Mindfulness is about being fully present, in what is happening, TODAY. Mindfulness is choosing to pay attention in life, to fire your auto-pilot and really wake up to your experiences and interactions with the world, without judgment. We, as a culture, tend to be very roped into seeking the “next best thing”. Think about it…we want the next smartphone before we even figure out how to work the one we have, there are dating apps that make small talk and polite conversation irrelevant and take you straight to the bedroom, there is a drive-thru or mobile ordering app for darn near everything you could want! We live on fast forward. It doesn’t work and it is causing a decline in life satisfaction and relationship satisfaction, all the while creating an increase in depression, divorce and suicide rates.
The anthesis of mindfulness is living in anxiety. I am wondering why we are we so obsessed with the post-apocalyptic worlds that we think would be generated after the fall of our modern civilization? They all have something in common: NO technology and a “takes a village” mentality. Ironically two of the tenants of our current society that we say we like (our tech toys and our individualism).
The Walking Dead, The Hunger Games, Divergent, 2012, Lost, Jericho, The Book of Eli, World World Z…the list is really quite expansive. And yet, we continue to live IN our phones and in isolation from one another. I do wonder if one purpose of these shows, aside from entertainment, is to warn us/show us what COULD happen if we do not change our ways…and yet…
Take a moment to read this age-old fable:
The Fox and the Goat (Aesop’s Fables)
A Fox one day fell into a deep well and could find no means of escape. A Goat, overcome with thirst, came to the same well, and seeing the Fox, inquired if the water was good. Concealing his sad plight under a merry guise, the Fox indulged in a lavish praise of the water, saying it was excellent beyond measure, and encouraging him to descend. The Goat, mindful only of his thirst, thoughtlessly jumped down, but just as he drank, the Fox informed him of the difficulty they were both in and suggested a scheme for their common escape. “If,” said he, “you will place your forefeet upon the wall and bend your head, I will run up your back and escape, and will help you out afterwards.” The Goat readily assented and the Fox leaped upon his back. Steadying himself with the Goat’s horns, he safely reached the mouth of the well and made off as fast as he could. When the Goat upbraided him for breaking his promise, he turned around and cried out, “You foolish old fellow! If you had as many brains in your head as you have hairs in your beard, you would never have gone down before you had inspected the way up, nor have exposed yourself to dangers from which you had no means of escape.”
Look before you leap.
Perhaps mindfulness could remind us to look before we leap. Look at the data trends before you buy your 4 year old an IPAD, do some research the health risks/benefits of a product before jumping on the bandwagon just because it’s “trending”, look at these movies as more than just random entertainment…see them as a warning as what could happen if we don’t change! Dare to be different. Dare NOT to download every popular app. Dare NOT to give into every urge you have for instant gratification. Dare NOT to pay hundreds of dollars for the “cool” shoes/boots. Dare NOT to pay $5 for the logo on your coffee mug when you could put that money away for a rainy day. Dare to have an opinion that is DIFFERENT than the masses…afterall, isn’t that what Catniss did? And she became a hero…
It is no secret that the American culture seems to put more weight on being “busy” than being happy. When you ask someone how they are, there are a handful of socially acceptable answers that you are likely to hear:
“So busy”, “CRAZY busy”, “working a ton”, “work is non-stop”, “good, keeping busy”, “always on the run”…Etcetera, so forth and so on…
There is a (false) illusion that by insisting you are busy, people will hear that you are important. A recent study published in the Harvard Business Review in which they confirm the busyness trend and it has been found that when you are in the busyness “tunnel”, your IQ goes down an average of 13 points! In order to fight against this harmful trend, researchers suggest that we all need to be more open with our free time (such as lunch breaks, self care time, vacation, etc.) both in our discussions, on shared calendars and on social media.
