The 3-step guide for mothers who want to Do It All

Yes, you too can Do It All! Small children? A big workload? Stack of dishes in the sink? Pile of bills to pay? No problem! Just follow my easy 3-step program and soon you too could be one of those special people who can Do It All!

1. Marry a millionaire.

2. Hire a nanny, cook, housekeeper and gardener.

3. Put yourself, your dreams and ambitions before anything or anyone else.

I was asked recently to give a talk at a women’s Bible study about “something I’ve learned from life as a Christian woman/wife/mother with the other women”. I thought they got the wrong number. Uh, I’m not sure I’m the right person for this… I tried to get out of it, but as I prayerfully considered it, I thought there might be something I’ve learned. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that I’m currently learning this lesson: How Not to Do It All.  Since giving the talk a couple of weeks ago, I’ve thought of all sorts of edits to make and ways to say it better, but I’m in the thick of getting ready to pack my life in the US up into 4 suitcases, so it’ll just have to do as it is. Below is the written version of what I talked about.

So often we think or even ask the question of someone else: “How do you do it all?” It’s a perplexing question, but I think I’ve come up with 3 answers to it:

1. Nobody does.

2. At different times in life, and by working hard.

3. With good planning.

I’ll come back to those things soon, but first I have to deal with the question itself. More often than not when we ask (or think) such questions, it is because we’re looking at Exhibit A’s mothering/cooking/sewing/housekeeping/job/everything skills and feeling like we don’t measure up.  We women are far too good at comparing ourselves to others, and we do it far too frequently. The problem with comparing yourself to someone else is that it seldom turns out well. Most of the time you either:

a) inwardly cower in shame because you think you don’t measure up and you’re left wallowing in a cesspool of misguided guilt, or

b) you feel just a little too pleased with yourself because you’re not struggling like her. At least your kids don’t behave as badly as her kids. Pure unadulterated, stinking pride.

So, why do we have this strange idea that there are real superwomen out there? The kind of woman who has done her Bible study and run a few miles before her kids are even up, who cooks everything from scratch and always has an empty laundry basket, who is nicely groomed and is always entertaining visitors, whose children love her and obey her and never embarrass her in public… the list goes on. (In that vein, here’s a funny poem I read recently. It’s written in a Mormon context, so some of the references are a bit foreign, but I definitely think that on the whole this is something many Christian women can identify with.)

To come back to my answer to that strange, strange question: “How do you do it all?”:

First off, no woman “does it all”, and if she’s making it look that way, she’s either faking it or has some serious help.

Maybe we have this idea in our heads that such a thing is possible because we take all the great qualities we know of all the women we know and think we should channel all those qualities. Or perhaps it’s the Perfect Proverbs 31 Woman who makes us look at ourselves and cringe. (I’ll talk more about that Proverbs 31 Woman soon.) Or maybe we are concerned with this because at some root level we are desperate that our lives here on earth be meaningful and not wasted, and for our lives not to be wasted we have to do everything and do it well? Or maybe it has subtly become a great big idol taking over your life.

Here’s a little exercise: think of someone you actually know (not someone you only know through her writing) and of one or two qualities you really admire about her. Let’s say, for example, that you think she’s a really good cook, because the one time you’ve eaten at her house the food was fantastic. Now you have this idea in your head that this is the way she always cooks for her family and that eggs on toast for dinner or a hot dog slapped in a bun with some ketchup and mustard hastily squeezed on would never appear on the menu at her house. Guess what — 5 o’clock melt-downs quite likely happen at her house too. You’re not the only mother in the world who has served a hasty dinner on occasion that had no vegetables in sight. Now, if this happens frequently, you have some work to do, but don’t beat yourself up and compare your hot dog meal with that woman’s 3-course special meal that she planned 3 weeks in advance.

To be realistic, there are some things that you’ll do more naturally and some things need to work at a fair bit. But do just that — work at it, don’t mope because you can’t do it the first time you try.

Some women love to knit and crochet. Yes, this is a great thing, but it’s not for me. I’ve tried. I’ll probably keep trying when I have some more time, but that time is not now. I once tried making a quilt. It looked like an 8-year-old made it, but Marica still loved it. I think quilting is something I’d enjoy when life has mellowed me a bit and I have a bit more patience. :-) I love to cook and I love to spend time with people, so our family puts a lot of emphasis on hospitality. Just because you aren’t a good cook isn’t a good reason not to be hospitable, but don’t feel like you have to put on a feast.

In other words, look at yourself realistically, and know where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Look at your situation in life realistically and decide where you should spend your time and energy. Pray about it, and get your husband’s useful input — men can sometimes see these things more clearly.

Secondly,

As you go through life, your workload will have some ebb and flow. You’ll always have work to do in, around and outside your home. Do it cheerfully and well.  The work you do when your kids are little is going to look different from the work you do when they are teenagers, or when your nest is empty (that day looks unimaginably far away to me, but people keep telling me it comes quickly!). Life brings different chapters, and in each chapter of life you’ll have different challenges and different things you are really on top of. Be realistic — know what chapter of life you and your family are in at the moment and think about what your main priorities are. Focus on doing those well, and anything extra is a bonus. If you’re saying yes to being on committees at church or your kids’ school because you think you’re supposed to, but it frazzles you out and it means you snap at your kids and you don’t get your laundry done, then scrap it.  Don’t be surprised if you find yourself constantly busy, and working hard. This is a good thing. You should work hard, but your workload should be manageable.

Have you got a house full of little ones? Then know that your time and energies are needed and wanted at home, and that all you’re pouring into them is so, so valuable. You don’t need some sort of ministry or special calling outside the home — your ministry and calling is right there in the high chair and it has squishy cheeks and needs a clean diaper. When you’re out of this busy phase of having little ones, you might look into working part-time, or volunteering somewhere or joining committee X.

