Monday, August 24, 2009

How to "do it all"

I have to say that the question "How do you do it all?" can be one of the most infuriating questions I have been asked. I guess it depends on who is asking. When the question comes from a woman with two kids who is working, going for her master's degree, volunteering in various programs, going to the gym 5 times a week, and paying a maid and a day care center to do all the "hard" stuff, the urge to slap her can be hard to resist.

Someone said to me several years ago that the best answer to that question is "I don't". That is the truth, too. There are only 24 hours in a day. There is only so much one person can do with those hours. Sleeping and eating take up a big chunk of that. Cooking and cleaning and doing all the other little things that keep your family running take up even more of your time. If you have small children, your hours are devoured by changings, feedings, cleanings, and (if you are lucky) cuddling.

There are worse ways to spend a day. Unfortunately we live in a society that puts incredible pressure on women to "live up to their potential". That is not bad advice but it isn't exactly good advice either. Who can determine what our potential is and whether or not we are living up to it? Besides that, a woman in her thirties isn't even half way through her life yet!

I have to admit that I feel that pressure to "prove myself" often. It isn't that I don't know motherhood is important. It is just...unglamorous. And it takes a while to get the hang of it. And it keeps changing because your kids grow up. And...well, you get the picture.

We don't make it easy on each other either. We show up other mothers all the time. Maybe it isn't our primary motive but it still happens. Haven't you ever spent hours making heart shaped cookies for your child's class party and felt just a twinge of satisfaction that yours were the talk of the first-grade? Or maybe you get up early to make sure your daughter has perfect curls for picture day. You might even make seemingly innocent comments to other mothers like "You mean you don't read to little Jimmy for an hour every night before he goes to bed?"

It may seem perfectly innocent from your perspective. After all, isn't that what "good mothers" do? A friend once asked me how she could be a good mother if she couldn't even make bread. My first reaction was "what on earth does making bread have to do with being a mother?" Yet when I got married the first thing I learn to make from my brand-new Betty-Crocker cookbook was bread rolls. Where on earth did that connection come from?

It isn't that we feel animosity for other mothers (usually) or that we want to put undue pressure on each other. It is simply the desire to be special. There is little about motherhood that makes you feel least to the outside world. My most cherished moments are when my babies look at me with total and complete adoration. In that moment I know that I am the greatest thing in the world to them. In that moment, it doesn't matter that I don't have a degree, that I don't have a career, that I am... unexceptional. To that tiny, new life, I am everything.

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