Editor's note: Throughout the month of February, ParentMap is exploring the concept of "having it all." Each week, we'll feature a different essay from a mother that explores her idea of what "having it all" means and how she's adapted the idea to suit her needs and the needs of her family.
When I had my second child, I fell into a deep, dark depression. I was so sleep-deprived and overwhelmed with being the main caregiver for two helpless humans; I got sucked into the endless cycle of sleep-wake-care for kids and I completely lost myself. I was devastated.
It took a complete breakdown for me to realize that I needed to change. I had carefully built and curated the look of a happy mom life, expressing how #blessed I am to be living the #momlife. But it was all empty. I was suffering. Still, happy working mom narratives are few and far between, and I had witnessed new moms in my profession experience professional and personal burnout fairly quickly upon returning to work. I was terrified of the same fate.
I felt trapped between facing an almost certain breakdown as a full-time parent or an almost guaranteed burnout as a working mom. I decided to take the plunge and return to work, but I still trembled as I called the daycare to sign my girls up.
I had carefully built and curated the look of a happy mom life, expressing how #blessed I am to be living the #momlife.
The first year back to work was absolutely exhausting; childcare hours were cut short, so I had to rush home every day to pick up my kids. I felt like I was being eaten alive between work and basic living necessities for myself, my spouse and my children. I was just on the edge of holding everything together. My only focus was to get through each day.
The second year got better. My kids were that much older and I was that much more efficient at my job. I started coming alive; I could laugh and breathe again. I knew that my time and energy would be stretched a million ways, so I decided to work smarter. I began evaluating every single thing in my life. Instead of thinking what I could add, I began to get excited about the idea of what I could subtract in order to make my life better. I was hacking away deadwood right and left, clearing the path for what I was sure that I wanted in my life.
At its most basic form, saying “no” to things that don't pass the bar is a form of self-care. It's a way of prioritizing yourself above all else. And it feels good. When you decide that you don't want most of what is in your life, you feel immensely happier with what's still there.
I began to get excited about the idea of what I could subtract in order to make my life better.
Here are some of the things that I have cut out of my life since deciding to have it all:
- Most of Christmas is gone: I brought our Christmas bin out of storage and let my kids go nuts for a weekend. After that, I put it away and said that was it. I didn't do any baking and I stocked my freezer with frozen meals. I bought one gift for each kid from us and one from Santa, plus a stocking each, and I finished my shopping by the end of November.
- Most family outings and kid-entertainment have been chucked. We do a maximum of one whole-family trip per weekend, and the trips themselves are ultra-basic. We make a big deal out of an IKEA trip or an errand run with a fast food lunch afterwards.
- I don't really brush my hair. I run a brush through it for a minute or two every so often, but I haven't really sat down and brushed my hair in a while. I recently asked my hairdresser to shave off the bottom half of my hairdo, just so that I would have even less hair to care for.
- I outsource most domestic jobs or give up on them entirely. We eat dinner from a can many nights, and we eat pizza and burgers more often than I would like to admit. I literally don't even have the energy to call a house cleaner to come clean my house, so we just have to put up with the mess. Some weekends we can tame the laundry beast, but others, we are stuck wearing our less-preferred clothing since everything else is in the wash.
- I don't plan anything social in advance. The only items on my calendar are my work commitments; everything else just fits in whenever I have the time and energy. I'll text my friends and plan a breakfast meeting the morning of or wander over to my sister's house to see if she's up for a chat. Anyone who needs to plan far in advance has fallen off my radar for now.
- I've been a neglectful pet parent, I'm ashamed to say. My dog's walks are fewer than they once were.
- My car is a complete disaster area. Every so often, I manage to scoot through a carwash, so my exterior is fine, but the interior looks like an episode of Hoarders.
- My jungle garden was severely neglected this year. I only had the energy to throw a handful of seeds and water them once or twice, hoping that something would take. My production was at a record low.
- On weekend mornings, I just put some leftovers out on the kitchen counters and let my children graze. I don't oversee their nutrition intake. I'm trusting that they get what they need.
- No trips. No vacations. Period.
I've given up a lot of things in my life the way it is right now. But here's what has made the cut:
- I get eight hours of sleep each night.
- Our bank account is in the black every month. We've paid off my car and almost paid off my husband's. We just got all new windows and will be re-siding our house, paid in cash.
- Our kids are happy and well-adjusted, enjoying their lives. Both of my children go to school with their cousins each day.
- I am proud of the work I do each day. I feel comfortable in my job and I enjoy it.
- I have weekly impromptu coffee chats with my sister (who lives half a mile away from me). The cousins (ages 3–7) see each other most weekends outside of school.
- In addition to working full-time, I write. I am working on my second novel, and shopping them to publishers and agents. I write a parenting blog with my sister, and I do freelance writing and editing on the side.
- I go to the gym at least twice a week. I am training for a 10k in the summer.
- Kid-free grocery shopping. Every time.
Doesn't sound so bad now, does it?
I acknowledge that my experience is based on a two-parent family where both parents are professionals. Each family's situation is different, and each parent has a different set of things to say no to. But, regardless of your circumstances, you'll find that once you search out all the things you can say no to, your path will be cleared for all the wonderful things that you get to say yes to. That truly is “having it all.”
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