Every working, stay-at-home, self-employed, or salaried mother struggles to fit more than 24 hours into their day. Moms struggle more than dads, because they have what researchers refer to as a need for “intensive motherhood”. In other words, mothers put tremendous pressure on themselves because of feelings of guilt about not being able to “do it all”.
In her book “Drop the ball”, Tiffany Dufu tells her own personal story about her struggles trying to keep up with gendered expectations while working and raising a family. Like so many other women, Tiffany found that trying to “do it all” was the surest path to failure. Science agrees. Researchers have found that women’s belief that they have to be “better housekeepers” and “better parents” means that they are constantly worrying about not reaching the elusive and impossible perfection.
According to the findings of a recent survey involving over 3000 women between the ages of 25 and 54, time-pressure is often self-imposed. The study found that:
- Among the women who could afford to hire help, almost half were against asking for that help.
- For many women, free time rhymed with chores.
- More than 60% of women did not consider that their work interfered with their personal lives, meaning that overwhelm was rarely about a work/family conflict.
- Over 30% of the women felt that doing less at home meant they were somewhat failing in their household duties.
- Almost 70% said that they would not pay for extra childcare even if they could afford it.
Today more than ever, it has become clear that “having it all and doing it all” is simply a myth that makes women feel guilty when they are unable to balance their professional and family lives. Many who try end up feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and like they are “not good enough”.
The good news is that it is possible to adopt zen-parenting practices which can help you find your balance. Here are six things you can start doing today to live a more fulfilling life.
Six tips to more fulfilled parenting
1) Something’s got to give
Guilt is a terrible thing, because it lingers around, watching your every move and making you doubt your actions and decisions.
Maria was raised in a religious catholic family. She feels pressured to take her kids for catechism classes but she’s finding it difficult to balance everything she has to do.
Piper wants her kids to do ballet because she would have loved to have such an opportunity as a child, but they prefer sports and arts, so they each have three extracurricular activities.
Renée’s idea of good parenting is making all the meals herself and keeping the house spotless. She’s finding that with four kids, the struggle is real.
Many of the decisions we make are tied to our family cultural norms and beliefs. Even when those beliefs are silent and unconscious, they find a way to rule our behavior, meaning that we are likely to feel guilty and “less worthy” if we do not live up to standards we may not even be consciously aware of.
The road to “zen parenting” must begin with a clear definition of what really matters to you. Few people are able to have it all. What does “having it all” mean to you? Does it mean being able to enjoy your work and family? Does it mean being able to spend time as a family? Does it mean focusing on your child’s strengths rather than on your past regrets?
When you take the time to reflect on what really matters to you and your family, you will find the courage to let go of the things that hold you back consciously or unconsciously and to free up more time. Be true to yourself.
2) “Drop the ball”
In her book, Tiffany speaks of how being raised to see an immaculate home as a sign of her worth led to feelings of overwhelm and guilt. In her words, she suffered from an extreme case of “Home Control Disease”, which means that she micromanaged her home and obsessed about having the “best home”. If you suffer from the same disease, you believe that:
- you can do everything better and faster than anyone else in your household
- the state of your home is a sign of your worth
- you have to micromanage everything
- you alone know how to care for your child
- household tasks must be handled in one specific manner and not another
- your house should be neat and spotless at any given time
Tiffany admits that she was “juggling so many balls because she didn’t trust her husband to hold them”. The moment she decided to “drop the ball” was the moment she regained her balance. Here are a few tips to help you drop your ball:
a) Delegate. You do not have to do everything, all the time. Let your partner and your children participate in household chores – it’s good for them, it’s good for you, and it’s good for your entire family.
b) Imaginary delegation doesn’t work. Sometimes I think to myself that if I only wish hard enough, my husband will clean the bathtub. Or I wish that my kids would clear the dinner table without me having to ask. Rarely have those wishes come true. If you want your partner or children to do something, ask them, or at least talk about it. Don’t just imagine that they’ll know what you’re expecting, then get mad at them for not being able to read your mind.
c) Lower your expectations. “Spotless” means different things to different people. “Housework” means different things to different people. Mirrors do not have to be polished every other day, nor do windowsills have to be dusted every Tuesday and Friday.
d) You are not alone. Others are under no obligation to meet your standards of “domestic perfection”. Redoing everything that has already been done just because it does not meet your standards will only lead to stress, overwhelm and resentment. Be willing to accept that not everyone shares your vision of “how things should be done”, and that’s okay.
3) Get a Not-to-do list
I learned about a Not-to-do list at a time when I was staggering under the sheer weight of everything that I felt I had to deal with. The friend who introduced me to this list gave me advice that totally changed how I approach tasks today. He said, “I want you to go through your list and divide the tasks you have into three – “must-do tasks”, “important tasks”, and “other tasks”. When I looked at the things I had put on my “other tasks”, I found that many of them didn’t really need to be done.
Putting things on the “not-do-list” means sparing more time for things that really matter. This may mean reducing the time you spend responding to messages or emails, reducing the time you spent browsing the net, reducing certain types of chores (do you really have to dust your windowsills twice a week?), and so on.
If you want a not-to-do list to work, here are a few things that you need to do first:
a) Be clear about where your time goes. If it always feels like you have less than 24 hours in your day, it may be time for a time audit. How are you spending your time? On what and with whom? Over the next three days, track how you spend every moment to be more conscious of where your time is going.
b) Know what matters most. The more you’re clear about what really matters to you, the easier it will be to choose actions and activities around your values and goals.
c) Learn to say no. Not everything (and everyone) on your list deserves your time.
4) Block off specific moments for “family time”
One of the reasons most mothers feel guilty about is the feeling that they hardly have any time for their kids. It is hard to find that time, unless if you put it on your to-do list.
It is not the amount of time that you spend with your child that matters; what does is spending regular quality time together. An easy way to do this is to brainstorm 20-minute activities the whole family enjoys doing, then do one activity each day for the next 30 days. During this family time, have everyone disconnect and put all phones down. Here is a 30-day challenge of activities your entire family will enjoy – and they all last between 15 and 20 minutes!
5) Put yourself on your priority list
If you are not on your priority list, you will end up feeling stressed and overwhelmed. The key to finding your zen is treating yourself as a priority. This means scheduling time to do something just for you every day. This could be taking 20 minutes every day to read, taking a 10-minute coffee break alone every day, scheduling time to work out or take a walk, and so on. In the survey I cited earlier, the women who took time for themselves reported feeling happier and more satisfied with their lives than those who did not. The more you take care of yourself, the easier it will be to take care of others.
6) Celebrate your successes
It is human nature to focus more on “what needs to be done” than on “what’s already been done”. This is now commonly known to as the Zeigarnik Effect, and it refers to the tendency to fixate on uncompleted tasks than on completed ones. The problem is that focusing on uncompleted tasks increases your stress, anxiety and feelings of overwhelm.
The “got-done list” has been increasingly used as a tool to increase productivity in the workplace, but it is also a great idea to reduce parental stress and to help you see how much you actually do and achieve on any given day. When you feel like you’re not doing too great as a parent, take just two minutes and list everything you’ve managed to do today. Write down your accomplishments. You’ll see that you’re doing a great job. Give yourself grace.
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