Answer: You don’t.
You simply shouldn’t have to.
When you type the following phrase into Google; ‘How to do it all as a,’ guess what words drop down below?
Woman. Working mom. Single mom. Mom. These are the top four answers provided.
I didn’t see ‘man’ or ‘working dad’ or ‘single dad’ or ‘dad’ come up as an option. Why is that?
It’s because we rarely refer to men as working fathers. Their success is boxed into different roles. As a successful CEO. As an entrepreneur. As an author. As a talented footballer. As an amazing father.
People still commend them for ‘babysitting their kids.’ They get praised for leaving early to take care of a sick child or taking the morning off for sports day or assembly. By taking time to look after their children, they are seen as compassionate, gentle and a family man. Don’t get me started on how some people hail dads as heroes when they simply complete a basic parenting task.
I remember one day we were invited to a picnic for relatives we rarely see. I was a sleep deprived mother who had packed the bags and the car with everything we needed for the afternoon. I spent the first two hours breastfeeding, then changing, supervising play on a rug, and then rocking bubs to sleep. During this time, hubby was enjoying a beverage or two, chatting to people, handing out Christmas cards (that I’d written), kicking around the footy and trying his hand at an impromptu game of cricket.
When bubs awoke, I decided to take the opportunity for a bathroom break before I needed to start the feeding cycle again. I gently asked hubby if he could change our son’s nappy while I was gone. Before I’d barely moved away, you should have seen the flurry of excitement that this event resulted from a man changing a nappy. Honestly. The older ladies gathered around in a circle, calling out that wasn’t he amazing for changing the nappy. Wasn’t he such an amazing dad. Look at him with his son.
I was gobsmacked. Had they not seen what I’d been doing for the whole time before this? It was like everything I had done was an assumed duty, an expectation. It wasn’t noticed until a man did the same thing, and then it was put on a pedestal and praised.
My hubby gets irritated at the incredibly low bar placed for fathers. It almost assumes that most men are either incapable of looking after their children, or don’t often do it well. That goes for domestics too.
‘Oh isn’t he amazing!’
‘He’s such an amazing dad. Look at how he plays with the kids.’
‘He did the shopping for you?’
‘I can’t believe he cooks dinner two nights a week.’
‘That’s nice he’s watching the kids so you can have a girls night.’
A women’s success and self worth is woven together with all of her different roles and the expectations that she will fulfil them all to a high standard. The bar seems impossible to reach. Often these expectations come from deep within us. We expect greatness from ourselves. We also demand this from other women, which I’m not really sure why. Maybe our own insecurities spark judgement on other women’s choices.
Have you ever heard someone been told she’s a great mum because she plays with her kids?
Normally I hear women feeling bad because she forgot it was sports uniform or library borrowing day. “I’m such a bad mum.” Pretty sure I’ve never heard a bloke call himself a bad father merely for forgetting something.
I see a real problem with this. Why is there so much pressure placed on women to do it all and do it perfectly? Don’t get me started on the relentless pressure to look put together all of the time either.
We often hear about the mental load of motherhood. How there’s so much on our minds to think about, do and organise.
Meal plan. Grocery shop. Meal prep. Cook dinner. Purée baby food.
Make snacks. Cook meal for that friend going through a hard time. Cleaning. Washing. Ironing. Folding. Putting away. Putting grown out of clothes aside for next child / hand down / donate / sell. Buy new size clothes.
Put stuff away. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Research schools, organise tours, fill out forms, arrange interviews; buy uniforms, shoes, stationery. Pack lunchboxes that are healthy, packaging free, allergen aware and that your kids will actually eat. Clean out lunchboxes before holidays and you forget that rotten piece of fruit.
Enrol kids in sport. Forms and uniforms. Use vouchers. Become taxi driver. Figure out logistics and how to coordinate everyone’s schedules. Pack and unpack the car.
Remember birthdays, rsvp to events, buy cards and presents, write in them, wrap them, remember to bring them. Bring something to school to celebrate their special day with their class. Make invitations for parties and keep track of rsvps. Plan and execute party remembering to hand out lolly bags at the end. Prepare for Christmas. Figure out what to get everyone and try not to spend too much. Hide them away and remember where you put them into wrap them later.
Organise the family social life. Research tradies and book in quotes. Pay deposits and invoices. Book immunisations, CAYHS, doctor, dentist, orthodontist and hairdresser. Book in date nights, arrange babysitters, plan weekend getaways and holidays.
Do something with photos. Write in baby books. Record special memories and funny sayings.
Work. (Paid work).
If simply reading this list has made you feel tired, that’s how most of us feel. Burnt out. Exhausted. Over it. Some about to have a nervous breakdown.
Too many hats and balls in the air. Something has to give.
Please know that I am not at all saying that men do not have much on their plate. They certainly do. Many do their fair share of caring for children, shopping, cooking and domestics. They take care of the yard and do projects and fix things and coach sport teams and a million other tasks. I just think that the expectations for men and women are vastly different.
I find nothing wrong with women having a career, moving up the corporate ladder, going back to work after having children and earning leadership positions in companies.