It seems to be increasingly more common for employees to be available 24/7…with multiple cell phones and e-mail being delivered around the clock…. personal time has taken on a negative connotation. COVID quarantine of 2020 allowed more flexibility and allowed people to work from home which was great AND it also reinforced the idea that employees are available around the clock. We get a sense of validity from being able to say we are in demand at all hours of the day and night. We live in a world that seems to suggest that taking personal time is a failure. We live in a time frame in which we’ve internalized the belief that saying “no” or “I cannot do that right now” are grounds for being fired! What we are turning a blind eye to (as a culture) is that the problem of “being busy” is typically serving the purpose of masking anxieties and feelings of inequality and is a recipe for complete burnout!
The pressure to be busy starts at earlier and earlier ages. So many parents that I have encountered discuss the pressure to have their children in multiple activities starting in infancy! It seems that kids are in private lessons, select sports and working with private coaches at younger and younger ages. What’s wrong with a kid being good at…one thing? Or even nothing?! (GASP!!!)
What is wrong with being “okay” with the life that we have…to be proud of our NORMALCY and average-ness?
I must say, I too fall into the urge to tell everyone just HOW busy/chaotic/rushed my life is. When asked, there is a push pull between the truth (I am content…) and the desire to exaggerate. We need downtime for our sanity, this is nothing to be ashamed of! I hope that one day we can adopt the Italian mindset that downtime indicates a higher status lifestyle!
Call to action:
Can you schedule some down time with no goals and no expectations?
Can you be present enough to find gratitude for your normal-ness?
Make a social media post about how grateful you are for the day-to-day aspects of your life.
Social media may seem unavoidable in the 21st century. I want to show you how you can use it for mental HEALTH instead of mental anguish. There is an analogy that everyone has a good and a bad dog within them (although I dislike the judgments there). This is similar to the angel/devil on your shoulder analogy…however take a moment to consider which dog you feed more often? If they are your pets, which one do you spend more time nurturing?
Social media can be used for both good or evil. You can subscribe to blogs that fixate on negativity, make you feel worse, and fuel your pity party or you can subscribe to those that are POSITIVE!
As a challenge, on all sites you are on, I want you to intentionally follow pages, hashtags, and topics that uplift you:
On all networking sites, the users and topics that you search, subscribe to, and follow are up to you. Try following inspiration, funny pictures, cute animals, users that make a point of being encouraging, and/or appropriate family members. There is even a sub-network called “Fitspo” which is a type of posts that are fitness inspiration, these would be an example of something great to follow. Most sites even give you the option of “blocking” other users or “hiding” them so you don’t have to worry about hurting their feelings. A big NO-NO here is following triggering topics, users that bring you down, encourage behavior you are trying to stop doing, or highly judgmental users, and topics that normalize behavior you don’t want to continue. If a user or topic makes your conscious put up a red flag or if it’s something you feel ashamed to follow…REMOVE It!!
*these statements are made after my own investigation and use of each site. This may or may not be the policy of each website and/or app.
Worth is the value of something placed on it by society or yourself. Worth is subjective and is up for discussion which is why some people have a difficult time believing a compliment or internalizing positive beliefs about themselves.
I am sure you can think of an item you own (or owned in the past, even as a child) that you placed more worth on than society would have, it came from within. For me, I have had a treasured rock collection, special tattered quilts, and I currently still have a Fozzie Bear Muppet Baby figurine that is precious to me from my childhood. I place high worth on them, and I am aware that other people may not find them to be worth anything at all.
Improving your self-worth must come from within. You will need to determine that you are worthy of your own time, attention, and resources and until you do that, it is likely that others will ignore your requests and will see you as a push-over. People with low self-worth often make jokes at their own expense and are not likely to speak up for their preferences. If others laugh along at the jokes or do not pick up on minor preferences that are casually mentioned, the person uses their confirmation bias to determine that it is proof of their low worth. I mentioned earlier in the book that I would use your love for your children to manipulate you: this chapter is one place I will do that. If you want your children to have healthy self-worth, you must lead by example.
