Thoughtful Thursday: All

July 9, 2009

Thoughtful ThursdayOnce upon a time I managed reasonably well. I could handle my career, and my marriage, and other various close relationships, and hobbies like travel and pottery and blogging, and even infertility on top of all that — I really was good at incorporating infertility and treatments into my daily life, after all of that practice. Some things got more attention than others at times, but I was able to juggle them all and mostly keep all of the balls in the air.

Since being pregnant, though, with my physical stores depleted below zero, I am failing at most things most of the time. I can focus on gestating, and do alright at marriage, but I can only handle maybe one of the others successfully on any given day.

I know all of the things you’re supposed to do to maximize efficiency, to prioritize, to do it all. I’d like to imagine that when my body only has to support one human life again, I’ll do better — but there will be two new humans that I’ll need to take into account. Many outside observers have considered me to handle everything in a superwoman-like manner, but I feel like a fraud, especially these days.

I’ve tried talking to some more senior women in my field about the topic, and mostly they either seem to cut a certain part out of their lives (like children), or they say, “This is as much as I can do” and just so happen to come across as mastering more than they really are.

One of my best friends is able to do it all by focusing only on family and work, nothing for herself except exercise — which she can manage because she wakes up at 4 a.m. to do it, then is done and showered by the time the kids get up. I cannot be like her, I just can’t. Is it possible to do it all and still sleep?

Do you think it’s even possible to do it all?

Suggestions from those who are succeeding at the balancing act are certainly welcome — if there’s anyone out there who actually thinks they are doing it all, and not just making it look that way.

24 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: All”

  1. jill Says:

    Hmmmm. I really don’t think it’s possible to “do it all”. Of course, that doesn’t mean much since “doing it all” means completely different things to different people.

    I believe that everyone must make sacrifices in life and the object of the “game” is to balance the sacrifices, the unpleasantries, the enjoyment, the responsibilities, for maximum happiness.

    There’s only so much time in a day – if someone was incredibly busy, not a moment free, in their child-free life, it’s inevitable that some things will need to move around to accomodate new family members, new responsibilities, new enjoyment.

  2. Julie Says:

    “All” is so encompassing. I guess more it’s that by the end of the day you’re happy. Then again, I hated pregnancy, even after dealing with IF. I’m an avid exerciser, did all sorts of things, and on some days, pregnancy was just as exhausting. So certainly you may have to adjust to “doing” less just to stay sane. I hate saying that too since whenever someone said that to me, I was ready to hurt them. Going from working 40+ hours a week, exercising daily, and going out to being pregnant and, by doctor’s orders, stuck on a couch, I felt like a shell of my former existence and hated it.

    True, when having the girls, I had to adjust what I accomplished in a 24 hour day, but also made sure to stay three dimensional. While the girls are a huge priority, I can’t just let everything else go. Sleep is possible, but just occurs in a different scheme. I nap during the day and learned to run on a few less hours than before.

  3. Ana Says:

    No magic solution from me, sorry. But your post amazingly came on the day I was pondering the same thing; since becoming pregnant I’ve had to let a lot of things go due to sickness and sheer lack of energy, and the guilt level is high (and I’m only gestating ONE). I work in a fairly high-stress field, and we have a sort of support group for women in our field—once we had older, extremely successful women come talk to us “younguns” about how they managed to “do it all”. If you read between the lines of what they said, though, something ALWAYS has to give. When asked how to manage home & work life, suggestions ranged from “get a good nanny”, “learn how to say no to your kids, you can’t always be at EVERYTHING”, and “don’t have kids during the early stages of your career, wait until you’re established (did she not realize most of us were already in our 30s???)”. Ummm…not very helpful!!

    Another one I’ve heard, and this actually makes some sense, is that you CAN have it all in life, just not all at the same time—some things are going to have to give at different stages in life. Its like a pie chart, and one certain areas get bigger, others will have to shrink. Before kids, life can be mainly about yourself—work, social life, hobbies; when the kids are very young, you may still have to work, but other things may not get your full attention. AS the kids grow up, things might shift.
    I like this way of thinking about it—it seems like you have options & control over what pieces you use to fill your pie—yes I loved my exercise routine, hobbies, travel, and social outings—but I will cheerfully trade them out for whatever the joys of parenthood will bring. Many women (working mothers) I know that seem happy & fulfilled seem to have achieved an ability to let many things go and do their best. However, they are certainly not getting as much sleep as I would like. I think that one has gotta give, unfortunately.

  4. Jamie Says:

    Your priorities have to change — with pregnancy — and with the addition of a little one (or ones…) into your life. I still can’t believe how much my life has changed since we had Bo and I know it is going to change again, quite drastically, with the addition of two more little ones. Many of the thoughts and ideas I had about balancing life and motherhood before Bo arrived now seem totally ludicrous.

