There’s a little poem I saw over and over again while my babies were little – most notably the last few lines of the poem, which would often appear in my newsfeed in meme form.
The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
But children grow up as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.
While I certainly understand the sentiment behind Ruth Hulbert Hamilton’s lovely poem on the fleeting nature of childhood, I never did relate to it much.
Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to. I wanted to heed everyone’s advice to sleep when the baby slept and to let the dishes and laundry pile up in favor of spending more time with my precious, ever-changing newborn. But here’s the thing no one tells you: the dishes and laundry still have to get done sometime. You can’t ignore pesky household chores until your children are fully grown. Hell, even letting them go for a day or two can lead to a mountain of work, and guess what? It’s a whole lot harder to get all that work done with a baby to take care of too.
Yet, hearing the advice to let the housework wait or to slow down made me feel guilty. If I wasn’t supposed to do dishes now, while my baby was asleep in my arms and ready to be put down in his crib, then when would they ever get done? How would I ever function as an adult and keep a safe, clean house for my kids if I didn’t spend every spare moment cleaning or organizing or trying to get my life together?
Having a baby didn’t endow me with a special, extra reserve of time for housework and self-care and all the other things I needed to do. There was no one standing by to take on my household duties and other work, because my husband was stretched thin as well. I had to tackle to do lists whenever I possibly could. There was no other time.
Once I got the hang of motherhood, it wasn’t so difficult to keep my head above water, but I never felt like I had enough time. Now with three kids, I’m able to keep things under control most of the time. But still, I struggle to find that balance between finding the time to keep up with my life and responsibilities while still wanting desperately to slow down and simply be with my children. My desire to live an efficient life seems to constantly be at odds with my kids’ pace of life (not to mention their preferred level of messiness). The truth is, I’ll never have enough time to keep the house as clean as I want or have my life as organized as I want while also giving each of my kids the one-on-one time they want and deserve. It’s a constant push and pull, and one I quite frankly don’t feel I’ll ever get right. If I’m killing it with keeping the house clean and my deadlines are all met, my kids are most likely being babysat by Netflix. If I decide to devote my day to playing and neglect checking emails or doing laundry, I feel completely overwhelmed and buried at the end of the day. I can’t seem to find a happy medium between my competing responsibilities. When I’m doing well in one area, all the others are lacking, and I can’t seem to bring everything up to par.
I need to give up on having a smooth and efficient life, but it’s so difficult and against my nature. I want the clean house and the happy kids. I want the successful career and the stay-at-home lifestyle. I want to have it all, but therein lies the problem. “Having it all” is a catchphrase that sounds great but doesn’t mean all that much.
I’ve realized maybe it’s not so much that I want to “have it all,” but that I want to have a happy life, and I don’t know the formula that will get me that result. I know all the things that make me happy, so I try to do too many of them at once.
If me and my kids are truly going to be happy and find some semblance of balance, what I really need is to be better at prioritizing what I need in the moment. Sometimes work will have to take precedence, and I will need to put guilt out of my mind. Sometimes my kids will need me and I should be able to stop my mid-morning cleaning spree to spend some time with them. I need to make sure that there is a time where they come first, and the rest of my responsibilities need to fade into the background for a while. It may not be the most efficient way to live, but I bet it’s the happiest by far.