Self-esteem and self-worth can be thought of as synonymous. Self-esteem cannot be bought; it must be earned. That means that unless you set a goal and struggle to reach it (be that at work, with parenting, in a hobby, financially, etc.), you will not feel good about yourself.
Ideas for Raising your Self-Worth:
Treat your body as a sacred place.
This means that you recognize the mind-body connection and treat your physical body accordingly. You understand that chronic stress and anger take a dramatic toll on your physical and emotional well-being. You can reverse that toll by taking the steps that you know lead to healthier life.
Stop smoking and/or vaping.
Drink water as a primary beverage.
Go for walks.
Eat fruits and vegetables every day.
Limit fast food and junk food.
Visit the dentist twice per year and the primary care doctor yearly.
To prioritize any of the mentioned suggestions here for healthier living forces you to engage in an action that only someone who thinks their life is worthy would do. You might have to “fake it” initially, but I know that over time you will develop a sense of pride over the healthy choices you are making. In time, that pride will increase your self-worth!
Values-based living is a concept that I introduced in chapter one. If you have time, go back, and re-read that section and see if you have taken any strides toward values-based living in the time it has taken you to read the last 4 chapters. If you have not taken any actions that are aligned with your previously identified values, that is ok! That might be a sign to pick a different value to start with, to recommit to your prior plan, or to evaluate what got in your way and problem solve it.
Living according to your values raises your self-worth because it is not always a convenient thing to do, and yet you are taking actions that tell yourself and the world, that you are worth it. You are worth your own time, attention, and resources.
Journal and meditate.
Self-reflection is not something a person does if they think they are worthless. They do not believe their thoughts, time or attention are worthy of evaluation or recording on paper. They believe they are disposable and that others see them as disposable. I hope that you do not believes those things about yourself.
Journaling can help us to see patterns in our thinking and your behaviors. When we find problematic patterns, we can journal to explore solutions and problem solving. In doing so, you give yourself the message that your problems are worth solving, your moods are worth improving and your relationships are worth saving.
Meditation achieves a similar result without the writing. When you meditate in any fashion (such as clearing the mind, listening to a meditation recording, focusing on a mantra or affirmation, praying, etc.) you will generally find a sense of peace and clarity that seems to magically improve your abilities to cope, and problem solve. You would not take time for such an activity if you did not believe you deserved such an experience. I believe that meditating and journaling on a regular basis will improve your self-worth because they are actions that tell yourself that you are worth your own time and energy!
Celebrate your wins (somewhat unapologetically).
People who have low self-esteem feel ashamed and embarrassed by their accomplishments. They are likely to think that they don not deserve celebration and/or their success was a fluke. If you fall into this category, you will need to practice acknowledging that you worked hard and that your success was earned, and you will need to accept compliments and/or praise from others with a “thank you” and not a self-deprecating remark. Your success is just as well earned as anyone else’s. You made the choices in life that yielded the results you have; when it pans out in your favor, accept the congratulations from others and pat yourself on the back!
Give it a try! I can tell you all day long that you have worth…but that doesn’t mean you will believe me.
If it were easy to make radical lifestyle changes…we would all do it! Set SMALL goals (and larger goals) and then start taking steps toward the small steps. Sometimes the success of those small steps becomes self-reinforcing, and you will find yourself taking larger steps than planned.
(Example: I wanted to read for one hour this week; I found time to read three times for forty minutes each time!)
Did you know that today, July 15th, is officially #givesomethingawayday? I must tell you that I am here for it! Most people that know me personally know that I am not the most sentimental person when it comes to keepsakes and storing away items that once meant something to me. I accept this about myself and I do not see it as a fault; rather, I see it as a nod to sustainability, minimalism and whatever the opposite of greed is. I believe that less is more and that if something doesn’t serve a purpose in my life, then it is better off being loved and used by someone else.
