You know that feeling of HAVING to do everything around the place?
It’s that thought that if you don’t do it, it won’t get done. The feeling that you are responsible for every aspect of home life as well as work and everything in between.
My husband says to me all the time: “You don’t have to do everything.”
To which I will typically reply: “Um, yeah, I do (insert eye rolling here).”
What he means is that he is willing to shoulder the load if I simply ask or tell him what needs doing.
What I mean, is: Hmpf!
The Martyr Mother might be raising her sanctimonious head there but the thing is, for the most part, I do do everything and mostly out of habit, and I think it’s the same story for many of us.
We’re in the habit of doing everything, and everyone around us is in the habit of letting us.
Breaking the habit – is it even possible?
I think sometimes our overload is self-inflicted – we simply don’t delegate and continue to do everything out of that habit, to prove a point or maybe to make ourselves feel important. To feel needed.
The habit starts without us realising – we have a baby who needs everything done for them, and we just never stop. Layer upon layer of responsibility just builds up as the kids get older. You take on all of the responsibilities of the household because that’s where you are most of the time, and if you go back to work or start a business, you add those responsibilities too when they come along.
And then, you’re suddenly doing it all.
Over the course of time, not only do you get used to just getting on with it, everybody else around you also becomes used to you doing it all, which is a recipe for resentment.
Breaking the habit of doing everything for everyone though, can be as simple as making yourself less available, which is what I did although not on purpose.
The secret of doing less: become less available
At the end of last year, I went back to work a few days a week. On top of blogging, working with clients and producing a podcast. On top of family, household, kids sport and all the other myriad of daily ‘stuff’.
Sure, why not add another log to the raging fire? Because that makes complete sense, doesn’t it?
If you look at it solely from the perspective of busyness, it made no sense whatsoever. If you look at it, as I did, though from a sense of feeling, it made all the sense in the world. The idea made me feel excited.
There was plenty of inner dialogue though about it being a crazy idea, and about it being too much. There was plenty of fear that my already busy schedule would become impossible and the worry that it would put extra pressure on us as a family because I would be less available to everyone.
Saying no to the job though because I would be less available to the family would have been saying no to me, and not for a good reason.
So I said yes and then launched myself into a repetitive spiel to the family about how they would have to help out more.
// I’ve given a lot to my family and continue to do so, but my daily constant presence need not be a part of that anymore.
This is the first time I’ve worked outside of home since having the kids. I’ve always worked – freelance, contract and for myself – but I’ve never had to go ‘to’ work before (you know, like dressed in something other than yoga pants).
So I’ve always been available. I’ve always been here to pick up the pieces, run the ship and be the go-to person for pretty much everything. School stuff, transport, food prep and supply, household, sick kids – everything fell to me because I was here, at home, even though I had work to do and deadlines to meet, it still came down to me.
Going into the office now, I’m suddenly no longer as available.
And it’s turned out to be a damn good thing for everyone.
It’s opened up space for growth and independence for the kids, but it’s also shifted the family dynamic – one of being more of a team rather than one where I am captain of the ship.
The kids make their own breakfast – even Mr 9 has taught himself to cook omelettes and while my heart still stops in fright every morning when I walk into the kitchen to see him flipping eggs in a pan over an open flame on the stove top, he won’t learn unless I let him at it.
Miss 11 bakes on the weekends so I don’t have to and she is incredibly self-sufficient.
They pack their own bags, sports gear and follow their own timetable. They keep track of their homework, put their clothes away and both want to learn how to iron (which would be nice as then at least someone in the house will do it because I sure don’t).
Hubby helps with pick ups and drop offs and in any other way I need it. As a hunter and gatherer, he’s quite adept at heading out for food when I have failed to do so during the week (which seems to be a recurring problem these days).
And I have let go (somewhat) of the guilt of being unable to meet the same standards I once did.
Leftovers for dinner are perfectly acceptable and when dinner is now 6.30pm and not 6pm because we’re home late, I’ve learned not to stress that we’re not ‘on schedule’, which we have been, every night for more than a decade.
Being less available has enabled my kids to grow. To take on responsibilities they are well old-enough to take on and to expand into self-sufficiency that they actually thrive on (they still resist stacking and unstacking the dishwasher though, so it’s not perfect).
It’s given space for my husband to play a bigger role in the kids’ lives, which is a gift for him and them.
It is far from perfect – my stress levels have been higher, the house is never tidy, I constantly feel like I’m not in control of anything and I can’t shake the feeling that I’m always forgetting something (which often turns out to be correct but so far it hasn’t resulted in the house burning down or a child left stranded. Starving, but not stranded).
When the issue of work-life balance and guilt are discussed, the conversation so rarely centres around the payoff that comes with being less available. It’s always discussed in a way to make us feel like we are somehow letting the team down or abandoning our duty.
Making yourself less available provides space for others to give, to grow and for balance. We can hang on to that rope of responsibility so tightly that it can become noose-like, choking us of our happiness and vitality because we’re too busy being everywhere for everyone.
When you feel torn, and struggle to ask for help, to delegate or to shift some of the responsibility, becoming less available allows those things to happen organically. You might still have to leave a list of instructions (like who has what in their lunchbox) and others might not do things to the standard you are used to, but none of that is the point or important.
The payoff of taking yourself out of the equation temporarily is one that continues into the long-term.
So however you need to do it – take a class, go back to study, start a business, see a friend, have a massage, take a trip, go to a conference, or take the job – take your leave of absence and see it as a good thing for everyone, including those who you (briefly) leave behind.