Sometimes I get breathless from running around the house to get the kids ready in the morning, and then running around at work, and then running errands, and then running home to take care of the kids again at night. Sometimes it feels like I’m chasing the carrot of “being done” but I’m on a treadmill so I’m not really getting anywhere and to top it off, I’m hyperventilating. When I get to this point, I turn to a few strategies that I’ve employed in the past that give me a bit of breathing room.
1) I Determine My Non-Negotiables.
There are certain activities and chores around the house that I know I HAVE to do – like paying the bills and feeding my children. Those are mandated by necessity and also child protective services. Other things – like dusting the baseboards or making sure that my two-year-old’s clothes are neatly folded inside her dresser drawers – those are solely mandated by my personal neurotic tendencies. Once I realized the distinction, I began differentiating which of my neuroses needed to be attended to and which ones didn’t. I do not have the energy to tackle them all on a daily basis. I realized that while I need to have all of the dinner dishes rinsed clean (non-negotiable), I can allow them to sit in the sink until the next day (negotiable). I need to have all of my kids’ laundry washed, dried and put away on the weekend (non-negotiable) but I’m okay with just tossing the tiny shirts and pants into a drawer without folding them (negotiable). It’s not that I don’t LIKE everything to be neat and tidy and perfect, but feeling like I NEED everything that way is just setting myself up for utter exhaustion and disappointing defeat. I pick one or two non-negotiables each weekend – as those needs sometimes change – and have three permanent weeknight non-negotiables: the dishes need to be rinsed after dinner, the kids need to brush their teeth before bed, and my coffee pot needs to be prepped ahead of time so all I have to do was push the button in the morning. You might notice from this list (or by visiting me in my home) that vacuuming my floor is not a non-negotiable. It’s not that I don’t like a freshly vacuumed rug – I REALLY DO. But I will no longer be held hostage by fuzz on the floor or matted down footprints.
2) I Schedule Time to Do What Makes Me Happy.
This is my life, right? The only one I’m going to get. I remind myself of this on the regular. Being a parent involves making sacrifices but it doesn’t mean I have to let go of everything I enjoy. I deserve to smile for reasons other than those related to my children. And they deserve to see that I am able to do that, too. As a working mom, I do not want to waste my free moments NOT doing something I love. I do not worry about whether what I choose to do is hip or cool because I don’t have time for that nonsense. My hobbies are what make me happy and keep me sane(ish). Sometimes I don’t feel like I have the time – which is why I absolutely schedule that shit into my planner. I do not give a f*ck if someone peers at my weekly spread and notices I have “doodling mandalas” or “drinking a glass of wine while reading frivolous fiction books” scheduled in for 8pm next Monday. If I did, I suppose I could always label it “self-care.”
3) I Figure Out What I Can Let Go Of.
At work and at home. Periodically I assess my level of productivity and level of stress. If I’m feeling overextended I run through the list of everything on my plate – is there a committee that I’m on that I can retire from? Is there a task I can do less often? Doing things a certain way over an extended period of time doesn’t mean I have to keep doing them that way forever. I’ve learned to avoid explaining why – something many of us women unnecessarily feel the need to do. I can now state pretty easily, “I’ve really enjoyed x,y, and z, but I’ve decided to put my time and energy into other areas now.” Boom. Done. No need trying to explain to my boss that I really need to spend more time drinking wine and doodling.
4) I Do Less Bullshit.
I’ve stopped doing things out of obligation. I do the things I really want to and I politely decline the rest. Jewelry party? Maybe I order something online, maybe I don’t. School fundraiser? I write a check and skip the spaghetti dinner. Family event? I think long and hard about whether or not I am up to it because I DON’T HAVE TO GO if I don’t want to. Sometimes I get to the point where my anxiety is so high and my nerves are so shot that I have to schedule in time to sit around my house in my pajamas all weekend – something that looks like I’m doing nothing, but really is spending quality time with my family while recharging my batteries. When you think about it that way, “doing nothing” is important as hell. The same rule applies to my children – I don’t sign them up for 50 million extracurricular activities. They don’t need to be entertained or told what to do all the time – it’s good for them to figure out how to entertain themselves. I only regret this decision when they entertain themselves by coloring the walls with permanent marker.
5) I Make Cooking Less of a Chore.
Cooking is THE WORST. If I wait until 5pm to figure out what I’m making for dinner, my anxiety skyrockets as my blood sugar plummets. I turn into an indecisive psycho and that is the exact opposite of what I’m going for so I remedy this situation by food-prepping each weekend. I cook up some chicken, hard boiled eggs, roasted vegetables, roasted garbanzo beans, and oatmeal breakfast casseroles. Throughout the week I mix and match what I’ve prepared ahead of time with staples on hand – pasta, rice, canned beans, sliced meat, cheese sticks, and raw fruits and vegetables. We eat a lot of piece-meal dinners and this usually satisfies my picky toddlers – as long as I place all the foods in a divided tray so none of those things touch each other.
6) I Say What I Need Before I Lose It
If I need a break I’ve learned that my spouse does not intuitively pick up on my subtle cues. When I’m a sinking ship sending out an SOS, all he sees is a whiny miserable wife. So now, I try to let him know how I’m feeling (LOSING MY MIND) and what I need (THIRTY MINUTES ALONE). I keep an eye out for his own signals of distress and try not get annoyed when he takes the breaks he needs. He needs to revive himself after spending three hours on the phone with the cable company and taking the cars to the shop for an estimate just like I do after dealing with screaming kids and spilled milk while he was occupied. Marriage is a delicate teeter-tottering of one person holding it together while the other one gets some downtime.
I grip tightly to my tiny sliver of sanity like someone holding onto the rope in a heated match of tug of war. I get burned here and there, but I keep heaving and pulling to get my hands on just a little bit more.