If you have a look at the Proverbs 31 woman, you’ll notice that she works very, very hard. Yet it would seem impossible for one woman to take care of her household and still do all those things, even with servants. People have suggested that she’s an ‘idealized’ woman, making up good qualities from many different women. Or it could be that she does all those things, but at different times in her life. While it is very valuable to look at what she does and try to do the same, perhaps you’re not the kind of person who’s going to start making stuff out of flax. I think it’s more valuable to look at how she works: she works with eager hands, she does it vigorously. She’s described always doing: she gets up, she considers, she makes, she speaks, she watches. Use your time wisely, and work hard, be a blessing to your husband and children; all to the glory of God.

My kids know that they should obey straight away, all the way, and with a happy heart. Think of yourself in relation to the work you need to get done in the same way. If you don’t have a good work ethic, read good books to help you cultivate it, or talk to someone who can help, encourage and even mentor you on that front.

Thirdly, plan! I just mentioned using your time wisely –you can not expect to be very productive if you spend a few hours every day checking out Pinterest, Facebook, the news, twitter, or even really valuable blogs and articles out there. Spend not only quality time with your children, but quantity time. Your kids are more important than “getting things done”. (Boy am I preaching to myself here!) If you have thought about what your priorities are, then how you spend your time should reflect this. Now, life happens and if you don’t actively plan for your priorities to happen, they might well fall by the wayside because let’s face it, when you’re tired it’s easy to slip in to time-waste mode, and mothers are often tired!

Here are some things I find helpful:

Plan to read the Bible and pray. You might do this while nursing the baby, or if things are desperate, lock yourself in the bathroom for 5 minutes. Take time to look around you and be thankful for where God has chosen to place you. If you’re in the thick of mothering, you might not be at a stage in life where you’re spending an hour on Bible study every day, and that’s fine. But don’t let it slip completely.

Do not neglect your relationship with your husband. Fiercely guard your time together to talk and reconnect. Plan to have date nights regularly, even if you have to make them in-house date nights where you put the kids to bed and then order in some take-out just for the two of you.

Plan to sleep. If getting to bed at a decent hour is not a priority that you fight for, then chances are you won’t get to bed at a decent hour! I find that I function badly without sleep and am a lot more prone to sinning when I’m tired, so I need lots of sleep, sometimes even an afternoon nap.

Plan to carve out time for things that rejuvenate you as well — little pockets of precious time of figuratively (and sometimes literally!) taking a deep, cleansing breath to get you ready to jump back in with a happy heart. Exercise. Sing. Skip down the road with your kids, or splash in the puddles with them. I try to meet up with a couple of good friends at The Chocolate Room (a dessert place where everything’s chocolate) about once a month. We talk our heads off and come out feeling heavy in the stomach and light in the heart.

Use a diary! Anyone who can operate without a wall planner and/or diary is either amazing or highly disorganised. A diary is your friend. Plan things out, even housekeeping chores that should happen on a weekly basis (though it’s a good idea to plan for more thorough cleans every few months too). If you’re really in the thick of life, then writing down things like ‘sweep the floor’ and ‘clean the bathroom’ every week in your diary is a totally acceptable. Recently it took me an entire morning to strip and remake the 3 beds in our house, because I was being interrupted the whole time with little people and little problems, many of which involved bodily fluids. This is normal if you’re in the stage of life where you’re living with little ones, though there are days it can feel discouraging to get to the end of your day and wonder what on earth you did all day — you know you were busy the whole time, but what were some actual things you did? If you can then go to your to-do list and tick off ‘fold laundry’ and ‘read to kids’, there is a sense of satisfaction, as silly as it seems.

Plan your weekly menu, and shop accordingly. Not only will it save you time and money, it’s good for your sanity because you don’t have to get to 5 o’clock and wonder what on earth you’ll feed people tonight.

Read literature that will challenge you, but also encourage you. Read books that will help you and encourage you in your marriage, in mothering, or other areas of life. Read some fun fiction too in between or about other things you’re interested in!  I’m not in a stage of life where hours of sweet quiet reading time is available to me, so I’ve taken to reading short stories, or books with short sections that I can read just a little bit at a time.

I could go on, but you get the idea. To wrap things up, remember that God created you with your own unique set of talents and abilities and situation in life, so don’t try to compare yourself to other women. Work hard at things that are a priority in your life, plan your time and use it wisely, and work cheerfully.

Some helpful articles, if you want to read more on the topic that people much wiser than me have written:

Preschoolers and Peace: Drowning in Home Management Part One and Part Two. (And plenty of other articles on that blog.)

Femina (you should just read the whole thing, and everything in the archives (I’m not kidding), but here are a few recent ones that I found very helpful): The Littleness of Motherhood, Domestic Kindness, You make me feel so guilty!, and False Comfort.

Clover Lane: I don’t know how she does it all.

The Power of Moms: Your children want YOU!

4 thoughts on “The 3-step guide for mothers who want to Do It All

  1. Thank you, Franci! Some really good encouragement here for home management and looking after kids. :) Couldn’t help but like the way you started this article, either. :)

  2. Thank you, Franci. Hit the nail on the head, as usual. “How do you do it all?” This week about “all” I do is sit in my chair and feed Avelina. Oh, and direct and manage baby-holding and cuddling for the other four children.

  3. Sounds like time for me to hire that nanny and cook, though it’s too late to be think about marrying a millionaire. :-) NOT that I ever wanted to!!
    I appreciated this post very much; with a little tweeking to encompass the “older teenager” stage as well, it applies to me too. The exhaustion simply comes more often from (seemingly endless) discussions about the same topics than changing the nappies. In fact, the teenagers help change the nappies and do the dishes – for which I’m most thankful.

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