Do you ever have those days where you feel like you’ve been busy all day but you haven’t actually achieved anything? The days when you’re not so much the swan, swimming serenely along while paddling furiously under the surface, but more of a pedalo, all splash and visible effort but not actually moving in your chosen direction. I suspect it is in the way of things that parents of small children have more than a few days like that, so really we should expect them and embrace them as par for the course, shouldn’t we?
But yet, according to my sample size of two (my sister and me) those are the days when we feel most stressed and start paddling ever more earnestly though without any positive impact.
We’re both full time parents at the moment, me on maternity leave and my sister taking a career break while the tiny nephew is tiny. Our ‘job’ is to mother our assorted offspring and yet we realised that we both feel tremendous pressure to make sure that we’ve done something visibly productive with our days, to have got the house tidied or done the laundry or the shopping or decluttered, organised and magically improved our homes.
It’s different to the internal motivation for a nice clean tidy house; I’m not the most naturally tidy of people, and H and I have hobbies that come with baggage (and bookcases and drawers and boxes and, well, fibre, textiles and paint all take up a bit of space) but I do like it when our house is the tidy version of itself and it feels homely and comfortable and I can settle down to some serious Duplo building without wondering whether I should just nip off to do the washing up. I still have some serious plans for decluttering this year (although I really ought to do something towards making them reality).
No, this is that feeling that we need to justify how we’ve spent our days, to have something concrete to show to say “this, this is what I did today and it has value” even if it’s only that I rounded up all of the bobble hats from around the house and put them back in the bag on the hall cupboard door.
And we’ve no idea where that pressure is really coming from. I know with absolute certainty that it’s not coming from our husbands. The boys like a tidy house as much as the rest of us, but they aren’t giving us wife points on the basis of how much we’ve achieved, nor are they really fussed about the house; if there’s supper, space in the kitchen to cook breakfast in the kitchen and clean clothes for the morning H is pretty happy; train tracks all over the lounge floor really don’t bother him and I’m pretty certain he can’t tell whether or not I’ve hoovered the stairs.
I think it would be all to easy to say that this is a guilt imposed by society’s view of mothers; that raising our children isn’t considered to be a valid way to spend our days, that if we’re at home all day we really should stop eating bonbons on the sofa while watching trashy morning tv and do something useful with ourselves, that it’s all part of the systematic undervaluing of motherhood (or parenthood). But I don’t think that’s true. I’m sure I could find you plenty of examples of comments levied against mothers of small children that say that if they’re home all day with the children then the household is their job, but at the same time I think there are also occasions when motherhood is put on a pedestal; for example wanting to work part time or have flexible hours because you need to pick your children up from nursery is seen as a completely legitimate reason, wanting to shift your hours because your commute is hellish and you’d really like to do it one less day a week, or you want to work when you’re most effective isn’t as easy a sell.
I’m not sure I can quite bring myself to say that parenting is overvalued, but you know what I mean.
So if I’m not being subliminally undermined by Daily Mail readers and random people on the internet then what is at the root of it?
While parenting isn’t necessarily undervalued, I so think sometimes the time it takes to do things with small children is tow is underestimated. What am I saying “I think”, I know it is because I underestimate how long it takes to do anything. If I just did the washing up start to finish it takes a lot less time than when the girls are helping me, or when I have to keep popping in and out of the lounge to police the sharing of the one pink crayon that they both need to complete their pictures, or when I’m wearing a little boy in the sling and trying not to get him too wet. Even four years down the line I wildly overestimate what I can get done in a day and I strongly suspect I’m still basing my time estimates on the pre children era. And that’s definitely setting myself up for failure.
And perhaps the drive to get things done that I can actually point at and say “I did this” is just a side effect of work; it would be surprising if years and years of being measured and rated by results didn’t rub off of me somehow, and if there’s one thing that’s certain in parenting, it’s that you won’t see the results until much much later.
So what do you think? Is it just our little sample of two that feels this need to show we’ve done something with out time or do we all need to retrain ourselves on how long it take to do things and ditch the inner guilt?