This is the job.

A few years back, a friend of mine said some honest words that dramatically shifted the way I viewed my role as a parent. When my eldest (of three) was in his “terrorizing his way through Walmart” phase, I complained to my friend how hard it was to get any shopping done. I kept having to stop and “deal” with his tantrums. This sometimes looked like abandoning an actual shopping cart to reset his feelings outside the store for a few minutes. I mean, it was exhausting, right? “How are we to get any household tasks done,” I asked? Her words at the time turned my perspective of parenting on its side.

“This is the job,” she said. The shopping isn’t the job. The kid is the job.

Ummm…had I forgotten that navigating my kid through Walmart was more important than navigating through Walmart itself? The job of forming our children shouldn’t come second to the chores of motherhood. Discovering and parceling through my toddler’s feelings about the world would be my work. He’s the job. Note taken.

The years tallied up and even though I liked the idea, I kept finding myself in similar patterns as before. Keeping my kids the main job was what I wanted to do, but it didn’t come naturally to me. Upon reflection I realized that minding the chores has always been my primary default response to stress; Compulsively, I’ve looked to physical tasks to relax and unwind my brain. 

As a young child, I cleaned, dusted and vacuumed my room every Sunday afternoon, unprompted. I don’t just love the satisfaction of something getting done, I actually enjoy the process of doing it. Also, rearing young children might be the most intensely stressful part of life for women. (There were no less than 10 violent eruptions in my house today alone, and today was a good day.) It only makes sense that given the multitude of triggers for stress, my brain would begin to create a way out. My out is (and probably will always be) staying busy and getting shit done. It’s easier for me to turn on a podcast and create a masterful pile of laundry than to sit still and work through what these tiny ones think, feel, and do.

So here’s where I’m at—Shaping my children into tiny positive forces on the earth is challenging work, it takes focused time and energy. The job of parenting my kids right now is like 90% looking at them and talking to them. BUT for whatever reason, keeping my body moving actually does relieve stress for me at a time when stress relief is needed. I will always be a busy-body.

So, how do I connect my children’s needs to the needs of my own?

  1. Inviting my kids (one by one) into whatever I’m doing. We end up having more focused talk time than when I’m doing the task alone. FYI, it will take longer. But my kids seem to open up when they are moving and working with their hands. As do I. 
  2. Allow more mess into my life than I’ve typically been comfortable with. (Does that add its own set of problems? Yes, but I’ve decided to take that problem over not connecting with my kid for the day.) If my body is telling me it needs to move, I channel that into a together activity, like jumping on the trampoline or a family dance party. 
  3. Finally, and this one just sucks: I’m trying to let go of all my own expectations for the day. Usually, I have an itinerary when I wake up about what I can accomplish around the house and in my work that day. If my nine, six and one year olds were fully-functioning and contributing members of our household (adults) I might be able to accomplish all of them. But guess what… they are still KIDS in training. Even the most highly functioning people have bad days, and I want to allow space for my kids to be kids. Letting go of expectations relaxes my control, so that I’m not frustrated with the way my day plays out. Therefore, my “plans” for the day have to become more like “suggestions” of what I can realistically get done within the job of parenting. It’s been hard work to shift my mindset this way. But I think it’s going to be worth it. 

If you’re in my shoes and have “opted out” of the real job for any reason at all, I am with you as we dive back in day, and day again. And if you’re a mom who is doing the real work now, forming your little ones and neglecting those dishes, I see you. My friends, this is the job. And jobs are hard. Let’s do the work now and look for the fruit to come.

c/oMotherLift—A sister trio: Designer, Doula, and Therapist