When my first child was about six months old, I realized that every day I set him down to play while I ran around to get things done: laundry, blogging, work, cleaning, etc. One of my most-oft repeated phrases was, “Okay, I’m just going to do (a list of six things), and then I’ll play with you.”
Five years (and two more children) later, I still do the same thing. I leave my children playing, or worse, watching the TV, to get to the work of the household, until the baby is banging on the closet door while I hurry to get a load of laundry going before anyone else notices I’m gone.
Some of this is, of course, necessary. Even with the perfect household routines, the house doesn’t really run itself. I stand up to do one thing for one child, and ten minutes/ten tasks/ten interruptions later, I finally get to that original task. We have to eat and we need clean clothes and a clean home, and if I let these duties pile up, I’ll have to spend even more time away from them playing catch up.
But the work of the household isn’t what this is all about. Because motherhood is not, at its heart, about getting things done.
To be sure, there are a lot of things that mother needs—or thinks she needs—to get done. Meal preparation, homework assistance, chauffeur service, vacuuming, and dishes—not to mention employment, a necessity for many mothers—absorb so much of a mother’s time that it’s very easy to let getting stuff done preoccupy our thoughts, our plans, and our lives.
Preoccupy is the perfect word here. Our thoughts and our schedules are pre-occupied—they’re already filled. And what are they filled with? So often, it’s a lot of minutiae.
It’s minutiae that I often let get in the way of true motherhood. Cleaning is important, but not more important than enjoying my children. Cooking is important—we all gotta eat!—but not more important than being patient with my children, even if one of them does have to be constantly underfoot while I’m in the kitchen.
My attitude of “just let me finish what I need to do, and then I’ll be right with you (if I don’t have something else more pressing to do)” gets in the way of my more positive mother attributes. (And I’m almost positive that I have some!)
Motherhood isn’t about getting it all done. There are no gold stars for keeping your floors spotless and your sink dish-free. A pristine home, a socially- athletically- and musically-active child, a four-course gourmet meal—even a productive career—are all good things. But they shouldn’t be the sum total of motherhood, or even, ideally, the bulk of it.
My children aren’t old enough for school, so all day, every day is a juggling act of their needs, running the house, and my own projects. Although I feel good about finishing a project or having every piece of clothing clean, when I look back over my day—and when I’ll look back over my life—my biggest sense of accomplishment comes more from sitting down with my daughter to play “movie theater,” working on an art project with my son, or bouncing the baby on the beanbag chair.
This is a lesson I learn over and over again as a mother. When I had my third child, she had to be held almost constantly through her second month, and even then, she still cried. I had a long list of things I would have liked to have done, not the least of which was to stop watching so much television, but also feed myself and the rest of our family, vacuum, and, say, use the bathroom. Holding a baby, even one that could often be held comfortably with one arm, made it hard to do much of anything.
But, I realized, it was okay. It was okay if she cried for a few minutes while I used the bathroom, or made sandwiches. And it was okay, too, if I didn’t accomplish everything that I’d really liked to beyond those basics. Those newborn days are always a precious time—but also, I was already doing enough. I was doing my best to raise three kids and meet their needs. And if at that stage, that was all I could squeeze into a day, it was okay. I had identified the most important, basic needs of the household and done all I could to meet those, but I wasn’t going to let the work of the household get in the way of being what my baby needed me to be right then. If at the end of the day, I could cross that off my list, it was a good day.
Because motherhood is not, at its heart, about doing. Motherhood is about being. Because motherhood isn’t just something you do; it’s who you are.
QUESTION: What things preoccupy your mind during the day? Would you like to rearrange or let go of some of your tasks to make more room for special moments with your children?
CHALLENGE: When an opportunity arises, let a chore wait and do that something special with the children. Fill your day doing things that will give you satisfaction and great memories when you look back over your life.
Photo submitted by author.