When I was 20, I was a stay-at-home-aunt.
That’s what I called myself. I had left college and was looking for something to do, my sister was in her master’s program and had things that needed doing.
I moved in and took over the cooking, the cleaning, and taking care of her two young kids, in exchange for room and board, plus what she had been paying her maid and her nanny. It was a pretty great deal.
I made three healthy and delicious meals every day, kept the house clean and clutter free, and had an hour-by-hour schedule with the kids full of crafts and reading and learning and playing outside.
The kids obeyed me and I never yelled once.
I was an excellent “mom.” It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t all that hard either. It would be a piece of cake when I did it for real.
Well, flash forward six years, and I was laying on the ground next to my newborn, both of us screaming and crying inconsolably. Another two years after that I was yelling at the top of my lungs at my two-year-old because he wasn’t putting his shoes on fast enough to get out the door for his baby brother’s doctor appointment.
Turns out this being a mom thing was pretty hard after all. And I wasn’t even close to perfect at it.
Now two more kids and four more years later, I feel like I’ve finally gotten to a good place. Not just on the surface, but deep down.
So where was the disconnect?
Why was being a mom for real so much harder, when I was doing all of the same things. I was cooking, I was cleaning, I was taking care of kids. But when they were my kids suddenly everything fell apart.
Well, the thing is, the hard part about being a mom isn’t the diapers or the dishes. I’m not saying those things are easy, of course they aren’t, but they aren’t drain-every-drop-of-energy-and-suck-out-your-soul hard.
It’s not the doing, it’s the figuring out what to do.
It’s the thinking.
It’s the mental energy.
Every second we are flooded with so many thoughts about what we should be doing. What being a mom should be like.
It’s not so hard to lay a baby down in a crib and walk away and not go back in again even if they cry. Like, physically, it doesn’t take much effort.
It also doesn’t take much effort to let the baby sleep in your bed with you.
But what does sap all of your energy?
The wondering which way is best. The constant worry about whether you’re doing it right. The thoughts that if you were just doing it right then it would be easier. And trying to figure out what on earth that magical right way is. And wondering why everyone else seems to have it figured out already.
There are so many voices telling you that one way or the other is best, (and even more than that, telling you that one way or the other is worst).
There are so many perfect pictures on Pinterest and Instagram to compare your life to.
You are constantly being pulled in so many directions, it’s no wonder you feel like you’re falling apart.
You always feel like you’re doing something wrong, you’re always trying to figure out how to do things right.
And to top it all off, all of this thinking and worrying and wondering isn’t actually helping you, in fact it’s undermining you.
Because as you keep switching course and trying different things, none of them have a chance to work.
And even if you do finally get it figured out, a week later your baby reaches a new stage and you’re right back where you started.
When I was a stay-at-home-aunt, I could still clock in and out. In the evenings I got to leave and hang out with my friends. (And that super cute boy who I’d end up marrying.)
It wasn’t 24 / 7 / 365 like parenting is.
Plus, as much as I was doing, I was just following instructions. My sister did the thinking, the deciding, the figuring out, and I just carried out the plan.
I was just the sous chef, but she was the chef.
If you walk into a professional kitchen, it may seem like the sous chef is the one doing the work. On the floor. At the stove. Chopping, sauteing, directing the cooks, keeping things running.
The chef is often sitting in an office. But they get the acclaim. They are the ones who get the credit for the amazing food. Why?
A chef is the one who creates new recipes, a sous chef is the one who prepares them.
Any cook can follow a recipe, but it takes a chef to design a new one.
It. Is. Exhausting.
Because you aren’t just taking care of someone else, you aren’t just helping or teaching.
You are living life for someone else.
There are so many things, so many needs that we have, that we barely even have to think about. Moving from one end of the room to another. Eating when we’re hungry, drinking when we’re thirsty, sleeping when we’re tired, burping, using the bathroom, blowing our nose.
