Say to heck with it and eat pizza on a couch covered in laundry. Wipe up the dog pee for heavens' sake, but the dog's going to love you no matter what the house looks like. Let go of the notion that you have to be everything to everyone. Everyone that matters is with you in your home. Think of systems and structures that will help you. Realize that nobody in the world knows your family and what it needs better than you do. Breathe.

What's your best advice for getting it all done? How do you survive when there's a mountain of responsibility at home and all you want to do is hit the couch?

1 comment:

  1. "What's your best advice for getting it all done? How do you survive when there's a mountain of responsibility at home and all you want to do is hit the couch?"

    Hit the couch! Why do today, what you can do tomorrow? Tomorrow will be a better day for responsibility, and besides, tomorrow may never come!

    Professor Dendy