I’m writing this from my small boy’s bedroom floor, and when he finally goes to sleep, I’ll grab something to eat, probably standing at the counter, making a school lunch and checking e-mails at the same time. Then I’ll bake a cake for the school cake-sale. OK, there’s no cake-sale. But you get the drift. It’s sort of my life, it’s sort of your life. And it’s definitely the life depicted in every “working mom” article ever.
And yes we’re busy. All the time. And it would be lovely to have a break. A little more sleep. A little more me-time – some me-time that isn’t a commute or a shower, because they don’t count.
But if it was quiet – always quiet – wouldn’t we miss it just a little bit? Isn’t there a part of us that thrives on this permanent state of being busy?
I can hold my hand up here – I might be shaking my head in mild disbelief, telling you it’s Just. So. Busy. But sometimes, I’m secretly loving it.
If I say, “Today I had meetings all morning, a doctor’s appointment for a child this afternoon, a school meeting tonight, and three work deadlines tomorrow,” what you hear is that I’m really, really busy and a little bit stressed about it. But what I’m subconsciously saying is that I’m a capable multi-tasker who doesn’t fall apart even when pulled in a hundred different directions. Whether it’s true or not (it’s not) is irrelevant.
When my daughters were in crèche and my husband travelled more frequently for work, I remember dreading those early mornings of solo-parenting. But by the time I was picking up my coffee, having dropped the girls at crèche, I was walking tall with a smile on my face – the spring in my step brought about not only by the double-shot of caffeine, but a small sense of achievement too.
Nobody in my office needed to hear about my morning – I didn’t bore anyone with a rundown of how I’d been up before dawn, had dealt with two tantrums, one missing shoe and a return home for a forgotten bag. But I knew it. I knew, in my own mind, that I had done half a day’s work by 9am. And just knowing was enough. A kind of perverse satisfaction that comes from juggling this dichotomy of work-work and home-work.
Why do we like it? Perhaps it makes us feel needed and wanted and necessary and validated. I can hold my hand up there too. It may also make us feel capable and competent at work and at home – a jack of both trades.
It’s when the busy-ness tips over from good-stress into bad-stress that it’s no longer helpful – it becomes detrimental. And that’s the danger for anyone floundering with holding down a busy job and a busy household. But before that tipping point, a certain level of stress – good-stress – keeps us going; in fact we thrive on it.
As the American Psychological Association says, “Stress is to the human condition what tension is to the violin string: too little and the music is dull and raspy; too much and the music is shrill or the string snaps. Stress can be the kiss of death or the spice of life. The issue, really, is how to manage it.”
Good-stress and the sense of being busy reassure me that I’m still present in the job of work and the job of home – that I have one foot on the jetty and one on the boat. Wobbling, yes. In danger falling in – of course. But keeping my balance. Maybe good stress is a badge of sorts. A badge that says, “Look at me, I’m multi-tasking!” But not out loud – only in my head.
if you’re interested in some tips and tricks for making working motherhood easier – everything from stocking up on socks to using a slow cooker, you might like this article that I wrote for HerFamily.ie: The Ultimate 12-Step Guide to Being a Working Mum