As I began putting the pieces of the Working Parent Resource website together, I asked working parents what their single biggest challenge was.
Almost every single response was some variation of the exact same issue:
I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME.
I feel ya! I had the same thoughts after my oldest son was born.
But here’s the thing: we all have the same amount of time.
We all have 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week.
So how is it that some working parents feel calm and fulfilled and (relatively) in control in their lives, while the rest of us are just trying to get through the day alive? How are some people able to spend quality, engaged time with their families, while the rest of us struggle to get through our never-ending to-do list? How is it that some parents have solid, connected, and fun relationships with their spouses, and the rest of us can barely keep our eyes open at the end of the day?
What are those people doing differently? What do they know that you don’t?
The problem isn’t that you don’t have enough TIME. The problem is that you aren’t spending your time in a meaningful way. You aren’t making choices that connects the way you spend your time with your deepest values.
The problem is that you are so incredibly overwhelmed with trivial demands that making intentional decisions about what to do with your time seems like just another burden that you can’t begin to think about… Until you hit a brick wall and can’t go any further.
The truth is that most of us understand that the way we’re living can’t possibly continue. It’s simply unsustainable. But we don’t know where to start to ease the pressure, so we put our heads down and just work harder and faster, hoping that one day we’ll finally get ahead. We believe the myth that if we just “manage our time” better, or become “more productive,” we’ll accomplish everything we need to and we can finally get some peace.
But it just doesn’t work that way.
If you aren’t focusing on the real issue, the real reason for the chaos and overwhelm in your life, you may diligently follow all of the advice about managing your time and maybe you’ll actually succeed in creating more time (yes!!). But if you don’t pay attention, you’ll just fill that extra time with things that don’t create happiness in your life (overtime at work, scrolling through Facebook, or cleaning the house… boooo!).
If you aren’t careful, you’ll solve the wrong problem.
Here are some of the phrases I repeated at least once a day after I returned to work following my maternity leave:
“I’m just too busy!”
“I can’t seem to get ahead. The harder I work, the more the work just piles up.”
“Everyone needs something from me, and I just don’t know where to begin.”
What I really meant was, I had too many obligations and not enough time to do the things that were important to me. I was taking care of everyone around me, but didn’t leave enough margin in my day to do what made my life worth living. I had over-committed to things that I didn’t really care about, and it was taking me away from everything that was actually precious to me: my newborn baby, my husband, my ability to re-charge, and my freedom to choose what I did with my time.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have enough time.
The problem was that my time was at a premium in a way it had never been before, and I wasting it.
I wasted my time on a 3-hour commute every day. I wasted my time by how I operated at work (inefficiently). I wasted my time when I was guilted into working late into the night because someone else wasn’t prepared and handed an “emergency” project to me as I was leaving the office. I wasted my time when I forgot something at the grocery store and had to run back. I wasted my time when I plopped down on the couch to zone out in front of the TV at night because that was all I was capable of at that point.
I had the same amount of time I’d always had, but I wasn’t managing it well at all. I wasn’t considering what I REALLY wanted my time to look like. I was always behind, so I simply reacted to whatever bright shiny object was right in front of me. I was so tired that I couldn’t even begin to imagine how else to be. I was in survival mode, but I was barely even surviving.
And it was effecting everything and everyone around me.
When my son was about six months old, my husband and I were out on a rare lunch date. It was a perfect date, and I was very aware that I should be happy. After all, it was a beautiful day, we were relaxing on an outdoor patio with wine and gourmet pizza and chatting about our lives. There were no responsibilities or demands on us at the moment… we were just hanging out and enjoying our time together for the first time in months.
As we got in the car to head home though, all of the frustration and exhaustion that I had been feeling for months overcame me and I broke down in tears.
I told my husband that I was unhappy, but I couldn’t figure out why.
I told him something had to change, but I had no idea what.
I told him we needed to re-think our entire future, the future we had been planning for years, because I couldn’t possibly keep up this pace. I just couldn’t maintain this lifestyle any longer.
My sudden meltdown was an involuntary admission that I was not superhuman after all. I was burned out and losing myself fast. After trying absolutely everything I could think of to manage what I had on my plate, I ran out of steam and finally admitted to myself (and my poor, surprised husband) that my life had become unmanageable, and it was time to make real changes.
My meltdown began a conversation that has changed the course of our lives… for the better.
Less than two years later, my husband and I live 15 minutes from the beach (a beach that we actually take our son to on the weekends). I’ve carved out enough time everyday to work on this side project (the Working Parent Resource) that gives me purpose and utilizes some of my best gifts. My husband and I have the same jobs we’ve always had, but we’ve set boundaries that allow us to focus on our priorities, rather than living at the whim of everyone else’s external demands. We have time to sit on our back patio after work to talk and relax while our son plays with his toys and goofs around with us.
This blog outlines the steps we took to make these changes in our lives. I’ll point out the resources that were most useful to us, the things that worked for us, and the things that really didn’t work for us at all.
I’ll share the tools that helped us make long-term, sustainable changes, so we could enjoy our marriage, our family, our jobs, and our lives together. We didn’t have to quit our careers or get a divorce… In fact, I would say our marriage is stronger today than it’s ever been, and I’m much more effective at my job than ever before.
We did have to make some big changes, but we didn’t have to give up the pieces of our lives that were important to us, we just had to cut out the things that were wasting our time.
I know when you’re drowning in crying kids and email alerts and demanding bosses and getting dinner on the table, it’s daunting to think about evaluating your whole life to make long-term changes. It just seems easier in the moment to tell yourself “I’ll think about that when I have time…” (which never happens).
But take it from me, avoiding these issues will only result in a life of stress, burnout, illness, and depression. At some point, life will force you to pay attention.
On the other hand, the good news is that living in this crazy, chaotic, disconnected world is not a foregone conclusion. You have choices. You have the power to make changes, starting now. Just because you have a job and a family doesn’t mean you’re destined to be unhappy and stressed out until your kids are in college. You are in charge of your reality.
Does it take a conscious effort to take back the reigns of your life? Yes. Does it take some deep conversations with your spouse to identify what you both want out of life? Yes. Does it take challenging some of the beliefs you’ve held for most (if not all) of your life so you can let go of what’s holding you back? Yep.
But I’m here to walk you through it, and I’m telling you…. it’s SO worth it.
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