I don’t take it as far as some (ahem Marie Kondo…); after all, I do have two totes of keepsakes from my childhood (my old girl scout sash, my first rosary, a high school uniform, my first “cool” watch featuring Tweety Bird, my piggie bank, etc) stored in my basement! I kept all of my Barbie’s and their accessories from childhood and my girls currently play with them! I think there is value in being able to pass down and reflect back on these items; however, as the present moment is where I choose to live, I want to minimize the likelihood of falling into the past accidentally.
In honor of #givesomethingawayday I am asking you to do a few things for me and then I will gladly give you a SIGNED copy of my book, shipping is on me as well!
Share one of my blog posts to a social media account of yours. Any post is fine, whichever you prefer. Bonus points if you tag someone else who might want to read it.
Go follow me on another social media platform (links below) and interact with one post. Bonus points if you tag someone who might enjoy the content!
Actually read my book if you are chosen and then tell someone about it!
If you want to be entered into the drawing for a free, signed copy of my book Adulting Well, please comment a self care action you enjoy below on this post and then follow me on any of these pages in addition to following my blog here on WordPress!
The above table is the official diagnostic criteria from the DSMV which is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which is the book your mental health professional would use to explore whether you meet criteria for any disorder. I want to take this time to walk you throught step-by-step:
A – Excessive worry or not more than 3 days per week, for more than six consecutive months of your life, about several areas of life. Here are some things that you might experience:
Difficulty focusing due to intrusive worry thoughts.
Difficulty falling asleep.
Having the sensation of “too many tabs open”.
Urges to avoid social gatherings.
Fear of being judged.
Difficulty making decisions.
Difficulty “letting go” of events.
Replaying past hurts or future fears.
Visualizing feared scenarios repetitively.
Compensatory actions: excessive to-do lists, obsessing over schedule, writing and hyper-researching plans.
B – Difficulty controlling the worry. This might seem easy to understand but consider whether:
You have a hard time focusing on your work.
You loose interest in hobbies because you can’t relax into them.
Your loved ones get annoyed with your fixations.
You frequently ask friends/loved ones for assurances.
C – You experience three of the six symptoms below:
Restlessness or feeling “keyed up” or “on edge”.
Being easily fatigued.
Difficulty concentrating or going blank.
Sleep disturbance (trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or nightmares).
D – They symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in important areas of life. What this means is that the symptoms bother you and get in the way of your success or productivity at work, at home, in clubs, with friends, in your neighborhood and/or with your family. This might look like:
Unable to keep up with chores.
Avoiding social interactions or remaining quiet and standing at the fringes during social events.
Not completing tasks that were requested of you.
Making and not completing to-do list for yourself.
Lack of eye contact socially.
E and F – The symptoms don’t come from another cause such as drug use or a medical condition. This is why it’s always a great idea to request bloodwork and a medical check up to be sure there isn’t an underlying cause that needs treated. Prescription medications and/or over-the-counter supplements can cause anxiety as a side effect, illegal drugs can increase anxiety, and too much caffeine can play a role as well! It is important to rule out any possible factors as to not overlook a treatment option.
If you feel that you meet criteria for generalized anxiety disorder, I would suggest that you schedule an appointment with your primary care provider and/or a mental health professional to discuss treatment options.
Let’s face it…change is difficult, complex, and overwhelming at times. Everyone struggles with different parts of the change process, and I have found a visual reference (no citation was given for me to provide) that will help you find where you might missing the stepping stone to achieve the meaningful change that you want in life!
If you have read this far then I know you want change. Change is the outcome of the top row; if you follow the equation provided, you are likely to experience change. The reality is though, that we often end up trying to change but get confused, anxious, resistant, frustrated or we end up preparing to change but never actually doing it (false start)! I will walk you through the grid below; however, you first need to identify what one situation is that you are struggling to get change with, and which of the 5 outcomes you keep ending up with (aside from the change).
