I am standing in the doorway between my bathroom and my bedroom, struggling with indecision. I have wait for 10 minutes to pass before the face mask I applied will harden, at which point I can get in the shower and wash it off, while also washing my hair and body.
Is there ever a moment in mom life in which we’re not oriented towards multi-tasking?
The dilemma I am facing is how to spend those 10 minutes of “free time”. My son is napping and my daughter is doing something else. Probably watching TV. I want to say I care that she is watching TV but I am also excited to take a shower by myself.
What I want to do is to use those 10 minutes for some creative self-care time, drawing a mandala.
What I feel I should do is fold the enormous pile of clean clothes in the middle of the bedroom floor.
Want to guess which one I picked?
If you guessed the laundry guilt-trip over the self-care art time, you win a basket full of folded clean laundry!
The battle that went on in my head sounded something like this,
“Take this time for you, girl! Ignore that laundry. You can fold it later.”
“Today is later! That laundry has been on the floor for at least 24 hours.”
“Which means it can wait a little longer. Seriously. Take this time for yourself. When do you ever have both kids occupied and not harassing you for your attention for 10 minutes? Exactly. Almost never. Take this opportunity.”
“This is an opportunity, alright. An opportunity to not be a slob. An opportunity to prove to yourself that you do have standards.”
“I do have standards. Mental health standards. Artistic standards. Self-care standards. I am a self-care advocate for fucks sake. I teach people to make this choice. If I can’t walk my talk, no wonder people won’t sign-up for my programs.”
“Grow up. Coloring is not a productive use of your time. What, are you 5? And having clothes lying around on the floor attracts cockroaches.”
So I sat and folded clothes.
I also thought a lot about what it means to be productive and why productivity is so highly valued.
As a mom who works from home with 2 kids under 5, productivity is relative. My work is frequently interrupted by needing to nurse a toddler or change his diaper or holding him while he cries. My work is frequently interrupted by my daughter on the days she’s not in school because she is constantly asking me to play with her and watch her do things and feed her.
I like to be productive, which is often in conflict with my desire to take care of myself.
Self-care doesn’t seem as productive as washing the dishes or writing a blog or getting groceries or promoting my business.
Productivity is measurable and quantifiable in a tangible way.
Self-care is not.
Folding and putting away the laundry has a tangible effect of making the floor and the room look cleaner.
Drawing a mandala makes me feel calm and happy.
Both have value. Isn’t my happiness as important as a clean room?
This is the self-care struggle.
This is why it’s difficult to convince people, especially mom-people, that taking care of themselves is as productive as folding the laundry and far more enjoyable.
Self-care won’t pay the bills or feed the kids or clean the house in the same way that folding the laundry might not bring me profound joy or create inner peace.
Both are essential because I’ve learned the hard way that no one really likes living with piles of clothes everywhere.
And also, no one is happy if mama’s not happy.
We need to rewrite the productivity script and relearn what it means to feel accomplished.
When I am taking good care of myself, I am doing things that make me feel whole and that bring me pleasure. I am eating well. I am sleeping well (or as well as I can with 2 kids who are sleep averse). I am moving my body every day. I am managing my time effectively. I am making time in my day for creativity. I make space to read for the sheer enjoyment of getting lost in a book.
These might not be measurable or quantifiable beyond my own happiness, but that doesn’t mean that the time I spend on those things is a waste of time. It doesn’t mean that when I choose to do something purely for the love of it that I am not being productive.
Do this for me today.
Make a choice to do something that seems “less productive.” Choose to do something that you love doing but often set aside until “the more important work is done.” Give yourself 10 minutes. If you need to, set a timer. Or don’t. Just intentionally do a thing that brings you joy.
Notice what comes up for you.
Are you anxious? Are you already questioning the choice to do something “less valuable?” Are you excited? Are you pissed off that I’m telling you what to do?
And if you go through with it, how do you feel afterwards? Guilty? Frustrated? Happy? Peaceful?
Note your observation without judgment if you can. This isn’t an opportunity to get down on yourself for ignoring your needs while listening to the should’s instead.
You’re not the only one.
We don’t choose personal joy enough. I don’t choose personal joy enough. Like most people, I choose work over play more often than I’d like.
So…the laundry can wait.