I grew up with my parents in very traditional roles. My father went out to work everyday and my mother stayed home to care for the children and look after the domestics. It was normal and they were happy and secure in their defined roles.
At a young age, I clearly remember going to the shops and wanting to buy a business shirt. I saw one in my size that had a pocket to carry a pen and a notebook. Never mind that it was Dwight Schrute yellow; it was smart and had a breast pocket and I wanted to have an important job and get money. At ten I had aspirations and couldn’t wait to achieve them. I wasn’t allowed to buy the shirt and was pointed instead in the direction of a pretty pink top and lacey white socks.
Here are five things that busy women can do to create boundaries and balance in their lives:
1. Good enough is good enough.
Not everything has to be perfect. Take shortcuts, and only do what you have to do. In my house, I make sure that the washing is put away because seeing baskets full of dry clothes stresses me out. I don’t iron, ever. I also don’t fold. I simply shove it in the correct drawer and move to the next task. I have a basket labelled for each person and hubby puts his own away. My kids are still young and pull their clothes out just for fun. There is no point ironing or folding for this to happen so I don’t waste my time.
Take shortcuts. Buy a Dyson or Robo vacuum. Buy pre-made lasagne and garlic bread. Have takeaway or fakeaway nights. Eat leftovers. Make a bulk lot of mince for spaghetti one night, then do Chilli con carne the next, and shepherd’s pie after that. If people complain about the menu, get them to plan next weeks meals and help cook sometimes. Older kids can take turns cooking. Keep it simple and share the load.
2. Talk about expectations.
Share with each other what things were like growing up and the roles that your parents assumed. Who went out to work, who stayed home, who cooked, who cleaned, who did yard work? Do they want you to be like their mother? Would they prefer you home in this season? Would they prefer you to have your career and they swap with you and be home, or work part time?
Could you hire an aupair or nanny to take off some of the pressure? A change can be a good thing for everyone involved. Some couples thrive when they have defined roles, and others prefer to share. I love when I get to mow the lawn and hubby stays inside to cook and watch the kids. Do what works for you.
3. Divide and conquer.
Everyone needs to pitch in. It shouldn’t all be up to you. You might need to write down all the tasks that you both do and actually allocate them. Give your kids jobs to do. Work as a team. Build in daily and weekly routines to family life so it doesn’t become a nagging reminder. We’ve all seen the joke that the husband says he’s going to bed, and, goes to bed.
The wife says she’s going to bed but has to complete the thirty tasks before her head hits the pillow. How is this fair? Why do we accept this as the way things are and make jokes about it? Put things into place so this doesn’t become normal in your reliant family.
Whatever you can’t do yourself or delegate to someone in the family, pay someone to do it for you. Hire a cleaner. Pay someone to do the lawns. Hire a nanny, whether live in or part time. It might cost you money but otherwise it will be with your time.
There are stages when it will make sense to work more and pay for people to do things that you can’t do yourself. There might be other times when it is better to reduce your hours and save money on these things. This will constantly evolve as your family grows and changes, as your career progresses and you prioritise things differently according to the season.
5. “You can have it all. Just not all at once.”
Oprah Winfrey made this wise statement which rings true for us. We can have the amazing career, raise young children, cook beautiful meals, boast a clean and tidy house, entertain guests, run the household, volunteer and travel the world. We can live a wonderful, fulfilling life but we don’t have to do everything at once.
We can’t do it all at once, and if we do, it won’t all be done well. We don’t need to pretend to be superheroes or super women. We simply have to choose what takes priority in our lives right now and place lower importance on the rest.
A lovely colleague and friend of mine often speaks to this quote. She stayed home to raise two sons. She remembers struggling when they were little and they were on one wage. Their fun outing was feeding the ducks with stale crusts kept aside in the freezer. She wouldn’t change a thing though as she loved being there for her young boys.
She went to uni when the youngest was at kindy and became a teacher. Her boys are now grown, and her and her hubby work full time. They enjoy having money to play with. They ride motorbikes on weekends, travel around Australia in their deluxe caravan and when not affected by restrictions, travel overseas at least annually. They enjoy renovating their home and love their life. My friend gently reminds us young mothers of this quote and that there will be plenty of time to ‘do it all’ later on.
In closing, I don’t think that women can do it all. We shouldn’t have to. We need encouragement to do what we can and support to do what we can’t. We can’t continue to carry the majority of the household load while raising children and remembering all the things and running ourselves ragged.
We need permission to decide what is most worthy of our time and energy, and be released to somehow let go of the rest. The harsh truth is, no matter how devoted you are to your job, if you left, they would hire someone else within a month. You are indispensable at work but no one else can be a mother to your children like you can. You are irreplaceable. Your role of wife or partner, and mother should take top priority (Erma Mayes).
Start saying no to the tasks that you cannot devote time to and shrug off the ridiculous expectations that we so often place upon ourselves. Ignore the comments and snide remarks of those who don’t understand your choices. Do what you need to do to help you and your family survive and thrive in this season.
(Special mention goes to Cathy Kelly and her book, ‘Always and Forever’ Allison Pearson and her book, ‘I don’t know how she does it’ and the wise Erma Mayes who spoke to my local MOPS group for some ideas and inspiration for this post.)