I’m a Mother, Not the CEO of My Household

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The other day I was taking a walk with my almost 2-year-old, Lucy while wearing a sleeping Baby Gwen. The September sky was deep blue through the pines and the wind was blowing away the corners of the oppressive blanket of Florida heat. Lucy was carefully choosing spots to sit down on the nature trail and let the sand run through her fingers. She found leaves, flowers, and butterflies and asked me about them. Sometimes she would just breathe deep and smile.

But you know what I was doing? I was crossing things off of a mental checklist of parenting productivity. “Every minute needs to count for something,” my brain was telling me.

Outside Time — sensory experience, good for brain development. Check!

Nature Study — early learning about botany and zoology. Check!

Exercise — crucial for childhood health. Check!

And it felt so wrong. “Why am I trying to account for every minute? Why am I viewing motherhood as one big checklist? I don’t want to be like this,” I thought.

I’ve been pondering this for the past few days. Why this shift in how I view mothering? Why this pressure?

Then I read this fabulous article by a professor from my alma mater that helped me sort out my confusion about my perspective.

There’s a strain of thinking about homemaking that comes from the misconception that mothering should be treated like a professional career. But mothering is incredibly different and being a SAHM after performance-based academic study was a huge adjustment for me. There is no “end” to the project of motherhood, and no grade to bolster me.

I struggle with my “people pleaser” personality which thrived in an academic setting. I could re-read the complimentary notes a professor penned on the back of my most recent essay. Any negative feedback was black and white and offered a clear path to doing even better next time. I could swell with pride because so-and-so offered to write me a grad school recommendation. It all made me feel productive, special, important.

As you can see, it wasn’t the best environment for my soul which might be why God intervened and moved me onto a different path after the birth of our son. (Let me be clear, academic life is a great path for some women and I applaud them for using their talents to do what God created them to pursue.)

But it’s not just academia that has this sort of performance mentality. It’s any career path, right? How much did you accomplish? How did you move forward? How productive was your day? How can you improve efficiency? And for those of us that step from one world to the other….it’s confusing. I’ve always worked so hard to be the best. The best dancer getting the roles I wanted so badly, the best student becoming a national merit scholar and getting the full scholarship. You name it. I wanted to excel and succeed and usually, I did.

But there’s no award for being the best mother. You never achieve enough and the job is never done. Because mothering is an entirely different animal. And if I obsess over productivity and efficiency, I lose sight of the real point altogether.

If I feel discouraged because I didn’t declutter that room, do the early learning homeschool craft, strip the cloth diapers, meal plan for the week, get new books from the library and return last week’s, switch out the summer clothes with winter clothes, mop the floors, and do enough tummy time with the baby….maybe it’s because I have the wrong perspective entirely. Mothering isn’t about productivity.

If I get frustrated because it’s taking forever to get three kids under the age of five into the car to the park and maybe if I’d only organized the items we need the way I saw it done on Pinterest or if I were only such-and-such blogger whose life seems so organized and if only the four-year-old wouldn’t insist on wearing a sweater in the summer in Florida….maybe I’m missing the point. Because mothering isn’t about efficiency.

Now there’s a lot of good things that can help a household run more smoothly. Am I interested in those things? You bet. I’m not saying we should ignore the tasks before us and eat bon-bons on the couch.

But I’m not the CEO of our household and my children aren’t little employees. I’m a mother and they are children and that entails a whole messy world of unproductive inefficiency. There’s a place for productivity and efficiency…but they aren’t virtues, they’re just tools.

I cannot examine motherhood with the lens of any other sort of job. When I do, I feel frustrated and dissatisfied. I need a different pair glasses to see the beauty of motherhood. And I think it’s as simple as this: I get to nurture little souls each and every day and that journey is slowly sanctifying me.

I just need to live and enjoy these precious days. Because there’s not a performance review or an exam I can mistakenly place my personal value in. There’s just the hope that I loved my children well today and that the struggles and joys of the day made me a teensy bit more holy (maybe not, but here’s hoping!).

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I have so much to learn from my little ones. I want to walk in the woods with my kids simply because it’s beautiful and good. I want to hold my daughter’s little hand, breathe deep, and smile.

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Comments

  1. claudia says

    Haley! Oh dear, you nailed it! So hard to achieve nowadays. It feels like fighting against a society that only listens to success and perfection. The only way I see it is to put God in our daily and ordinary life, seeing ourselves as little as our children. I’ll pray for your REAL success if you pray for mine!

  2. Emilie says

    That was very well said! I’m expecting baby #3 in a couple of months and will have 3 children under the age of 4. I do worry about how I will accomplish all that I feel I need to accomplish in my day! Thank you and btw, I love your blog!

  3. says

    Love it Haley – I get like this too, trying to fit in all the activities, learning experience, traditions, etc. and I have to step back and let me self just let things be.

  4. says

    Great post, Haley! I feel that productivity/efficiency struggle so much in my day-to-day. And I find myself frustrated when my kids don’t get on board! These thoughts were great reminders to what God is trying to work in me and not just in my kids.

    As a side note: I found out you are friends with my friend Kirsten (from Baylor). Small world!

  5. says

    I want to thank you for putting something into words that I have been struggling with since my son was born. As a working mom, I’m one of those that enters the world of efficiency/productivity and the precious world of my 1-year old son on the daily. I often find myself trying to “make the most” of the few hours we have together in the evenings. Very well said and inspiring. Thank You!