Those things don’t take a lot of time and thought when they’re for yourself. But when you have to do all of that for a baby (that can’t even tell you which of those things it is that they need) you suddenly realize just how much it all is.
You are living two lives.
And not just a double life. You are simultaneously living life for yourself AND another person. (And another. And another.)
SO, enough about the problem. What is the solution?
Well, you’re probably not going to like it, but hear me out.
Promise me you’ll keep reading until the end before dismissing me. You’ve made it this far.
Here it is, are you ready?
You need to do more.
I know it sounds crazy. I know I just spent all this time telling you how hard it is to do all the mom things. I know you’re already EXHAUSTED.
BUT, here’s the thing.
As George Leonard says in his book, Mastery,
“A human being is the kind of machine that wears out from LACK of use.”
I know what you’re thinking. “There is no lack of use here, I am going and going all day every day!”
But I told you to hear me out, and I’m not done yet.
It’s not that you aren’t doing enough, it’s that you’re thinking too much. Specifically, you’re overthinking too much.
Remember that mental energy I was talking about?
I’ve been learning a lot over the last couple of years about modern parenting principles, mindfulness, and so much more.
I’m still very much enamored with vintage style—and vintage values too—but the world has changed, and it is important to know how to live in this modern world.
I think the 50s was such a golden age because it was the turning point between humans surviving and living.
Up until the early 1900s, nearly all of people’s time was spent focused on basic needs. Food. Shelter. Clothes.
Even as civilizations developed and got to the point where you could buy food and clothes at the store instead of growing and making it yourself, there was still the hard work to earn the money to buy it, then the hard work to prepare and care for it all.
Men spent most of their time and mental energy providing for the family. Women spent most of their time and mental energy cooking, cleaning, sewing, and raising the children.
Because without technology, those things took ALL of their time and mental energy.
Then suddenly came the boom of household appliances and TV dinners and so many modern conveniences.
And suddenly they could do MORE and do BETTER.
But then we kind of started taking all of those things for granted.
And we didn’t really know what to fill all of our extra time with.
So our minds went crazy.
Human brains love to solve problems, it’s what they’re designed to do.
Get food. Find shelter. Stay alive.
Now that those things aren’t as much of a problem, our brains keep looking for, and finding (and creating) problems elsewhere.
The world has changed SO MUCH in the last 1000 years, the last 100 years, even the last 10 years. But our brains haven’t.
Our brains are used to just doing what needs to be done. But now a lot of those basic things are done for us, so what do we do now?
Humans crave learning, growing, doing.
That’s why we get bored when we’re just sitting around doing nothing.
That’s why we pull out our phones and start scrolling.
Social media and phone games give our minds the illusion of being busy while our body sits idle, but it’s so much more valuable to let your hands work and let your mind wander.
“Mindfullness” is only a modern concept because in the past people didn’t have a choice.
They were present in each moment because each moment they had to be cooking, mending, scrubbing, harvesting.
But now we are overstimulated with so much input from all of the shows, the social media, the screens, but then we have so many “convenience” items that we never get the time to sort through it all.
I have always loved mundane tasks like washing dishes by hand, folding laundry, sorting, organizing, weeding. I think that enjoying housework and tedious things is a lost art in this world of instant entertainment at our fingertips.
So the next time you are doing a chore, instead of being annoyed that it has to be done, be grateful for the time to take a pause from all of the notifications.
Hum a song. Reflect on your day. Sift through your thoughts. Process your emotions. (Weeding is some of the best therapy out there!) Let creativity flow. Or even just take some pride in scrubbing that scorched pan until it’s shiny and new again!
Spend less time thinking, more time doing.
Spend less time thinking about all the things you need to do and more time doing the things that matter to you.
Spend less time thinking about what everyone says is right for your baby and more time doing things the way you’ve decided is best for your family.
Spend less time thinking about what your “failures” mean about you as a person and more time doing the work to learn and grow.
Practice finding the balance between pushing yourself and showing yourself kindness.
Pick up a hobby like gardening, knitting, or drawing.