    It isn’t possible to do everything — but I happen to be one of those people who tries pretty darn hard to do so. Typically, it means very little sleep — which makes life quite difficult now that I am gestating twins.

    Logically, I know I need to cut back. I just don’t know how… And I’m sure you feel the same way.

    I’m reading a really good book about priortitizing your life and figuring out what you really want and what is really important. I’ll share any insight I receive from it on my blog soon.

  5. I hear you!

    The simple answer (for me) is no. You can’t do it all, whatever your “all” is. I’ve even found that the crap I used to tolerate at work is too much for me now. I just can’t handle it. Even being a “good” wife can be difficult some days. I think impending parenthood helps to put everything into perspective before you’re responsible for the care of another life , or in your case, lives.

    I do think that there is a fine balance to be sought and acheived. Think of it like having a different basket for each part of your life. We *can* actually raise a family, be productive at work and still find time for ourselves and our hobbies, but it’s up to each of us to decide how much to put into any one basket at any given time.

    Maybe at first the family basket will be heavier than the others, because that’s where the focus is needed. Then as time goes on, that basket may become a little lighter as we get the hang of our new roles and routines. Then we’ll have some spare energy to throw into a different basket.

    The point is, there is a finite amount of energy we have each day, pregnant or not, and our circumstances at the moment dictate where that energy needs to be spent.

    When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I had nothing left. Nada. I had run empty and staggered through my daily life like a zombie. Lifeless. I learned a lot in my year of recovery. I learned to respect my limits, because to do otherwise would be detrimental not only to my health but also to the relationships of the people around me. I had to make tough choices but in the end I found my balance out of necessity. The other option was to stay in flare and I couldn’t bear that. It just wasn’t an option I was willing to consider.

  6. Kristin Says:

    No one but no one can do it all. What you can do is do all that is important to you. There are areas you will have to let slide a bit but, when something else eases up, you rein it back in. Just do your best at what you chose to do and recognize your limits.

  7. Carrie Says:

    I, like you, have always prided myself on doing everything. When we had a dinner party, all was made from scratch and perfect, my daughter’s birthdays were well-planned, and I managed to keep up with all my friends and family. These days, not so much. It sounds like we are in the same boat. I am surrendering to my limits and trying to sneak an extra fifteen minutes of rest in whenever possible.

    It is a great preparation for one infant (let alone, two, I imagine) because once your babies arrive, you won’t care about much else (you don’t have to believe me, but I am right) for a long time.

    The remarkable thing I’ve found so far, is no one seems to be noticing my extreme slacker behavior. Maybe I just keep up the illusion. 😉

  8. Lavender Luz Says:

    Kristin took my answer. I believe you can’t do it all, but you can suck the marrow (I love that phrase that Lolli used) out of what interests you.

    My goal is to make sure that my values play out in my priorities. Meaning that where I spend my time/energy is in direct proportion to what is important to me.

    I am so not a 4 am workout kind of person.

  9. As much as I love to go for a run or a walk, I will not get up at 4am to do it. I love my sleep WAY to much for that. it is possible to do a lot, but like the other said, not ALL. It’ll be tough to figure out what to put to the side or what to hold off on, but it is possible. A lot of team work between your DH and yourself will be the key to getting a lot done. Try not to feel as if you “failed” if you just can’t do something. That’s always the problem I had. I believe in you and I’m sure you will do just fine!

  10. Wonderful post, and man am I going through the same thing right now. Right now my plan is to gradually build back up to all the things I was doing before baby. I went back to my blog after two weeks of maternity leave. I’ll go back to communicating with my friends next week. I’ll go back to my novel the week after next. And I’ll go back to my job after two months of maternity leave.

    My main goal is to prioritize and not to add anything else to my schedule (which is hard for me).

    So I try to pre-load my blog on the weekends, when my husband will be there. Schedule at least 2 friend dates a week, so that I don’t go crazy. I comment on other blogs late at night, while I’m waiting for Betty to demand her next feeding, and I’ll write — well, I don’t know when I’ll write exactly. But so far it’s been about adapting to my new schedule and fitting things in where I can.

    I think it helps not to be too rigid with your schedule, since it keeps on changing and prioritizing your naps first and foremost, so that you have enough energy to do the other things you want to do. Also, as mean as this sounds, it also helps to prioritize your friends. You won’t be able to make time for everyone, but you should go the extra mile for the people who really matter to you.

    Believe it or not, my pregnancy really prepared me for this new life. I figured out a lot of the systems I have now, when I got too tired and huge to move. Now I’m just tired, so that’s something. Getting my body back has made things a lot easier.

