It’s for the kids.
That’s what I told myself each time I took on another commitment at their school. It’s also why I jumped at the chance to be the baseball team mom, carnival committee chair and PTA school supply goddess. I can volunteer with the best of them and I devoted every last shred of my time and energy, because it was for the kids.
Except that it really wasn’t. It was for me.
When I first became a stay-at-home mom, the hardest part was feeling like I had nothing to do. Not exactly nothing, I guess, what with the endless care of a newborn and all, but quitting my job left a void that gnawed at me incessantly. I felt unimportant and inferior, and I struggled to answer the dreaded what-did-you-do-all-day question.
The void was relentless so I filled it with an unending stream of activities and volunteer commitments, and soon my days were full. Beyond full, actually. What started out as me wanting to embrace my new role quickly became a bad habit of taking on anything I could, in search of fulfillment. I was convinced that staying busy would sustain me and turn me into a better mother.
It didn’t work. Despite everything I was doing I still wasn’t fulfilled, and it certainly did not benefit my kids. Overcommitting just left me exhausted, on edge and generally unpleasant to be around.
My to-do list began to take over and it swallowed up the time I had for things that were far more important, like fully engaging with my kids. I didn’t see it that way, at the time, because everything I was doing was technically for their betterment. Yes, it’s good to be involved, but there’s a limit. When doing it for the kids turns into brushing off the kids, then it’s time to take notice.
One afternoon, my daughter walked in the door from school and asked me to teach her how to braid hair. Some of her friends fancied themselves hair stylists on the playground during recess, and she wanted in on the action. I was juggling phone calls, emails and list of too many things to do in too little time. She just wanted my help, but I saw it as a huge inconvenience and I snapped at her in frustration: Not now. I’m too busy.
I was annoyed that she didn’t cooperate with my afternoon schedule. We only had about 20 minutes before leaving for hours of after-school activities, and I planned on using that time to cram in as many tasks as possible. Braiding hair wasn’t on my agenda, and I just needed her to entertain herself and let me finish what I was doing.
I chose busywork over my kids and it wasn’t the first time. I suppose whichever committee I was consumed with at the time benefited from my madness that afternoon. My daughter, however, did not and she walked away feeling slighted and ignored.
Most of my mommy friends are caught in the same self-created hectic world. We are all trying to keep up with the busy Joneses so we can pat ourselves on the back and feel like we are going above and beyond for our children. It sustained me for a while, but I hit a breaking point that day when I saw the sadness in my daughter’s eyes.
My kids don’t need me to be involved in every single thing they do. They just need me to be present in their lives. That’s all; just to be there and be engaged. The reality is that our days are packed with homework and too many extracurricular activities, but I am determined to make better use of the precious time in between.
Becoming un-busy is not easy, and I catch myself wanting to add things to the calendar. Once again, I have a void to fill. But it won’t be with a laundry list of things that really don’t matter. The PTA will survive without me and I want time back on my side. Time to sit with my daughter and let her braid my hair. She is getting pretty good at it.