Have you ever heard of the “I’m so busy” Olympics?
No? Well let me enlighten you.
The “I’m so busy” Olympics are held in small groups of people. The competitors, usually women, face off to determine who among them is the busiest. Victory is achieved by constantly, and perhaps unintentionally, one-upping each other’s to-do list until a winner emerges, or until all but one contestant collapses from exhaustion or stress.
No medals are awarded, and the only prize is personal satisfaction.
To say I would rather tweeze my own bikini line than win this event, let alone participate, is an understatement.
Being run ragged is not a badge of honour. Your worth and your value to your family are not determined by how many carpools you volunteer for. So mamas, can we please just cut this stuff out?
In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, author Greg McKeown writes: “What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?”
What if indeed?
A lot of us are happiest when we’re busy, and I don’t take issue with that. Not everyone has perfected sloth mode like I have. And I understand that many of us have obligations well beyond our four walls, obligations to earn, help and provide for our families. What I do bemoan, though, is the crazed, almost panicked look a fellow mama gets when she starts listing everything she has on the go, all the places she needs to be. I feel like sitting her down with a paper bag and making her breathe.
Other than reality television, nothing brings out my snarky side like the busy Olympics.
Admittedly, participating in the busy Olympics touches my most sensitive mommy nerve, the one that jangles every time I feel like someone else is mom-ing harder or better than I am (which is often). I admit to coming away from some of these conversations thinking, “Well, it’s official. I am the laziest human on the planet,” or wondering if she’s truly a better mom than me because she committed to karate three times a week and I just said no to a birthday party two months from now.
During parental leave I felt like it was my job to keep the house and family organized, and if I wasn’t running around getting groceries, making appointments, and volunteering at the school I wasn’t being productive and contributing to the family or to society in a positive way. My children are both adopted and they joined our family at age four so there was no physical recovery, no tiny baby to tend to. My time, though so much more limited than before, was still somewhat my own and I became convinced that activity and productivity equaled worth. As long as I was doing something, I was being a good mother.
But eventually I got over it and learned that my true worth could not, and should not, be measured by how many grocery runs I made each week. Running around like a headless chicken and telling everyone about it was a way of justifying my existence and trying to prove I was needed. Work that is traditionally done by women (ie. child care, housework, family organization), is not valued the way financial contributions are valued. We know this and it’s not new, so why are so many of us who rage against it still buying into it?
Mamas, if you feel like being a good mother is tied to all the things you’re doing for others, or all the ways you’re sacrificing your time and sanity as a way to prove that you matter, I encourage you to rethink that strategy.
Let’s face it, if your kids are fed and alive, and sometimes even clean, you’re doing pretty well. If we run into each other at the school and you’re wearing lipstick AND mascara, you’ve just been elevated to super-mom status in my book. If you know where your keys are and the kids had vegetables this week, I am nominating you for sainthood.
Being a mom is hard work. Whether you work outside the home or not, there is no shortage of ways to fill your days. But truly, it’s not about who’s working where, how many kids we have, or how (un)helpful our husbands are. It’s not about any of the external forces or circumstances that push or pull us in one thousand different directions. And I’m certainly not trying to start a debate about parenting styles, or to suggest that busy is bad. Every family has to set its own priorities. For me, the problem lies in the persistent belief among women that busy equals valuable.
If you can’t rest until you check multiple items off your to do list, I’m totally cool with that. As much as I pride myself on creating a busy-free life, I know and appreciate the sense of accomplishment that comes from returning calls, making appointments, helping out in the community, excelling at work and simply getting stuff done. A big part of my post-single girl self-esteem comes from making my family happy and sometimes that means juggling multiple things and being busy.
But I’m here to tell you that busy doesn't equal valuable. Your value comes from being the sun, moon and stars to your kids. Your value comes filling your own cup so you can fill theirs, and by demonstrating you understand what’s truly important so your kids can grow up knowing it too.
By all means keep doing the things that create joy and bring you satisfaction, but in this culture of hyper-parenting and of running ourselves ragged trying to make life perfect and meaningful for our kids, it might be a good idea to step back and make sure that what we’re spending our time on truly aligns with the kind of person and parent we want to be.
And as for the busy Olympics, there’s always next year.