After defining the concepts below, I will walk you through my problem with consistent exercise as it can be an uphill battle for me, and I have experienced all of the listed outcomes during different seasons of life!
Key concepts needed:
Vision is what you want to see your life become. It is the goal you set for yourself. Your personal vision is an idealistic future that you are setting for yourself related to one facet of life. Your vision helps for you to identify what to strive for and what you want to achieve. Having a vision will empower you to steer all relevant decisions toward achievement of the idealized future. This is important it will allow you to know when you’ve achieved your goal! Articulating your vision should ideally help you feel motivated and will comfort your anxiety by defining the goal.
A vision statement is generally short, sweet and to the point. It is generally simple enough for anyone to read and understand; this is important for you as well, I do not want you to read it months later and forget what you meant by the words you used! Vision statements will require time to achieve; I’d suggest setting personal goals that take at least one year to achieve but don’t extend beyond a five-year goal. We need to set something that is achievable in a time frame that keeps us motivated AND that is realistic. Change does not happen overnight and I see many people stumble with this…we all want the quick fix.
An ideal vision statement contains measurable components, a personal component that makes sense based on your circumstances, and how it will improve connection to others.
As you can see in the grid, if you do not have clearly defined vision statement, you will end up with confusion! You are likely to jump on fad bandwagons (fitness, diets, trends, etc.) and you will lack direction overall in life. A vision statement is a necessary part of change!
For my vision related to my physical fitness, I state: My vision is: I will feel able to keep up with my kids and husband when hiking the National Parks and will live my life with minimal joint pain and exhaustion. I will be saying “yes” more than I say “no” as it relates to physical activities with those I love.
Skills, skills, skills. We are taught a lot of things in elementary school. I can sing the 50 United States in alphabetical order, I can tell you random facts about history and I can tell you about primary, secondary and tertiary colors…but did we learn how to problem solve, budget or communicate….? (nope!). It is not your fault if you are lacking in the skills needed to achieve your goal but it is something you can work to change.
I love how normalized self-help books, blogs and topics are in our world. If you feel that you need the skills associated with achieving goals, I’d encourage you to check out my book Adulting Well for practical and relatable help in different life domains (if you tell me you are buying as a result of this blog post, I will gladly sign it for you)!
Skills are required to gain the confidence needed to tackle difficult goals and not end up in the pit of anxious despair, beating yourself up! There is not one magic skill; rather you will have to continually assess and reassess where you are in life and alter your course accordantly.
I gained the skills needed to achieve my goals in several ways: I consult with personal trainers every few years to fine tune my plan, I have accountability buddies in my life to help remind me to get to the gym and eat well, in seasons where my motivation is lacking I find fitness classes to be helpful.
Humans are animals. Animals can be trained. To be trained, animals need reinforcement. A reinforcer is anything that is likely to increase the odds of the behavior happening again. A positive reinforcer is something given that you want (treat, item, kind words, sticker) and a negative reinforcer is the removal of something that you want removed (removal of an unpleasant task, removal of discomfort, removal of guilt). The reinforcer can come from an external source such as an accountability partner, a spouse, a friend, or a paid professional or from within yourself. I suggest building in both!
I have noticed that we are quicker to jump to self-punishment instead of reinforcers. We think that it will help motivate us; however, research and your own experience continues to prove that idea WRONG. If beating yourself up with your words and actions helped, we would all be perfectly productive in our goals! Scientific research has shown again and again that punishment is the least effective method for changing behavior. If you would like to learn more on this, check out Karen Pryor’s book Don’t Shoot The Dog.
Without incentives animals/humans do not engage in behaviors that are difficult or cause discomfort. Without incentives, you will be resistant to change and can end up being resentful of the change! Resistance is not the desired outcome, change is.
