When I read the study that revealed mothers work on average 98 hours a week I was relieved.
I was relieved...because recently I found myself wondering why I felt so tired all the time.
I was relieved...because it's been years since I've had a week off from work or kids or house stuff.
I was relieved...because I feel like all I do is take care of children, clean or work.
Reading that moms work the equivalent of two-and-a-half full time jobs each week, well, it made me feel validated.
THIS is why I'm so tired.
The study found that women say they start caring for children, on average, around 6 a.m. each day, and clock off after 8 p.m. Add in tantrums, nursing sessions, cleaning, play dates, drop-offs, school forms and millions of micro events in between. (And that's a 'good' day, of course—without sleep issues or illnesses or middle-of-the-night musings about the color of dinosaur tails...) So of course we're exhausted.
Motherhood can do that to you. But does it have to do that to you?
Enter: Andrea. Every woman needs a mom friend like Andrea. Exactly a decade older than I am, her kids were babies 10 years ago. She's wise. She's been through this whole motherhood thing before. Plus, she has a way of planting wisdom for me before I need it—so when I finally arrive at the stage she was talking about, her advice is right there where she left it.
"Nobody will force you to take a vacation, Liz," she reminded me during a recent vent session. "No one else will book you a getaway—or force you to go to the gym—or tell you to stop working late nights. Only you can shape the life you want to live."
Motherhood is so all-consuming that it was beginning to consume me.
It was getting me up super early to get ahead at work. It was keeping me up late to scrub the kitchen sink. It was making me feel guilty for not being a time-traveler who could magically be at swim lessons, work meetings and Barre class at the exact same time.
This all-consuming mentality was making me feel inadequate, even though I knew I was doing the best I could, all the time. It was making me feel like I should do MORE—even though the main thing I needed was a break.
Andrea's reminder was the exact advice I needed to get back into the driver's seat of my own life.
So I'm giving myself a break.
I'm giving myself a break from the guilt of not being the "perfect" mom, and I'm buying myself a "World's Okayest Mom" mug instead. My kids are safe, happy, healthy and loved. We are doing okay.
I'm giving myself a break from working late on my laptop every night, and giving myself permission to slow down and sip tea after my kids are asleep.
I'm giving myself a break from not playing all the exact right developmentally-targeted games with my kids, and spending more leisurely, deliberate, child-led time together. Yesterday I attempted to build a slingshot with my son (his idea), today we're shopping for cake pop ingredients (also his idea.) It makes him feel so happy and loved to direct our play and takes all the burden off of me to plan our "activities." To the bathtub for swim time, and beyond! ?
I'm giving myself a break from thinking my house has to look "picture perfect" at all times. Sometimes it will, but many times it won't. We live here. It's a busy, family life in motion. Our house is not always going to look like Joanna Gaines *just* stapled some shiplap up and sprinkled her Fixer Upper fairy dust everywhere. Sometimes there will be jelly stains on the couch and school forms on the floor and that's real life.
I'm giving myself a break from thinking I would look SO AWESOME if I just lost the rest of the baby weight—because lots of people mistake me for a teenager (I'm 32, I think...#MomBrain) and that's enough of a compliment for now.
I'm giving myself a break from doing ALL THE THINGS, and sending more tasks to my husband to manage during his business trips. School forms can be filled out remotely, doctor's appointments can be scheduled, soccer clubs can be joined—even while he travels. Involved dads, FTW!
I'm giving myself a break from not taking a break, and committed to a getaway with my work partner, a winter vacation with my sister, and an anniversary trip with my husband. ✈️
I'm giving myself a break from not being enough. While I still have lots of #GOALS, I'm focusing less on the feeling of inadequacy, and more on the on tiny steps I'll take to get there.
Motherhood is the one all-consuming, all-amazing, all-exhausting journey—and I'm the only person who can really control how I handle it.
I want to be a role model to my kids—that mommy loves them and is committed to her work—and she needs time for herself too. I need a break before I break and I know that's good for my kids too.
A version of this post was published October 5, 2020. It has been updated.