Not busy enough? Not relaxed enough? The myths moms tell ourselves about time.

Almost immediately after putting up my second time-management post last week, I happened to stumble across this book review by Lori Deschene at Tiny Buddha for Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions For An Ordinary Life, by Karen Maezen Miller, the author of Momma Zen, a parenting book I have always been drawn to for its focus on the here and now and appreciating yourself and loving the journey.

But while reading the review, I started to feel a bit of an uncomfortable twinge in my gut.

From the Tiny Buddha post:

“Most of us don’t want to be ordinary. We want to be special. We want to live bold, extraordinary lives punctuated by moments of passion, excitement, and adventure.

We want to fill our days with people, things, and activities that make us feel vibrant, and outsource the rest to someone else–someone paid to handle the mundane…

Karen Maezen Miller doesn’t give us any answers we can’t see, feel, and experience ourselves. That, to me, is the best possible care instruction because life truly is wherever you are.”

Lori’s words got me to thinking about this blog, my upcoming book, and how to balance the desire to give helpful and hard-won advice with the knowledge that sometimes mothers don’t need or want to improve upon their lives so much as just live them with joy and appreciation. Where is the line? Is there a line? Or are we all a little bit conflicted, a little bit torn between taking it easy and figuring out ways to do things a little bit better (so, ostensibly, we can take it even easier later?)

For example, I’ve written here about my struggle to come to the grips with the fact that I do, in fact, live a fairly ordinary life. The post I linked to there is just over a year old. In it, I wrote:

“The desire to be one of a kind, to have a life that’s bigger or somehow more than the norm, the wish to be different and unusual and unconventional…even as I recognize the futility of that desire, it still flickers there like a timid flame.”

And yet, on this same blog (and in my book) I also write about how to get things done, my ambitious nature, and setting goals for the future. Considering these possibly conflicting messages got me asking myself tough questions. Am I inconsistent? Do I not practice what I preach? (Do I preach? Oh please say no…)

I’m not sure. On the one hand, I believe that, as I’ve said before, this –right here and right now—is life. Yes, we are living it right this moment. This is our children’s childhood, passing by faster than either you or I can fully grasp right now. The washing of the dishes is life every bit as much as landing the book deal or signing on the house or, say, winning the lottery. There are some things you can’t know until you know them, that nobody can tell you, you just have to figure out along the way. You are fine, just the way you are. Motherhood: you are already doing it right.

That said, learning how to be more efficient or organized—even when that sometimes means delegating or outsourcing—can be a lifeline to moms who can’t seem to breathe amid all the noise and mess, let alone find the energy to smell any roses. Sure, life teaches us lessons along the way, but that doesn’t mean there’s no value in sometimes skipping the ‘learning by trial and error’ part and picking up a great “I can’t believe I didn’t think of that myself!” tip.

And sometimes, dreaming is just dreaming. I enjoyed reading the advice from super-successful people (conventionally speaking) in 168 Hours not because I necessarily want to run a Fortune 500 company, but because I figure I could learn something about running a home or a small, freelance writing business, from someone who’s managed something much larger.

The question becomes, how do we walk that balance? How do we set and reach for goals, while still embracing the real–and very likely mundane–life right in front of us?

As I was putting the final touches on this post, a comment came through on my last post from Shana of Ain’t No Mom Jeans (a great blog for moms who want to hang on to–or develop–fashion sense). And her comment validated but also helped me work through and past some of my discomfort. In the comment, Shana writes:

“To be honest, part of me (reading your last 3 articles on time) has been…resistant?  unhappy?  feeling defensive? Not sure exactly….but I guess what I’m struggling with is the fact that the only way I feel good about myself as a mother is if I work – actively work – to let go of most of the demands on my time, and just focus on enjoying this time with my little man.  I guess I’ve been resistant to time management tips simply because I see it in direct opposition to how I’ve been trying to manage – there’s been lots of talk of fitting MORE things in, when I’ve been busy trying to accept doing LESS.”

I’m so glad Shana spoke up so honestly, because I think it illustrates a bigger point about time: no matter which side of the fence you’re on, it’s so easy to feel like maybe you aren’t spending yours “right”. Believe it or not, I sometimes feel judged and defensive because of the (not always accurate) perception that I get sooo much done. I worry people think I’m busier and more uptight than I really am. For example, I got all kinds of comments (some scolding, some kind, some joking-but-not-really-joking) for being back at my laptop answering emails just a few hours after the birth of my last baby. Well, she was sleeping and I felt fine, and as much as I love, love, love losing myself in a newborn baby, I can only stare at a sleeping infant for so long before I start wondering what else is going on in the world. Even though the comments and gentle scoldings were well-meaning, deep-down I resented that people seemed to not trust me to know myself and my own tolerance for activity soon after giving birth, or worse, seemed to suggest that I wasn’t spending my newly postpartum hours “correctly” because I wasn’t soaking up little Clara’s awesomeness quite enough for their liking.

See what I mean? Not feeling Zen enough, or “slow” enough, or “doing less” enough–more of those mythical goals we start to believe we’re supposed to be reaching for–is just the flip side of the “not feeling like I get enough done” coin. In either case, you’re trying to achieve something that may not fit your personality or circumstances. With five kids and a work-at-home life, my household would crumble around me if I stopped moving for long from day to day. But I wouldn’t have chosen this lifestyle if I couldn’t handle it (most of the time), and though there are days that I struggle with it, there’s no turning back now, is there? It is what it is–over time, the busy-ness will settle down, my life will get easier. How do I keep from feeling down on myself because I can’t manage an afternoon siesta more than once a quarter or would prefer not to lounge around on the floor with the baby all morning? Flip side, same coin.

In response to a comment from my friend and blogger Jennifer Margulis, in which Jennifer copped that she was feeling a little bit sloth-like because of Laura Vanderkam’s awesome time-management skills, Laura responded:

“168 Hours is not meant to make anyone feel bad, but more to make us re-think how we are spending our time, if we’re not happy with it. If we are happy, then that’s worth celebrating! …It’s funny to see Jennifer talk about me having a lot of balls in the air because to me, the real legacy of writing 168 Hours is that I no longer feel busy. I got rid of several balls.”

To me, that’s the whole point of talking about time. It’s all about choosing. If how you’re spending your time makes you happy, wonderful. We all have different values and we all feel differently about the way our time is best spent. On the other hand, if you always feel like you’re drowning because you’re not able to get on top of things, or if you always feel “busy” but don’t feel like you’re busy with the things that matter, TIME is probably something you could stand to take a closer look at.  Like Shana admitted later in her comment,

“I suspect I’m struggling a bit more with my “do less” philosophy than I realize….At the end of the day, I am fiercely protective of my time, even though I don’t always act on it – something I want to get better about. I know I’m happier with a bit more advance planning, though strict schedules make me want to gnaw off my left arm, as do “fit more things into your day!” mantras. I think the key is probably balance. Sigh. Isn’t it always?”

Yep. That, I believe, and knowing yourself, trusting yourself to choose the level of activity that’s right for you and your family, and listening to that quiet inner voice so you can tell if something is out of whack or could use a bit of tweaking, a bit of slowing down, or a bit of speeding up.

Since TIME” is going to be our theme for the whole month of September, it’s something I’m going to be thinking and writing about a lot this week. In the meantime, do your recognize yourself in any of the comments above? Have you felt judged about the way you use your time–either because you seem to be more or less busy than other moms you know? Or have you been the judger–perhaps out of insecurity about your own choices or circumstances? For you, where’s the magical balance where you feel like you reach your own, personal, specific equilibrium?


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  1. Kristin T. (@kt_writes)
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