The truth is that, like “good enough” mothering or “doing your best,” giving 100% is a pretty subjective idea and ideal.
Actually, it’s probably not even ideal. After all, if I consistently give 100%, day in and day out, then I have no reserves left over to draw on when life knocks me for a loop.
So, here’s my reality. Some days I truly excel, getting up early and hitting the day with all pistons firing. Those are the days I make it through the mornings on a sort of cheerful high octane, clearing away the dishes from the steel-cut oatmeal immediately, setting my daughter up with an art project and chattering with her from my computer as I deftly maneuver between mothering and my inbox. I make a healthy lunch and sit down with my daughter to eat it, instead of hunching over my desk.
In the afternoon, while she naps, I produce thousands of high quality words for my blogs. I greet the kids with homemade cookies when they get home, greet my husband with a kiss when he gets home, and we all sit down to dinner (homemade, naturally) together at precisely 6:30. Somehow, without my even noticing, I’ve managed to keep the house neat all day; the dishes will be clean, the leftovers neatly stored in the fridge, the homework done and tomorrow’s lunches packed long before I get sleepy (and grumpy.) The three littler kids are in bed – with a proper tuck-in, story, and kiss – by 8:00. After making sure my big kids have their homework done and maybe having a little conversation with them, I have some quality time with my husband, fold a load of laundry, read a little, and go to bed.
That is what a 100% day looks like for me. And let me tell you, they are few and far between.
For me, the average day isn’t 100% or even close. Sure, I roll out of bed in time to get my kids off to school, but I might crawl back under the covers and snooze until Clara wakes up. I feed her cereal or cinnamon toast. The dishes linger. My first hour or two of work is sluggish. She watches Netflix while I circle around my to-do list like a vulture, picking at bits of real work, peppered by pauses to check Facebook. By the end of the day I get a burst of energy and manage to pull things together somehow, my work gets done – and usually well – and the house might even look tidy.
But I didn’t give 100%. Not even close. Many – most? – days, judging by my best, it seems I could have done better.
The reality, though, is that my “best” is not sustainable day to day. Most days, the best I feel capable of is not really “my best.” And I think that’s OK.
I believe that part of the reason I’m able to go so hard-core on the days I am feeling particularly energetic, inspired, focused, and motivated, is that I’ve let myself build up some reserves the rest of the time.
I used to get down on myself for my rather inconsistent approach to productivity, but then I realized: It works for me. Stuff eventually gets done. My kids are parented well and my home is cared for, if not perfect. It’s just the way I am.
I don’t have to prove myself to myself – or anyone else – by going full-bore 7 days a week. In the end, the rest and reprieve I get from those slightly-slacking days are just as important to being “my best self” as my 100% days are.
One of the biggest rules of happiness in life, I believe, is to know yourself. Some people thrive on steadiness and consistency. They benefit from gradual, regular progress. Maybe you’re one of those people.
Or maybe you’re like me, vacillating between hyper-productivity and downtime spent catching your breath. In the end – as long as we make the most of our energy when we have it, and take time out when we need it – it all evens out.
Lesson learned: “Giving 100%” doesn’t always look like giving 100%. And none of us need to do our best all the time to be “good enough” parents.
Whatever that means.
photo: AngryLambie on Flickr, via Creative Commons License