    Anyway, this is all to say that you can’t do everything you want, but you can do everything that counts. And as your priorities shift, you might not mind your new lifestyle. Just stay adaptable and keep on working the problem. You’ll figure it out.

  11. WiseGuy Says:

    LOLOL…I am no help to you here…I am miserable at ‘All’, but there is one thing that I can tell you…if you were to ask that friend of yours whether she considers herself superwoman-ish, she would most probably say No.

    I think it is possible to do all, but perfection cannot be demanded from it. One of my colleagues too is super at everything, she wakes up early, cooks for the whole family, assists in her daughter’s homework, and of course works with us…and I do not still think that I want to be her. I may want to borrow her desire to try new recipes, but that is that!

    Take one thing at a time. Have a perspective on what is to be accomplished and have a weighted measure for how important each of the activity is to you…And you must be pleased with yourself…It is easy to see the flowers growing on the other side of the fence, but we do not know what worms are digging that soil….nobody is perfect!

  12. Heather Says:

    Great topic! I also like to think (and have had people tell me) that I have it all together. But I will admit that there are different cycles in life where sometimes something takes priority and then shift into a “new normal”. I have a job in a high-stress technology field, I love yoga, cooking and all my other hobbies, and then we have family and friends to keep in contact with. When we had our daughter 8 years ago, things changed, but then settled into a “new normal”. We (and I say “we” as DH is very important in all this juggling) learned to prioritize what was on our plate and make sure the most important stuff gets done first. Now with all our stuff, we juggle our daughter’s figure skating practice, which takes more time every day.

    Right now, we can’t wait to get the second of our new twin boys home, so we can get back to our new “new normal”. Hopefully that will be in the next few days.

    That said, I will tell you that when you are pregnant, it’s a time in the cycle to lay back a bit and slow down. It’s a time when you really need to go inward, think about things like what you just posted and how life will change in the coming months.

    I also want to make it very clear that I strongly recommend women to have their husband be just as hands-on with child raising as the woman is. It’s for the best of the marriage to be partners in this as well as helping both feel like they have a balance in life. I get so frustrated when I see mother’s thinking that only they can parent a child and make the husband feel like he doesn’t know anything. He may not do things the way you do, but he needs to find his way as well as you do.

  13. Nishkanu Says:

    I have been thinking about this a lot over the last year (also before finally getting knocked up), after many years of go-go-go doing it all and honestly not enjoying it that much, always feeling a bit overwhelmed and at the end of my rope.

    The major conclusion I have come to is that there is no point in doing it all. Up until now I have always kind of assumed that the “all” that I had to do was required in order to be a good-enough person. But now I realize that it really, really isn’t. I was helped immensely by spending 6 months living in a working-class community where people simply hadn’t bought into the “must cook organic / cook from scratch / fill every hour of the day with productive activity” ideology. I was amazed to interact with people who would say things like “I can’t meet up with you today, I am cleaning my living room” (or whatever single task they were occupied with, which in my speeded-up life should only take an hour or two and then have other cr*p jammed in around it). And I realized pretty quickly that those people had a lot more self-respect and were a lot happier than I am.

    On returning from the community to my regular world I look around me and am just astonished at the low quality of life people are willing to put up with in order to “do it all.” I look at my brother and sister-in-law with two young kids who do all the “right” things – both working full-time, maintaining all family obligations and then some, keeping an immaculate house, etc. etc., and I doubt they sleep more than 5 hours a night. Maybe they are happy, hard for me to judge, but when I see their lives all I can think is “that’s not what I want.” I don’t want to have to go-go-go all the time, I want to have peace in my life.

    How to do it, if you want to?

    First, you have to recognize how many of the things you “have to” do are optional. You do NOT have to have perfect anal control of your finances and know how every penny was spent (giving this up freed up a lot of time for me!), you do NOT have to send Christmas cards to everyone you were ever close to, you do NOT have to serve meals that are totally home-cooked/natural/organic, etc. Going over everything that you “have to” do and figuring out whether the world would end if you stopped doing it is pretty liberating. As others have mentioned pregnancy is a good time for this since it wipes your *ss anyway (if I don’t nap for 2 hours a day I am so wiped I am totally useless).

    Second, for the things you decide you still want to do, if you are a perfectionist like me it is handy to adopt the new mantra “what is the easiest way I can get this done?” I tend to take on new tasks and make gargantuan efforts out of them, by stopping to figure out whether there are some shortcuts that will make it more manageable my life gets a lot easier.

