Riddle me this: Who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it with dew..oh wait, that’s the Candyman. The Candyman can. How about this: Who can earn a paycheck, bake delicious cakes for sixty-two annual bake sales, spend hours a day with her toddler on the floor–in a plank position, attend story times and music classes, do hot yoga, park a perky bottom in the chair for daytime assemblies, cook four course meals, clean behind the sofa and scrape off the limescale, surprise her husband with fishnets and heels, have a weekly date night and tuck her kids in every night? The answer? NO ONE. No one can do that.
So. Stop. Trying.
Years ago Alison Pearson wrote a book called I Don’t Know How She Does It. One early scene has the protagonist, a working mother, exhaustedly sifting confectionary sugar onto her store-bought mince pies so they looked homemade. Because it was important she appeared to be someone who could do it all.
You and I both know how she does it. She doesn’t. Just like I don’t, you don’t, we don’t.
By now most us realize the myth of doing it all is just that. A myth. It’s up there with glass slippers and Prince Charming and singing snowmen named Olaf. Yet we continue to perpetuate it. We pretend. We preen and posture and prevaricate, all to preserve a pipe-dream of perfection.
My Mother’s Day wish this year is for as many of you as possible to take a step back. Opt out. Opt out of the Mom Olympics, where the only prizes that await you atop a podium are exhaustion, anxiety and guilt. Opt out of the Mommy Wars. Opt out of the lies. Opt out of the myth.
No one can do it all. No one does. Unless you possess one of those nifty little timepieces Hermione uses to go back in time and save Buckbeak, or perhaps a souped up phone box a la Bill and Ted, you simply can’t be in two, three or four places at once. And being in more than one place at a time is the number one requirement for doing it all.
Recently I watched a good friend struggle with her return to work, balancing three kids, a new job, and trying to be the type of mom we associate these days with being a ‘good‘ mom. I listened as she told me how she felt like no one was getting any significant part of her–not her kids, not her job, not her husband and especially not herself. She was trying to do too much. She was trying to work and keep her house spotless and feed her kids kale. She was trying to maintain a relationship with her friends, bake twenty five cupcakes for birthday parties at school, have meaningful conversations with her husband, work out, be there for the field trips and try the kale again. Ok, the kale is an exaggeration, but you get the point. She was trying to do it all, because we’ve all been told if we do it just right, we can. That somehow running yourself ragged to do it all means you win.
It’s the Matrix of Motherhood, where everything you’ve been told is a lie. The real truth is, something’s gotta give, whether it’s cleanliness or godliness or something next to it. Maybe it’s the number of courses you put on the table or the time you eat dinner or the hours you spend volunteering at your kids’ school. Maybe it’s store-bought or donating money instead of time when the sixty-first email asking you to volunteer comes in. Maybe it’s realizing a side effect of Pinterest is making you feel lousy about your cupcakes. Maybe it’s hiring someone to clean your house or watch your kids or take them to story time at the library. Even if you manage to cram all that stuff in there, I can almost guarantee there’ll be nothing left over for your partner or your friends or here’s the kicker…yourself. Try to cram it all in and you’re going to end up resenting the kids, the job, the partner and the fact that you don’t possess a nifty little timepiece or a time traveling phone box.
Opt out. Give yourself permission to buy frozen vegetables. Or prepared meals. Or take out. Go buy everyone an extra week’s worth of underwear so you don’t have to do laundry as often. Go on the all-inclusive Club Med holiday so you actually get a break. Or don’t. Stay at home. Opt not to take your kids to Disney World. They won’t die if they never ride Space Mountain (I’m still here…). Opt for the Oreos, the cleaning lady, the sandwiches for dinner. Opt for the packaged pasta instead of the quinoa. I promise, it’s ok if your kid doesn’t like quinoa or kale or if you don’t know how to pronounce quinoa. Or even what it is.
Opt out of the myth. Opt out of the matrix. You can’t do it all. You can do some. You can do most, but you can’t do it all, none of us can. It doesn’t make you a better Mom if you’re running yourself ragged trying to run a marathon when there’s a bus pulling up at the stop right next to you. The truth is you’re going to get there faster if you take the bus, and your feet are going to hurt less and maybe you’ll even be able to read a book. Or train for an actual marathon if that’s what floats your boat.
Mothers, I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.