  6. Tiffany says

    Wow. I hardly ever comment on blogs, but I have to say you continually write thoughtful, well-written and personally affective posts. You always strike that balance of wittiness and meaningfulness. I always enjoy your posts, and as a fellow believer (albeit Protestant) your spiritual philosophy and love of the Father I thoroughly respect and enjoy! How wonderful it is to discover other young women/mothers with more important and meaningful pursuits beyond celebrity gossip or complaining about their burdens in life (which in truth are blessings). I applaud you and encourage you in the faith to continue to inspire us! (And of course, I share your love of Austen and historical fiction!):) Thanks!

  7. LPatter says

    I read every word of the First Things article and it was totally worth the time it took. That was a thoroughly thoughtful, nuanced, and sympathetic inquiry into one of the most pertinent and sensitive questions of our contemporary culture – I’m not sure I’ve seen it done better. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Alicia says

    I read that article today, too! And I appreciated a lot of what she said about the different approaches necessary for motherhood vs. professional pursuits. But. . .she seemed to be sad about that, like the choice is forever tearing at our souls, and there is nothing we can do about it. The upshot of the article seemed to be that neither choice can really result in a complete feeling of fulfillment. . .and I agree with that, but because it shouldn’t. Choosing either motherhood or some other pursuit should not be about what most fulfills us, but about how we best sacrifice ourselves and our lives to the glory of God. The article left me feeling like the victim of too many choices, but those choices are choices every person makes–not just women, not just mothers. Every person’s every choice necessarily precludes other possibilities, and I’m not sure why we should bemoan that fact especially in the realm of motherhood. . .unless it is because too many are not choosing wisely and are reaping the regretful consequences.

  9. says

    I need to print this all out and tape it to my mirror. I tend to obsessively think of ways that I can be more efficient with my daily routine so I can accomplish more each day. I struggle to allow myself to do “nothing” like just sitting and reading with the kids. It feels so pointless sometimes, especially when the house is a mess and there’s so much work to be done. Thanks for this wonderful post!

  10. Emily says

    Beautifully written! This helps to explain why I inexplicably grew tired of women who describe themselves as CEO of the X family or executive manger of XYZ children, though I understand the desire to do it based on societal pressure/our culture’s negative orientation to staying at home.

    I love Corey’s, “Sorry– life is hard,” message and that she opts for honesty rather than offering trite “solutions”. A somewhat depressing but very thoughtful article! I often try to express her sentiments as a grad. student (through far less eloquently) by stating how I hate the inherent selfishness. I need to wake up for MY class, do MY research, do volunteer work (to pad MY resume), etc., all so I can hopefully enter a “helping profession” someday. Difficult to imagine a “balance” there…

    Of course there are always those women (e.g., single mothers) left out of the discussion who must work to provide for their families due to financial need. I imagine that this would alleviate some, but certainly not all, pressure. Higher SES women will think of careers as bettering themselves while those that work to survive are generally oriented toward others to begin with…

  11. young wife says

    I can totally relate! I thrived on the accolades I got at school. But it’s such an incomplete picture of reality. Married life (no babies yet) shouldn’t be run on a to-do list. I must embrace those moments to just “be,” to “be still” instead of always being driven to be accomplishing something. Thank you for this post. Great to see someone put my exact thoughts into words for me. :-)

  12. Cameron says

    “There’s a place for pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and effi­cien­cy…but they aren’t virtues, they’re just tools.” Virtues vs tools — very helpful distinction!! Beautiful article, Hayley. (That FT piece was excellent, too. Wish I had met the author when I was at BU!)

  13. says

    Haley, thank you so much for sharing that article, and your own thoughts. I nodded along in so much agreement to your words, and then clicked to the article and was floored by how the author put into incredibly clear and true words what I’ve felt for years, but have never been able to verbalize or really understand, myself.
    I, also, have always been an achiever, moving from highschool to college to post-college goals and ambitions. I knew I wanted to stay home before I had children, and when I held my little one in my arms for the first time, the deal was sealed. The last few years have been a whirlwind of pregnancy and babies, but as things begin to settle down, I find myself wondering–what do I do with myself? It’s not that taking care of babies isn’t exhausting or time consuming, but there is this huge part of me that needs to achieve and strive and excel, and I’ve felt instinctively that my family is not the place for that. I am incredibly thankful for blogging because it helps meet that need for me.
    So much for me to think about and mull over…thank you so much for posting and sharing!

  14. Lindsey says

    Thank you for this! Every day lately, I fill my emails to my husband with lists of things I’ve gotten accomplished (sometimes they are meager). It’s about all I tell him about during the day. I think I am subconsciously proving to myself that I’m not being a time-waster (except for all the times that I am) and that I am doing something valuable. But it’s starting to feel really stale, these email lists of “emptied the dishwasher, started the crockpot, got a load of laundry in…”

    I’m going to ponder your post more and go back and read the article you linked to. I know that I’m doing something intrinsically valuable by raising the kids (and growing another one right now) but it’s hard to remember to value that in itself. And I often don’t prioritize trying to give them the best of myself during the day; I’m usually too preoccupied by my mental checklist.

    God bless.

  15. says

    Holy moly, did I ever need this post in this time in my life. Someone shared it on FB today (so many months after you posted it!), but I am so glad they did! After weeks of not getting my homeschool lesson plans up to date, not meal planning as well as I’d like, not getting all the things checked off my list, I am feeling like a hot mess!

    And not anymore. Thank you for reminding me that while I am always “on the job” as a mother, it’s not about productivity in check-lists, it’s about loving and sharing precious moments together.

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