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The Limitations of Time

The idea that resources are abundant was one that I learned later in life. While I embrace it as well as I can from a logical standpoint, I don’t think I’ve truly accepted it from an emotional standpoint because I still feel lacking in some areas.

When it comes to time, it’s the trickiest resource of all.

I grew up with a sense of limitations when it came to money, space and patience but not when it came to possibilities, love and dreams.

But the resource of time — we all know there is a limit. We all get the same 24 hours in a day, the same 7 days in a week. We see others do seemingly impossible tasks in what feels like a short amount of time. How could they care for that many kids in a day? How could they earn that much in a month?

We figure they must know a hack we don’t. They must be more productive. They must be faster, more efficient, better at time management. In many cases, none of those things are true. For working moms, especially those who have high expectations for themselves, it’s not about resources. Or abundance. Or limitations. Or strategies.

It’s about our standards, our unrealistically high standards that seem so normal because we are comparing them to life before kids.

At certain stages of motherhood, there is simply Not. Enough. Time.

There. I said it. We feel like we don’t have enough time, because we don’t. We really don’t. It’s not you. It’s all of us.

At that point in life, it’s no longer about managing, prioritizing, shifting, or planning time.

It’s about mindset. We have to wrap our mind around the concept that we are not going to do many things — or most things, or maybe anything — to the standard that we want. We have to lower our standards. And that can feel like a slow death by a thousand cuts, because we usually don’t lower our standards willingly. It just happens because we can’t live on two hours sleep. It just happens because we can’t take a personal day from our job once a week. It just happens because kids vomit on the carpet. And when it happens, we think it’s temporary. It’s the only way to cope with the guilt.

We think: I’ll start exercising again once the kids are back in school. I’ll clean up the house when we have a free Saturday after soccer season ends. I’ll plan a weekend getaway for me and my husband after I find a good babysitter.

And when those things don’t happen, because those 24 hours get sucked up by all the things we convince ourselves we must do to be good mommies, we feel shame. We are ashamed that we are not achieving the standards we expect of ourselves. That’s the biggest problem of all, because it leads to stress and lower self-esteem and turning into the grouchy mom.

We catch up a little on our day to day chores and errands as our kids get older and don’t need us to supervise them. We catch up even more on our long-term projects as our kids mature enough to drive themselves. But we never really catch up and get to that elusive finish line where everything is done to our satisfaction while we have kids living at home. And that leaves us with a sense of discontent that hammers away on our emotional, mental and physical health.

Instead, we can regain our health by accepting some lower standards. Forget perfection. Embrace the ordinary, for pretty much everything. Parenting. Career. Marriage. Friendships. Home. Health. Style. You get the picture.

Take parenting. We are very defensive as mothers. One situation can cause us to feel like a bad mom for days. I never wanted my kids to spend any time in front of screens. I kept them away the first couple years and tried to rely on them sparingly after that. But there were days I lowered my standards and let them watch a marathon of Sponge Bob, so I could finally finish a critical work project. I constantly thought I could get work done while my kids were home, despite getting interrupted every few minutes to make food, or find a toy, or resolve a sibling dispute — and then I became disappointed when those unrealistic expectations forced me to turn on the TV all day. I would have been better off to just plan that screen-time “indulgence” and accept it as a means to an end — with no guilt or shame attached. That was the mindset shift I needed.

Take work. I wanted to move up in my career and earn more every year, and I struggled to do this while working part-time, a choice I made because I wanted to be a hands-on mom. I figured if I worked extra hard on the two days I was on the job, I could progress the same as others in my field who worked five days a week. As if! I got frustrated with myself when my colleagues eventually moved into better positions and more money, and I didn’t. I would have been better off to just accept from the start that working part-time would put my career in neutral and slow our path to getting out of debt — with no guilt or shame attached. That was the mindset shift I needed.

Take home. I wanted to have a house that was organized and clean, like it used to be before kids, but I couldn’t keep up with the never-ending onslaught of school permission slips and sports photo forms and dance company audition deadlines and bills and work files. They always seemed to show up when I was running out to an appointment or in the middle of making dinner, so I would pile them where I would see them later — on the kitchen table or my dresser or the family desk. I expected to get to them before it was too late because they were right on top, until they got buried by the next day’s schedules and lists because I came home from work after midnight and went right to sleep. And I beat myself up when the piles continued to grow because I thought everyone else was more organized. But I was drowning in more tasks than I could handle.

I simply didn’t have enough time to get to everything the way I wanted — read each form, carefully put it into the calendar, research the best place for classes. I would have been better off to accept I couldn’t possibly keep up with it all, and it wouldn’t make me a bad mom to toss half the notes from school and most of the mail, even if it meant I had no clue what was going on in science class when I met the teacher during conferences and occasionally got a late fee. That was the mindset shift I needed.

When you are a working mom, there are definitely tricks and tips to improve productivity and efficiency.

But no matter how much of that you do, if you keep pushing yourself to meet your own high expectations, you will Not. Have. Enough. Time.

You cannot create more time just because you envision the harmony of doing all the things you want to do in your own life and all things you want to do with your children, like dress and feed and supervise and help and love and teach and cuddle them.

You have to accept that you must lower your standards, and plan for that, recognizing that you are doing that to be a better mom. And don’t buy into the BS that other moms are somehow accomplishing everything beautifully every day.

The moms who work full-time don’t have as much time to spend with their kids as the moms who work part-time, and that’s okay if that’s the way they’ve planned it and want it. The moms who have the beautiful house and home-cooked meals may not get to the gym every day, and that’s okay if that is more important to them.

The working moms who appear to have it all are the ones who have decided ahead of time which areas they want to focus on and which areas they are willing to lower their standards. And they usually show us those areas of focus in their social media, which is a highlight reel of life and not a reflection of day to day living. And that’s okay, as long as someone doesn’t completely give up on one critical area. You don’t want to neglect your own health any more than you would neglect taking your kid to the doctor if she is sick.

So let’s embrace some mediocrity and regain some sanity, because you are not going to get more time — until your nest is empty. And by then, you’ll wistfully look back at those earlier years, forgetting all those days you couldn’t find the damn permission slip.

You can sign up for MomSub here so you can take some time for yourself.

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