    Third, recognize that the default in our society of what will occur in a new family, even if you consider yourselves to be egalitarian, is that much of the workload will fall on the woman. If you don’t want that to happen to you, actively work against it. For example, I started spending a lot of time researching OBs, hospitals, childcare, etc. while my hubby kept on blissfully with his life. After a while I realized… why am I the one doing all of this? I asked my hubby if he would be in charge of figuring out childcare after the little one comes. “Sure!” he said, and it was off my plate. Comes at the cost of not being in control of it, but that cost is worth paying. I highly, highly, highly recommend the book “Avoiding the Mommy Trap.” It explains why this happens and how you can work against it. It was extremely eye-opening.

    Fourth, if you can afford to, consider cutting down your work hours. In the US our work hours are the highest of any industrial nation (see Juliet Schor’s Overworked American for a brilliant discussion of this issue). We Americans also generally tend to think that “more hours worked” = “better person”; my colleagues are always complaining about how overworked they are, but it seems like these complaints are also intended as advertising for what good people they are that they work so hard. It is majorly bucking the trend, especially in management-type occupations, but there is no rule written in stone that we all have to work 50-60 hours to be successful. Europeans manage it on 35, and look at you like you are crazy if you start to complain about how much you “have to” work (this is taken as a sign that you are not managing your workload properly… probably correctly).

    So the summary, I guess, is that US culture tends to drive us all to distraction with tasks and plans and scheduled activities, and if you want to be sane and happy and balanced you have to work against what your friends and neighbours are doing. This is not easy. But at least for me, I don’t want to live the life of “all”, the cost is way too high.

  14. Shinejil Says:

    Hmmm… is it all worth doing? I mean, we’re supposed to do all sorts of meaningless shit as women (sorry, that Anglo-Saxon word is the only appropriate term for it) that is actually absolutely unnecessary. Does our home have to be organized like Martha Stewart’s lingerie drawer? Does it have to be spotless? Do we have to enroll our kids in a gazillion activities? Do we have to work at ridiculously demanding jobs to support our spending and prop up our sense of self?

    My plan, and it’s just a silly plan, is to do two things to deal with this conundrum: work at what I love and take the financial hit that comes with that; and make a few priorities to ensure ongoing sanity that are mine and mine alone (like swimming and yoga) that will be my rocks: immobile, and something my husband will have to reckon with. Fortunately, I’m blessed with a career and a husband amenable to this approach.

    Maybe instead of compartmentalizing our lives like some sort of psychological Target, we need to think of happiness first: What will make me happy? Working more? Okay, then you have to give a bit on some other things, like spending time at home. Focusing on your children? Okay, then some other stuff will have to give, at least temporarily.

    It’s a balance, but the things that truly make you happy cannot be abandoned. They can’t all be fully honored all the time, but if you turn your back on them, they will come and bite you in the ass (aka midlife crisis).

    Because if mama’s not happy, no one’s happy.

  15. Nity Says:

    No. Something is always going to have to give. Something is always going to need sacrifice. And I mean that if you stay home or if you work full time.

  16. Rebecca Says:

    I don’t think it’s possible and I think too many people make themselves miserable trying.

  17. rosesdaughter Says:

    I really don’t think it’s possible to do it all. And as soon as I accepted that, life got much less stressful.

  18. It boils down to one’s own definition of success. Is it possible to do it all? “All” for different people encompasses a whole host of varying ideas and ideals. In my mind, doing it all means being able to prioritize according to one’s definition of success. Doing it all can mean realizing when something’s got to give and being confident enough to not base one’s self worth on how much one can accomplish without killing oneself.

  19. Photogrl Says:

    I know I can’t do it all.

    But, that doesn’t stop me from trying to do it all, and being disappointed in myself when I fail.

  20. Sarah Says:

    Maybe you’ll change your vision of ‘all’?

  21. gracieinbrooklyn Says:

    I don’t know how it is possible to ‘do it all’ — and if it were there wouldn’t be the ongoing conversation about it. What I’d like to find is a community of people who are supportive of whatever I choose to ‘do’ (and not ‘do’).

    I think that it is the most difficult stuff that makes us reset our priorities. The stuff we can’t control.

  22. Staciet Says:

    I have changed my views of what “all” means. Now, “all” is when I try my best in every area and not beat myself up too much when some things slip through the cracks. That being said, there are times when one thing gets and deserves more attention than the others, which is okay, too.

    I think everyone is happy and healthy, and that is enough for me!

  23. nutchell Says:

    This is something I think about often. I think, “well, loads of women do it. Buck up Chelle, you can do it if you just put your mind to it.” But that’s not the way it works in my world. It has been a constant struggle trying to balance everything while being pregnant.

    Will it change back to where I can balance everything? I have no idea. I hope so.

  24. mekate Says:

    I think I have come to the conclusion that I need to redefine what “all” really is- maybe it is or needs to be less than it used to be, but maybe that does not mean LESS at all. Maybe by doing less different things I actually have more.

    I am working on this one.

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