I once worked as a temp in an office where my daily activities varied. At the end of each day I had to fill out a time sheet on which I listed the work I’d done and how much time I’d spent on each activity. Makes sense, right? My employer was paying me to get the job done and so providing an account of my completed work was a reasonable demand on the part of the company. I was in this position for over a year before earning a permanent position and then, eventually, quitting to stay home with my babies full-time. Three kids and several years later I am still at home even though this past year my youngest started school full-time.
And yet, I still find myself filling out time sheets every day.
Not in the literal sense, of course, but instead in the form of a mental tallying. An adding up of all the tasks I accomplish each day that drives me to a form of panicked, stressed-out busyness that never seems to stop. The result is I’m rarely able to take a break and, if I do, I spend that break feeling guilty and anxious about all the things I should be doing instead. I don’t take vacations, I have very little “me-time” and I no longer spend time on the hobbies I enjoy because unless I’m being fully productive I feel like my time has been wasted. And if my time isn’t valuable, well then, neither am I. That’s the destructive thought process I can’t seem to avoid.
And now, at the end of the school year, I’m sitting here wondering how I got to this place. Why can’t I just relax sometimes? I know I need to rest-I’m downright exhausted most of the time. My kids were all in school, you’d think that by the end of the year I’d be recharged and ready to go on all kinds of adventures with them this summer. And yet when I look at the calendar all I feel is burnt out and curious about how many things I can get away with not doing, just to get a break.
How did I get here? And why can’t I stop mentally filling out those detestable time sheets?
I’ve realized that I feel like I have to earn the right to stay home. I know many women who are comfortable in their positions as stay-at-home moms but I’ve never been able to come to terms with it for myself, even though it’s where I want to be. This, I think has manifested itself in the desperate need to be highly productive. This is what drives my busyness and the reason I can’t seem to stop it. I’m filling out my time sheets and handing them to anyone who asks what I’m “doing with all my time.” I’m hoping they see the lists and lists of things I’ve done and that they’ll approve the sheets and I’ll have earned my right to stay home.
So while it looks like I’m desperate to please others, truly the problem is in my own perceived need to justify my choice to stay home while my kids are at school. And why do I care so much whether other people approve of my choice? Will it mean that what I’m doing actually matters? I’m not bringing in a paycheque but I volunteered at my kids’ school so my time sheet’s been approved. I didn’t go to work at a job today but I crossed seven important items off my to-do list so surely that’s worth something, right?
I care too much about the judgements and criticisms of others but this is my problem, not theirs. While in a perfect world no one would judge anyone else, the fact is this isn’t a perfect world. I need to make decisions that enable me to do my best work for myself and my family without worrying about how those decisions will be perceived by others. I am fully aware that it may look like my ability to make good decisions has been impaired because why wouldn’t I go back to work at this point in my life? There are many reasons in favour of a job search and for the most part I haven’t discussed my reasons to continue staying home with people who ask. I don’t owe anyone an explanation as long as I believe what I’m doing is what’s best for me and for my family.
I am going to stay home next year, too. And I don’t want to struggle with that decision in the same way I did this past year. I don’t want my life to be ruled by an anxiety-fueled busyness that leaves me feeling exhausted and worthless. This summer I am slowing down, forcing myself to be okay with resting. With reading a book when there’s still laundry to be done, with writing a blog post when the kids’ rooms are disasters, with not focusing on what other people think about those decisions. And most of all with not telling myself that my day, and my life, was wasted because I didn’t accomplish enough.
A full time sheet does not equal a full life. And the approval of others won’t bring me the peace I’m searching for.
Next year, I’ve promised myself, it will be different.