“What do you do all day?”
As a working mother, I rarely get this question. It’s most often posed to stay-at-home-moms, and it really makes no sense to me. Do the people who ask this question really have no idea of the massive amount of work it takes to manage a home, especially if you have multiple small children? There’s cleaning, laundry, meal planning, cooking, homework/homeschooling, home repair, yard work, paying bills… the list seems endless, and even if one parent stays at home there often don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done.
As one member of the Catholic Working Mothers Facebook group quipped in response to a discussion about this question,
What do you mean what do they [SAHMs] do?! They do everything we’re desperately cramming in on the evenings and weekends with no time – plus, you know, all that childcare. You know exactly what they do; it’s everything we need more time to do.
The flip side of this question is one that I am asked frequently, especially in the aforementioned Catholic Working Mother’s group: “How do you find time to get it all done?”
The short answer is: I don’t.
That’s the plain truth of it. Something always suffers. It’s just a matter of prioritizing. Every evening, when I look at my long to-do list, I identify which items are the most important, and try to tackle those. Everything else has to wait.
Meals and clothes are what I focus on. We need to eat and we need clean clothes to wear. I try to keep up with meal planning but that’s a work in progress. The laundry gets done but it doesn’t always get put away. But we have food to eat and clean clothes to wear.
Then there are a few other essential tasks depending on the day — the garbage truck comes early Thursday morning so the trash and recycling need to be taken out Wednesday night, for example. We need our trash hauled away on a regular basis so that gets bumped up on the Wednesday task list.
Other housework goes by the wayside. For example, my floors are constantly dirty. With an active, mobile toddler we’ve had to pay a bit more attention to the state of the floors, but luckily my ten-year-old still thinks sweeping the floor is fun (she likes to pretend she’s Cinderella). I’m teaching her how to mop, too. Sometimes the rug in the living room gets vacuumed; sometimes it doesn’t. There is generally clutter everywhere. I try to spend time each weekend decluttering but it feels like shoveling snow in a blizzard.
I’ve implemented daily chores for my older kids (10, 7, 5) and I have my 3-year-old pitch in where he can. This is helping to keep the mess level somewhere above “Department of Health Violation,” which is a pleasant change of pace, but I have a toddler who loves making messes (and he’s in that delightful “let’s throw random objects into the toilet” phase) so it’s a constant work in progress.
So what do you do when you feel like you’re drowning in work and there aren’t enough hours in the day? It’s all about prioritizing. Top of the list needs to be your own self-care. In many households, regardless of which parent works outside the home (or even if both of them do), the mother is the spoke that keeps the wheel of the household turning. If the spoke cracks or breaks, the wheel crashes to the ground.
I’ve found Jen Fulwiler’s tips for survival mode helpful to working moms. Specifically:
1. Don’t let your sleep suffer. Easier said than done if you have babies or toddlers (or older children who don’t sleep well), but it’s so important to make sure you’re getting as much sleep as you can manage. Lack of sleep magnifies problems and makes everything seem a thousand times worse, and it doesn’t do anything to improve your work performance, either. I usually go to bed shortly after the kids do, even if it means leaving housework undone. Sometimes during the work day (weather permitting) I might sneak out to my car and take a quick power nap, if I didn’t get decent sleep the night before.
2. Don’t neglect your spiritual life. Again, easier said than done, especially when the thought of going to Mass with your frequently rowdy and misbehaving children causes you to break out in a cold sweat. But we can’t do this alone. God will give us the strength to keep going but we need to remember to ask for it. Even if you take the entire day to say the rosary, one Hail Mary at a time, that’s better than nothing. Even just a, “Lord, please help me through this” at a difficult moment. I may not have the time to read an entire book about theology or the saints, but I’ve signed up for a Daily C.S. Lewis e-mail so I can fit a little spiritual reading into the day.
3. Fit in quality time with your husband. It’s so important to take time to connect with one another, especially after a hectic day or a busy week. Date nights out on the town every week would be awesome, but we don’t have the time or the budget for that. So we’ll spend an hour watching something on Netflix before bed, or just talk while we have a glass of wine. If we have the luxury if a little extra time, we might play a board game together.
4. Make your load lighter. Can you afford to hire someone to help with the housework, even just once a month or once every six weeks? Do it! Has someone offered to watch the kids so you can have some “me” time? Take them up on it! I know many moms struggle with guilt when they try to fit in “me” time, saying that they already feel so bad that they are away from their kids while they’re working. And I understand that. At the same time, while we love our kids, being a parent is stressful. We need to take time to recharge our own batteries or we’ll completely run out of energy at a certain point. Even if it’s just 30 minutes at a coffee shop or 60 minutes at Adoration, find time for you. Every day would be great but that’s often not realistic, so at least once per week. I like to shut myself in my bathroom with a bubble bath, a glass of wine, and good book for 60 minutes of uninterrupted bliss.
Find something that works for you and make it a priority, just as important as the cooking, the laundry, and getting the garbage out every Wednesday. You are important – your mental health, your spiritual health, and your physical health. If one suffers, they all will, and that means your family suffers by extension.