You’ve read countless modern-mom blogs about how you’re already doing enough, but I’m here to tell you that you’re actually doing more than enough. In fact, you’re doing too much.
That’s right: too. damn. much.
In the age of constant-connectivity, we have a downpouring of reminders about what else we could be doing to make our lives– and our kids’ lives– better. How we can become more productive, healthier, smarter, faster, stronger, more creative, richer, sexier, happier if we just worked harder. How, if we push ourselves enough, we could achieve a little bit more of everything in the world, because whatever we are right now is crap compared to what we could be.
In the world of information overload, the list of what we’re expected to know– and then retain and apply– never stops growing. Which products have the chemicals that will make us sprout a third arm, how many extracurriculars our kids need to juggle to get into the best universities, which universities are considered “the best” in the first place, which cheese gives you cancer versus the ones that makes you live past-100, how to form and market six side hustles so that we can quit our day jobs and then finally– finally!— become happy. One day in the future, but certainly not right now, because there’s still more work to do.
Isn’t it exhausting? Aren’t you tired?
I’m tired, and now I’m making a change. And I want you to make a change with me.
No more beating yourself up for not being a Pinterest mom who hand-makes every birthday invitation, no more shame for not keeping a magazine-worthy home, no more guilt for not being a crunchy mama who has eliminated all Red Dye #40 from the family’s diet, and no more squeezing the life out of every second of every moment of every day.
I love you, sweet mamas, but I can bet that you are doing too much. As a result, you’re missing out on actually enjoying your life– and letting your kids enjoy theirs.
Although I presume this is true for all moms around the world, research shows that American mothers are working more hours than ever before– but they’re also spending more time caring for their children than ever before. Thanks to technology, we’re never truly “off the clock” or disengaged from work. And thanks to COVID-19, many mothers are now spending hours per week educating their children at home as well.
Meanwhile, we’re working with the same 24 hours per day we’ve always had.
We’re jamming exertion into every moment of our lives, thinking that all of this effort will pay off, but it’s taking a toll on us instead. On us, and on our children.
Because we have instant-access to standards of perfection online, we have turned to “intensive parenting.” We want to give our kids the best, and we want our kids to be the best, so we’re filling every moment of their days with academia and activities instead of letting them explore without dictation. We’re not letting them experience boredom so that they’re forced to use their imaginations. We’re no longer letting kids play freely without constant supervision and direction.
We’re replacing downtime with classes and friends with private tutors. We have good intentions, but we’re turning our lives into rat races, and we’re robbing our kids of the wonderful, fleeting experience that is childhood. We’re also robbing them of self-growth and independence, and in turn, causing them to develop anxiety and depression at higher rates and younger ages than ever before.
One cause of depression rising in children specifically is the lack of feeling like you have control over your own life. Our children, in large, have lost the majority of their “free play,” which is when they get to make their own choices and feel in control of who they are and want they want. This is where they practice independence. Because we’ve convinced ourselves that “free play” is equivalent to doing nothing and therefore being a lazy, shitty parent who doesn’t optimize every part of the day, we’ve almost completely eliminated letting our kids play on their own.
Another cause of rising depression is shifting our focus from intrinsic to extrinsic goals. Comparison to and competition with others, increased time and emphasis on schooling, and decreased free play from our kids’ lives causes this shift. As Dr. Peter Gray wrote for Psychology Today, “children’s freedom to play and explore on their own, independent of direct adult guidance and direction, has declined greatly in recent decades. Free play and exploration are, historically, the means by which children learn to solve their own problems, control their own lives, develop their own interests, and become competent in pursuit of their own interests.
By depriving children of opportunities to play on their own, away from direct adult supervision and control, we are depriving them of opportunities to learn how to take control of their own lives. We may think we are protecting them, but in fact we are diminishing their joy, diminishing their sense of self-control, preventing them from discovering and exploring the endeavors they would most love, and increasing the odds that they will suffer from anxiety, depression, and other disorders.”
By constantly supervising and directing our children, we are also passing on our adult feelings of worry, fear, and stress. We’re persistently researching the worst of everything, and we’re reading our findings aloud, citing them as reasons why we shouldn’t partake in a given activity or eat a certain food. We’re creating nervous, neurotic kids who are afraid to branch out, explore, solve their own problems, and take on the world.
Children are sponges, and they feel and understand more than we give them credit for. They replicate what they see and experience, and they often carry the burdens of their parents’ flaws and strife. Since adults feel more stressed and pressured than ever before, kids do, too.
We’re constantly terrified by around-the-clock, “if-it-bleeds, it-leads” news and WebMD that has us convinced our children are perpetually unsafe and ill. We hover over our kids with every move they make, and we coddle them every time they scrape a knee.
We’ve isolated our kids by filling their days with appointments and disabling them from meeting the neighbors or spending time at other people’s houses. We’ve maintained a growing sense of distrust in other people for more than two decades. We don’t trust people in general, and we definitely don’t trust them to make our children’s worlds absolute perfection like we do at home, so we nix social connectedness and do everything ourselves.
And yet, somehow, we still feel like we need to do more. To supervise more, to protect more, to facilitate more for our kids. That we can and should be better, be more attentive, squeeze more into our children’s lives and hold their hands every step along the way.
It’s too much. We are doing too much. You are doing too much, and I am doing too much, and now I’m making a change in my life. I’m choosing to do less so that my family and I can enjoy our lives more.
I’m playing with my son less, and I’m letting him explore on his own more. I’m cramming less into our days, and I’m fighting the urge to see myself as a bad or lazy parent when I do this. I’m letting myself have some me-time doing something I enjoy or taking my time prepping a homemade dinner while he plays independently. I’m scheduling less, and I’m going with the flow more. I feel happier, less stressed, and less chaotic since making this change, and that makes me a better version of myself.
By doing less— by hovering less, by involving ourselves less, by canceling the Mandarin lessons and just letting kids crawl around like a dog instead– we are doing more for our children’s growth and happiness. By doing less in our own adult lives, we are saving our own sanity, which then makes us better, happier, less-stressed parents.
Let’s slow down together. Let’s commit to embracing the present instead of planning every moment of the unpromised future. Let’s soak in the small details that are in front of our faces now instead of anguishing over every item on our “big picture” checklist.
Too many of us feel entitled to an endless well of time and believe that we can enjoy tomorrow if we bulldoze through today.
Here’s the thing, though: no one is guaranteed another moment. Every second of life we’re gifted is one that we should embrace and appreciate. But instead, we’re wasting precious time by failing to slow down and enjoy the happiness of simplicity. We’re working, rushing, and stressing through our lives and our babies’ childhoods.
If you were on your death-bed today, do you think that you would wish for more time to work? Or would you wish for more time spent with the people you love? Would you bargain to go back and cram more lessons into your children’s school day? Or would you simply hug them longer, smell their hair, kiss their cheeks, and tell them that you love them one hundred more times? If this was your last hour on earth, would you rush through it, multitasking through your final 60 minutes? Or would you sit still, hold the hands of your partner, and stretch every second out as long as you could?
My fellow mamas, I know that you’re spreading yourself too thin to achieve and provide the best life possible, but I truly think that we can accomplish a better life by simply slowing TF down.
Let’s live more by doing less. Who’s with me?