Juggling Too Much?
This essay first appeared in the July 2008 issue of The Motherhood magazine, a publication of American Woman Publishing.
I never used to reach the bottom of my to-do list. Worse, it seemed to grow each day, as I added more tasks than I accomplished and crossed off. Like a consumer faced with escalating debt, I sank ever deeper in mounting responsibilities and commitments. Soon I would have to pull an all-nighter to get back on top of things. Sadly, foregoing a night of sleep seemed a viable option, considering the lack of shut-eye I averaged. Most nights, my thoughts would scurry from one sphere of my life to another, surveying my mental calendar, marshalling upcoming events, revisiting conversations, composing emails, and allowing me little rest.
Was I juggling too much? With only two children and limited work hours, I expected a smooth ride. Feeling overburdened and overwhelmed, I started investigating why my calendar had overflowed. My observations suggested that modern parents are overloaded. For starters, childtrendsdatabank.org reports that children participate in more after-school activities than ever, leaving parents to coordinate schedules, buy gear, and provide transportation to events. Lamenting the tendency of today’s parents to over-schedule their children in her essay “Why Parenting Eats at Mom and Dad,” Rosa Brooks terms this practice “intensive parenting,” labeling it “insane.” Religious institutions provide another example, according to pewforum.org. As attendance at services wanes, responsibilities in congregations fall on a smaller pool of members, increasing each volunteer’s load. Several houses of worship I have attended offered DIY Sunday school programs, counting on parents to establish classes, order materials, and teach their own children. Even schools have contributed to parents’ harried state. A few decades ago my district’s parent-teacher association consisted of fifteen committees. Today, that number has shot to a hyperactive fifty-eight, as parents organize lunch programs, raise funds for playground equipment, and manage numerous other events and services.
Naturally, these developments come at a price. Besides depleting me of energy during the day, an über-busy lifestyle jeopardized my family. When jugglers grow tired or lose interest, they drop things. Although I preferred to bedazzle onlookers with a flawless routine, by tackling more than I could handle, I risked letting my children and marriage slip through my fingers and shatter to pieces. Unless I downshifted soon, I feared facing wreckage: losing patience; forgetting common courtesies; missing appointments; becoming dependent on sleep-aids; suffering anxiety attacks; hitting the bottle on rough days. Furthermore, a National Sleep Foundation study detailed at sleepfoundation.org reported that my condition was widespread among American women.
To avoid a crash, I embarked on a life-simplifying mission. Shoot for 90% became my mantra, or as nationally-known clinical psychologist Wendy Mogel advises in her book The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, “Strive to be a ‘good enough’ parent, not a great one. It can make everyone in the family relax and paradoxically make life richer.” Just say no helped, too, as I declined invitations and relinquished committee controls to other up-and-comers. Lower the bar also proved an effective strategy. On my playgroup rotation, instead of continuing the trend of providing elaborate refreshments, I served store-bought mini-muffins, announcing I would be the act that was easy to follow. In her book Cereal for Dinner, Kristine Breese gives a thumbs-up to food preparation shortcuts, observing, “It has been said that busy moms keep the fast-food industry solvent…Life is often too hectic for us to get a well-balanced meal on the table every night – or even four nights out of seven.”
Keeping sight of the essential also cut me some slack. I began to fret less each night about details. Clearly, my shortcomings would prevent me from ever achieving super-mom status. I resolved, therefore, simply to show my children I loved them. A community workshop I attended on homework issues underscored this theme, as the discussion group concluded that preserving the parent-child relationship was more important than completing assignments perfectly every night.
Finally, admitting my limitations proved beneficial as well. After I confessed, “My children have not eaten anything green for a week,” a friend complained about the taxing morning she had spent with her children, then joked about posting a “Child for Sale” sign outside her house. Commiserating with co-jugglers, recognizing that bad days make good stories, and laughing about the comical side of circumstances gave us a break from our frenzied existence and certainly fostered a spirit of support rather than one-upmanship.
Having felt stretched for years as a mother in this age of extreme parenting, I once theorized that there is simply not enough time in each day for marriage, work, family, and my own interests. A direct corollary concluded that someone – either my husband, boss, children, or myself – would not get the attention they deserve today. Now, armed with more realistic expectations, plus a little humor, I have found a rhythm to my routine. Additionally, a once bleary-eyed mom has rediscovered sound sleep.
Copyright © 2008-2013 by Jennifer Kirsch. All Rights Reserved.