It doesn’t matter how many items we cross off our to-do lists in a day if we exhaust ourselves and burn out before the finish line.
I’m a list-maker. To me, there is something triumphant about sliding a pencil across an item on my to-do list, marking my accomplishment.
“I am productive!” I yell (internally, of course, because it’s nap time and I am NOT risking waking up my children and ruining my productivity).
I’ve always been a task-oriented person. It’s important to me to feel like I’m making progress each day…contributing to the world in some way. And one of the biggest adjustments to motherhood for me has been the lack of tangible progress toward meaningful goals. When I taught middle school, I could check off how many lessons I’d planned, how many essays I’d graded, and how many parents I’d contacted. I could evaluate my students’ work and gauge my own effectiveness by their progress.
Being a stay-at-home mom is different.
A friend of mine once told me that the first few years of motherhood are the hardest because you spend so much time at home raising these little people, all the while feeling like you’re not contributing to anything in society. It’s not until your kids get old enough to got to school, she said, that you realize the worth of those early years of parenting. When you see your child interacting with the larger world outside your little bubble of a home and realize that they are the future of our society, so it’s a pretty valuable contribution after all.
I think we know in our hearts that what we do as mothers is important. But it’s still hard to keep that in perspective. It’s not easy to measure each day how well I’m preparing my children for the real world. It turns out kids are a long-term investment, and the things I do everyday (laundry, I’m looking at you) don’t always feel like I’m really contributing in a meaningful way.
So, I think a lot of us moms develop a bit of a “stay-at-home-mom complex”. You know, the one where we feel like we have to justify our time and prove that we’re not just sitting around watching soap operas (yuck!) and eating bon bons (now that’s actually tempting) all day. I mean, what did I do all day? I know I’m trying to be a good mom, but do other people see it? While my husband is working all day, my task-oriented self feels like I need to prove that I am just as productive as he is.
Now, let me be clear: my husband has never even SLIGHTLY insinuated that I am lazy. In fact, he always says I make him feel lazy because I’m always working on some project or other as soon as the kids are asleep. It’s ALL in my own head.
But I don’t think I’m alone in sometimes feeling like I want to prove that I’m still a valuable member of society… and not 20 years from now when my adorable boys grow up and save the world. I want to feel valuable today.
So I make lists. And I try to fulfill that desire to be productive by crossing off everything I do:
But I’m realizing that sometimes the more productive I am at things I can cross off my endless to-do list, the less successful I am at the one thing that really matters…being a mother.
It’s like I’m the hare in the old fable, running at top speed to prove that I can do it all, and then collapsing before the finish line hidden behind a tree (or in the pantry with chocolate). I’ll work so hard during nap time to clean the kitchen, and prep dinner, and make a gift for a friend’s new baby, and who knows what else…and then I’ll be too tired to play with my boys once they wake up.
“Isn’t it true that we often get so busy? And, sad to say, we even wear our busyness as a badge of honor, as though being busy, by itself, was an accomplishment or sign of a superior life.” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf)
When we lose sight of our goal as mothers, we can almost turn our fears of inadequacy into a self-fulfilling prophecy by getting so caught up in appearing “busy” and productive that we lose a sense of our priorities and neglect the things that really matter most…our children.
How much better would it be if we were content to be the tortoise in the story, having no need to justify himself or his slow pace. Recognizing that it doesn’t matter how fast or impressive we appear if we can’t finish the race in the end.
It’s okay to be the tortoise.
One of my favorite women and mothers, Marjorie Pay Hinckley, said this:
We women have a lot to learn about simplifying our lives. We have to decide what is important and then move along at a pace that is comfortable for us. We have to develop the maturity to stop trying to prove something. We have to learn to be content with what we are.
So, I’m trying to slow down. I’ll probably never stop making lists, but I’m trying to simplify by picking a few things each day that NEED to be done, a few things that I WANT to do for my own enjoyment and sanity, and I’m letting go of the rest.
And, lest I forget, at the top of my to-do list these days it says:
Because every so often, an image flashes through my mind of these little boys all grown up…when they’ll be taller than me and my time with them at home will be over. In those moments, I really want to be the tortoise, and savor this time with them as much as possible.