Kate: I’m not sure where the idea of inadequacy even stems from. Not once can I remember anyone ever telling me that I wasn’t doing enough. Quite the opposite, I feel like whatever feedback I do get is that I’m managing a lot (which, I don’t think is true…but, the grass is always greener on the other side, right?), and doing an ok job at it. I mean, I’m not changing the world here, just raising my kids while *trying* to stay sane.
I think a large part of it is the amount of information we are inundated with. We get advice from well-meaning family members & friends, see pictures on Instagram, see articles while scrolling (mindlessly) on Facebook, all discussing the pros and cons of EVERY decision a parent (or person) could make. It’s just too much. Less is more, in my opinion. I find that my feelings of inadequacy increase when I’m comparing myself to someone else (even a fictional someone else, based entirely on their Instagram stories). I can snap some cute pictures of my kids and put witty comments, too. But, I never snap the pictures of the meltdown as I’m cooking dinner or when the beads are dumped all over the floor by the preschooler as we are getting ready for school. People put their best foot forward, so what I see is everyone’s best. What else do I have to compare myself to?
Liz: This is something I feel so strongly about and yet have such a difficult time putting into words. Maybe because it can appear in so many different forms. At times, it’s comparing myself to others that you see on Social Media or looking spectacular at school drop off. But it can also be this feeling like we’re never doing enough.
Women of yesteryear held jobs and raised kids too, why is it so difficult?! Well, studies have shown that shown that Moms now spend more time than ever in focused time with their kids, tending to their needs etc. Dads are also spending a lot more time with their children than in years gone by. In addition, more Moms are working outside the home (almost 60% as compared to just 20% in the 1950s). Parents are also keeping up their social lives (HAH!), shuttling kids to after-school activities and sports, caring for elderly parents/family members, and the list goes on. Feeling overwhelmed yet? Well, to offset all that work and family time…we’re also zoning out and spending way more time on television and other “frivolous” pursuits. So what gives?
I’ve been bouncing this around in my head for a while now and I find that it typically comes down to attention. It can be very difficult at times to focus on a single task/child/chore and often, I find my brain wandering to the next million things I need to do. Is it really that complicated or am I just making it hard for myself?! When I take the time to really delve into a problem or give attention to a child/task then the results are often that much richer as a result. Why is it so impossible to make this my modus operandi? I know I can tackle multiple things at once, but do I actually do any of them well? Wouldn’t I be better off dedicating my attention to a single thing?
I’ve been toying with the idea of quitting Facebook (and all social media) for a while now. It’s great in some ways, but is it making my life any richer? Maybe I’m just creating a self-perpetuation philosophy by constantly being caught up in this shiny object routine. Is it all just FOMO (fear of missing out)?
Kate: Oh, I like this idea. You should totally go on a Facebook strike. Then, you can report back to us. I was down visiting my mom this past week, she lives in a pretty rural area and wifi is spotty at best. I was on a (non-self inflicted) Facebook strike for 6 days. I have to say, it was kind of amazing. I actually didn’t feel like like I was missing out on too much.
Also, I found it interesting that I didn’t feel like as much of a failure as “usual”. Granted, I didn’t have many chores since we weren’t staying at my house, but I was only interacting with my family for 6 days. There were no outside influences, no seeing people at drop-offs, no getting ANYWHERE at a certain time. It was a much slower pace. It made me think that not only is it social media that makes us feel inadequate, it’s just all the darn responsibilities we have. Some, which are self-inflicted, but most which are not.
My new theory (in addition to my Social Media one) that I have come up with after 6 days of retreat, is that it’s not having the time to do our responsibilities. (duh). So, how can I cut down on my “responsibilities” so I can feel less inadequate? Here are some things that I’ve done (and continue to do) and some things I’m going to aspire to: prep/plan meals, put the phone down (and out of sight) once it’s homework time, outsource anything we can (grocery delivery, household cleaning, landscaping, anything that doesn’t necessarily bring me “joy” and I can sat within budget with someone else doing it), and the biggest one: SAY NO. Say no to things that aren’t necessary. I’m hoping my just continuing to cut down on my actual responsibilities, I won’t feel like such a “failure”.
Liz: Exactly! It’s crazy how you can completely change your feelings of success or failure just by giving things the time they are due. Being out of your home turf is a great way to illustrate this because you are forced to economize your attention. You can’t be thinking ahead to the next ten tasks because you likely have to consult a few other people before decisions can be made. I love how being away also forces you to just be in the moment more.
As my kids have grown a little bit older and become slightly more independent (they played outside for an hour today with little/no intervention), I find myself with time on my hands. It’s unpredictable and impossible to plan for, but it happens. So suddenly I have to make a decision about what to do with that time! My goal has been to either, join in a kid activity or otherwise engage them in some way…or do something constructive for myself (learning, reading, hobbies, etc.). Today, the kids were whining about breakfast options (I told them it was oatmeal, they wanted something else) so I sent the six-year-old into the kitchen to get the pot out. She set it up on the stove and filled it with water. The four-year-old added the oatmeal when it was time. A ridiculously simple ploy, it saved me time and mental energy (from the nagging) but it sparked a conversation about kitchen safety and how the stove works. The kids (even the babe) were engaged and asking questions and I didn’t hear another peep about what was being made.
It’s strange, but eureka moments like this, which empower the kids to do something for themselves and give me some mental space are huge boosters for parenting self-confidence. Not only do I feel like I’m teaching them something useful, but I’m seeing glimpses of our future where I’m less caught up in the minutiae. Many of my perceived inadequacies stem from the lack of time and energy I feel in these early years of parenting. When kids are small, their demands are huge and they can’t do very much on their own. As they grow, you see glimmers of the hard-work you’ve put in and see them begin to unfurl their shiny new skills and reasoning abilities. There is hope people, there’s hope.
Kate: Gosh, you are totally right. As your children get older you begin to see all the hard work you’ve put in. It is amazing to see the compassion that my older boys have for their frustrated younger sister (being 3 is HARD, folks), or the ability for them to make themselves breakfast. It opens up time for more awesome things like talking about the difference between boy private parts and girl private parts (a pressing conversation we needed to address yesterday morning during my first cup of coffee).
I have to admit, that I feel like my feelings of inadequacy are diminishing as my kids are getting older (at least, this week). I took Instagram off my phone, got some books from the library (so my mind is occupied in my downtime with something other than the ongoing “to-do” list), and am going to just buckle down on relationships that are deeply meaningful to me. So, if you start getting texts from me instead of Instagram likes, don’t be alarmed. I’m going to be tightening up my circle of influencers in hopes that my feelings of not being or doing enough will continue to abate.