You know that “To-Do” list you have? I’m not talking about the list of action items for work this week or your running grocery list, hastily scribbled on scrap paper in your purse, or even your list of weekend to-do’s; when you can finally tackle the dirty floors, piles of laundry, and scattered toys. I mean your mental “To-Do” list. The one in all-caps that runs through your mind as you’re stuck in traffic after dropping the kids off at daycare or taking a quick shower while your toddler screams at your spouse that he wants “something else” rather than the 5 different breakfast options arrayed in front of him. This is the list that keeps you up at night because there is just so much that needs to be done and it would literally take a full year, full-time job, to complete everything. But since your family needs money to, you know, survive, you and your spouse both work over 40 hours a week for other people and barely scrape by. Please tell me I’m not the only one. Anyone? Please? Bueller?
For some context, here is an extremely non-comprehensive list of “To-Do” tasks that I thought of this morning:
- Organize master bedroom closets & collect items for donation/disposal
- Hang family pictures/artwork that has lived in a box in the master closet for the last 11 months since buying our house
- Organize Owen’s toys & collect items for donation
- Finish painting the kitchen & living room as the test splotches have now been on the walls for a full 6 months
- Detail clean my car because…Toddler
- Set up a college fund for Owen
- Reassess current budget to figure out how we can afford a second car payment to replace the 14 year-old Honda that’s going to take its last rasping, squealing breath any day now
- Clean the inside of the refrigerator
- Reorganize the pantry
- Finish the backyard landscaping project
- Buy birthday cards for upcoming September birthdays
- Send a wedding gift to old friend that’s getting married tomorrow
- Buy new socks for Andre
- Potty train Owen
Recently, I have seen so much discussion about the “mental load of motherhood” and yeah, it’s a real thing. In my family I am definitely the keeper of schedules, appointments, school requirements, clothing (yes, laundry, but also making sure everyone has enough non-holey socks and shoes that fit properly), etc…but truth be told, even before we had a child and I was a “mother,” I’ve been the keeper of the “To-Do” list for the life I’ve shared with my husband. I had almost 10 years under my belt before our son came along and added another tab to my mental spreadsheet.
Over the years I’ve tried many ways to organize the tasks that live on my mental “To-Do” list into physical action items with plans and deadlines, I am a Project Manager by occupation after all. I have a drawer full of half-assed daily task calendars, spiral notebooks, even a failed attempt at a bullet journal. And don’t even get me started on the spreadsheets. I have been making spreadsheets for anything and everything for 15 years. While my wedding plan and budget plan and moving plan spreadsheets were fairly successful, my “To-Do” list just never took off. Now maybe you’re judging me pretty hard right here, thinking that if I just got more organized, I could get my shit together and get it all done. And maybe you’re a little bit right. But I have a counterpoint to that thought…it’s not really possible. Even if I was the most organized person in the world, it is just not possible to manage all of my responsibilities successfully and meet all of the deadlines all the time. It’s not just about the number of hours in a day or the fact that money doesn’t stretch as much as we need it to. It’s that in our modern life we are expected to give 100% to everything and it’s just not possible to do that. So, I propose we stop pretending that it is. I propose that we acknowledge that no matter how much we “lean in” to everything, every day is a balancing act. A pretty damn exhausting balancing act of personal and professional responsibilities constantly competing for time and attention.
Sometimes, that balancing act makes us feel like shitty parents in addition to being organizational failures. Other days, we rock it all so hard and feel like a superwoman. So moving forward, on the days I feel less-than capable, I’m going to gently remind myself that it’s just not possible to be everything and 80% of my best is still pretty damn good. And that “To-Do” list? It will be tackled one item at a time when I’m in superwoman mode and the rest of the time I refuse to feel guilty about not getting it all done. At least today anyway!