By Amy Buchanan
I have noticed something about mothers.
As our kids get older and pass from one milestone to the next, their time with us each day is shorter. School days get longer. Play dates, extracurricular activities and later, part-time jobs, keep them away from home longer.
While we as mothers do not wish their childhoods away, we can’t help but relish the extra hours of alone time and productive time their growing up provides us.
When faced with the prospect of more time to our selves, we start cataloging all that we are going to be able to get done
…once my baby is a toddler.
…once my toddler is in preschool.
…once my youngest is in kindergarten.
…once my elementary schooler gets to middle school.
…once my high schooler can drive.
But once we mothers have that extra time, we find that we still can’t accomplish our to-do lists. We are not the super women we envisioned ourselves to be. And we beat ourselves up for it.
Because we must be failures for not being able to get it all done now that we have more time.
But that’s just a myth. We don’t gain more time as mothers simply because our children aren’t home with us.
Perhaps, by the clock, it appears we do. But in reality, more time is just a myth when you are a mother.
When given the gift of more time, how many of us take it for the gift that it is? Do we say, thank you God, for giving me a little extra breathing room?
Or do we try to stretch those precious few “extra” hours into 12? Do we feel the need to pack every minute, every precious second?
Our to-do lists are already packed. We already have trouble getting it all done. Yet, when given an extra hour or two, we mothers usually add something else to our plates.
We decide we will rip up the carpet. Or paint the dining room. Or pressure wash the house. Or organize six years worth of digital photos. Or take on more clients or more projects at work. Or prepare two months of freezer meals. Or sort ten thousand Legos.
Or write more blog posts. Or volunteer to do something because suddenly we have extra time.
Not that these are unworthy endeavors or worthless ways to spend our time.
But before we go adding to our burdens, our obligations and our responsibilities, why can’t we mothers give ourselves a break?
Why do we feel the need to pile on ourselves? Why can’t we greet extra time with a sigh of relief that finally, maybe, we can finish the chores of daily life with just a little time left over for ourselves.
Why are we compelled to add more? To create impossible goals for ourselves? To heap more stress upon ourselves? To set ourselves up for failure.
Because we cannot do it all.
I remember tallying up the extra time I would be gaining when my son transitioned to kindergarten. Three more hours in my workday.
Think of all you will be able to get done, I told myself.
Then, I started the list making. The adding to. The piling on. Forgetting that I was already overworked. That I was already trying to pack a full-time job into a part-time day. But I wasn’t paying attention to anything but the clock.
Last week, I was chatting with a friend as we chaperoned a play date. She was telling me how she felt like she wasn’t getting anything done at home, even though one son was in preschool and the other had started kindergarten this year. In that same time, though, she had taken on more volunteer work, moved into a larger house with many projects to be done and taken on a part-time job. She has added so much more to her to-do list, yet she feels inadequate/ineffective/inefficient for not being able to get it all done.
This week, I traded Facebook messages with another friend who has homeschooled children for more than 20 years. She suddenly found herself with six hours of “free time” as her kids were in driver’s ed. She had such grand plans for those hours, but in the end, she was surprised by all she hadn’t gotten done.
She had forgotten — in her soul, if not in her brain — how jam-packed her life already is without the extra burdens and expectations she was placing on herself.
This same friend and I had lunch together this week during our so-called free time. There were so many other things we both could have been doing. Maybe even things we thought we should have been doing.
But for one lunch hour, we gave ourselves time. And it was worth so much more than any checked item on a to-do list.
My challenge to myself and all the mothers who have bought into the myth of more time is this: relish those “extra” hours when you have them.
Don’t waste them on impossible goals. Take the time and make it yours. Do something to uplift yourself rather than beating yourself up.
Do less. Enjoy more.
Amy Buchanan, who writes the home décor and lifestyle blog Atta Girl Says, is a freelance writer and author of five business books. She lives with her son and husband in Greensboro.
*Photo Sources: http://www.flickr.com/