Yesterday, I had an unexpected hour free. It came without warning at 3pm, when the last item on my to-do-list had been checked off, and I had at least 60 minutes until day care pickup. Working mothers will know that these moments come all too infrequently, if at all. Perhaps that’s why it gave me such a feeling of unease...
As I contemplated the stretch of time ahead of me, I didn’t act on any of the advice I so regularly consume about self-care. I didn’t even opt to sit in my car for an extra hour to work through the 38 episodes banked up in my Podcast app. Rather, I started another mental to-do list.
As a mother of two, working a full-time load with a business on the side, combined with all the other trimmings of modern-day female life, no matter how much I manage to squeeze into a day, it never seems to be enough.
Does anyone else feel plagued by this constant feeling of guilt and inadequacy?
Sure, I’d completed two days’ worth of work in six hours, including three conference calls. I’d spent three hours with my kids, involving a park visit, a puzzle and a Bey Blades battle (mothers of boys, please tell me I’m not alone here). I’d done three loads of washing, ironed seven shirts, mopped the floors, unstacked the dishwasher, cleaned the back windows and tidied up said Bey Blades (benefit – or perhaps peril – of working from home). I’d enrolled in after-school care, signed my tax forms, called my grandmother, sent balloons to my godson, and polished off the remainder of a jar of peanut butter.
But you know what I didn’t do? Exercise. Meditate. Prepare the following day’s breakfast or even that night’s dinner. Clear out my underwear drawer. Bake for my friend battling morning sickness. Call my dad. Research SEO and optimise my website. Understand the new Instagram algorithm. I’m going to stop there because I can feel my adrenals bulging.
As I’ve pondered this for the past 24 hours, I have really started to wonder if there’s ever a moment when as mothers, we’ve done enough. I think that aggravating catchphrase, “You have the same number of hours in the day as Beyonce!” has really worn me down. Yes, I do. So why can’t I do it all?
Or perhaps a better question is if I can do it all, should I? Should I have packed exercise, meditation, cooking and conflicting research into the day that already felt a little manic? This isn’t rhetorical. Should I?
Perhaps more poignantly, should I have done all that I did in the first place? I know I am not alone here, being a mother squeezing a full workload into whatever childcare she can wrangle, taking on the mental load, and doing the majority of the housework and childrearing, in spite of a supportive, feminist husband. If we can do it all, should we? Are we doing anyone any favours?
As well as a feeling of guilt over everything I didn’t do, at the end of the day, I often sit down with a feeling of true exhaustion. But I look around, and I see that nothing has suffered. My kids are thriving, my husband is happy, my boss is satisfied, my house is tidy, my friendships are largely intact. Perhaps all that’s struggling here is me. And if that’s the sacrifice (as well as a sagging butt due to aforementioned lack of exercise), is that okay? Sadly this is not the type of article that is neatly packaged up with a revelation at the end. Because I’m not sure of the answer. I know we’re meant to savour every moment, but we’re also meant to be incredible mothers, high performing employees, great wives and well-rounded, well-read, well-adjusted women.
My question is – how? Perhaps I’ll put that question on tomorrow’s to-do list.
Words: Amy Malpass-Hahn | Image: Jenna Louise Potter