I get asked a lot, "How DO you do it all?!" in reference to working full time, blogging full time, and training for races - all while still being an active parent in my home. In reality, I'm pretty sure most people are just being nice and making conversation, but if I actually broke it down and had to answer the question, the answer would be....I don't. That's the secret ladies and gentleman - I don't do it all.
When I was about 24, starting out at my first job post graduate school, a very wise mentor told me (as I was having one of what would turn out to be many break downs in his office), "Jen, you have 100% to give and no matter how hard you try, no matter how much passion you have - you don't have any more than that." As an eager young professional, that was particularly hard to hear, but he was right. No matter how hard I tried, something had to give and that was okay. I couldn't be in two places at once, I couldn't solve every problem alone, and I eventually needed to eat and sleep.
Though it took a while to fully adopt that line of thinking, I never realized how valuable that conversation would be a few years later when Charlie was born. I was working 40-50 hours a week, Jeff was student teaching while also working full time, and we had a colicky newborn at home. To this day, I don't know how we survived. From the outside, people would ask me even then, "How do you do it all?!" Again, probably out of politeness when they saw the bags under my eyes or noticed I was on my sixth cup of coffee. What they didn't notice were the dirty laundry and dishes, the nights Jeff put Charlie to bed while reading for class because I was at a late meeting, or the fact that we hadn't eaten a coherent meal in weeks. It felt awful; I felt like the coy, modest smile and shrug I gave when people asked me was a total lie. I think the Moms knew; they had to know, but I think others genuinely had no idea that just because I showed up to work dressed that day didn't mean I'd accomplished everything on my many to do lists.
When you're a working parent, and god forbid you have a hobby on top of that, it's easy to feel like you need to give full, constant attention to everything you do. After all, anything less than 100% isn't giving your all and I've read enough trolling internet comments to know that my kids need me 24/7 or they will become recluse sociopaths with trust issues! /sarcasm font
But really, I have two options when it comes to balancing my life; I can either put on a Facebook worthy front and essentially lie that everything is perfectly under control OR I can be honest and let other Moms know that no, I didn't do the dishes last night either, that yes, I, too, stayed late at work and missed bedtime....again, and that I feel ya sister - I can't remember the last time I shaved my legs or tweezed my eyebrows either. I've brought kids to work, I've brought work home, I've blogged during my lunch hour instead of going home and doing long neglected laundry, I've gone on a long run instead of having dinner with my family, I've skipped training runs to read extra stories at bed time...
The key to all of this is that it doesn't flipping matter. I have 100% and damn it, I know that I give it every day. I give it to my husband, to my children, to my coworkers, to my job, and to myself. I am okay that my focus ebbs and flows with the day and know that staying late at work won't spoil my children's love for me. I know that reading three extra bedtime stories and not finishing a blog post won't destroy my reader base. I know that leaving the dishes in the sink so I can watch a movie with Jeff won't make the house fall down. I know going for a run to save my sanity isn't abandoning my responsibilities. Heck, I'm writing this blog post as Jeff makes dinner and the kids run around the living room playing, despite not seeing me all day.
There are people out there trolling the internet who'd love to make me feel bad about all of these things, but I don't. Parenthood can be alienating enough without feeling guilty about doing the best that you can.
I also think it's important to highlight that while I'm out there not doing it all, I'm also not doing it alone. I have an amazing husband (who I gushed about here...) who helps keep this house together and is on the front lines with me every single day. He certainly deserves credit for the daily balancing act I perform for the masses.
My answer to this age old question has evolved over the years. While yes, I certainly take it as a compliment as it recognizes the hard work I put in, I no longer just shrug and smile modestly. I want people to know, other Mothers to know, that I'm not doing it all, but that the things I am doing are being done with my whole heart and that that is enough. When I'm with my family, that is our time and I want it to be as rich and joyful as it can be. When I'm at work, I will give it everything I have and put other things aside. When I go for a run, I (try to) appreciate the time alone for myself and put my to do list out of my head. I'm still getting used to that last one.
Even though the feeling creeps in every once in a while, that guilt of not being able to simultaneously give my job 100% and my family 100% and myself 100%, I remember that I only have 100% and that it takes balance and a bit of juggling, but that I can only feel guilty with my own permission. My hope is that all Mothers, Mothers who are questioning their success or doubting their impact, can feel this sense of peace - even if we need reminding of it once in a while.