In order to reinforce myself for my goal of increasing and maintaining consistent physical exercise, I use a few reinforcers. I have a behavior chart in my journal in which I check off the days that I exercise (my definition of exercise is important. Initially I gave myself credit if I went to the gym, went on a hike or bike ride, or walked 7000 steps per day. As I found myself achieving the goal most days, I raised the bar and separated exercise from 7000 steps per day. I wanted 7000 steps to be my baseline and wanted to do physical exercise at least four times per week. My other rewards have included but are not limited to a new water bottle/workout clothes after hitting pre-defined goals, allowing myself to watch a show only after I exercise, certain “gym-only” playlists, encouragement from my friends, kids and husband, positive self-talk and self-encouragement, and noticing my gains such as improved energy and stamina. Please notice that there is not one answer, there will need to be a variety of reinforcers that come together for the benefit of incentivizing your success.
What in the world do we mean by resources? Resources are assets that can be pulled from by a person or function effectively. Without resources you will be very frustrated because you will not be able to achieve your goals! If your goal requires you to pay a fee, the needed resource is money. If your goal includes producing artwork, your resource would be the art supplies. If your goal includes socializing, your resources might include therapy to learn the anxiety management skills.
Your resources are the items, funds, and/or people required to achieve the goal. I say required to highlight the fact that without the appropriate resources, you will not be able to achieve the goal! You can have a clear vision, great motivators, and amazing skills; but without the resources required, the goal will be intangible.
The resources I needed to achieve my goal included: the money required for a Beachbody on Demand subscription for at home workouts (as I have three kids and cannot always get to a gym), the money for a gym membership to Planet Fitness for days that I can get to the gym, weights and at home workout gear which I purchased used, workout clothing and a water bottle. Money was a resource needed for each step of the way. When money was tight, I skipped the Beachbody subscription and used free workouts on Youtube which was adequate; however, Wifi and a device were still needed resources. Time is also a needed resource, so I have had to hone my time management skills to make time.
Our action plan needs to take reality into account. It is not realistic that you will move from A to Z with ease. It is not likely that you will avoid the storms and unexpected barriers that life throws at us (which often require skill and resources to overcome). Full acceptance that there will be unpredicted upsets will allow you to develop and action plan that builds in the needed coping skills and reinforcers to move past the storms without giving up.
Examples of these pitfalls include but are certainly not limited to family crisis, financial difficulties, medical problems and injury, hormonal fluctuations, dips in motivation, temptations to engage in other activities. I encourage you to do introspection on what has gotten in the way in the past to be sure you add them to your plan.
Aside from your awareness and plan for the pitfalls, your action plan needs to be a specific set of steps that attend to all logistical concerns you can think of the where, what, when, how, and who of your goal. An action plan needs to be broken down into a simple, easy to follow set of guidelines and steps. Your action plan likely needs to include:
a list of people you can delegate tasks to.
the logistics of who, what, when, where and how.
your supporters and reinforcers and how/when you will use them.
a clearly defined outcome so that you will know whether you met your goal.
clearly defined steps to take to achieve identified tasks.
Without an action plan, you will end up experiencing “false starts”. You might hear yourself say “I intending to change but never actually change” or “I’ve wanted this for years; I don’t know why I can’t get myself to do it”. Without an action plan, the goal remains too vague and abstract.
My action plan includes sitting down on Sunday evening to review my schedule (including my kids and husband’s) and the weather. I plug in times that I can get to the gym (bearing in mind that I need a two-hour window at minimum to be able to drive to and from the gym, workout, shower and do my hair and make up for the next part of my day. If I have a shorter window, I often do go to the gym still but have a plan to only do weights and to try not to sweat since I will not have time for the shower. The weather comes into play because we look for a few “pick days” to engage in outdoor activities which count as exercise: hiking, biking, swimming. My action plan for the night before includes planning what I am going to wear at the gym, whether I need to take it to work with me, and planning food so that I have the energy to go. My action plan includes communicating the proposed schedule to my husband so that he can let me know if he sees any barriers. I have also noticed that I have a habit of driving to the gym but sitting in my car and scrolling social media before I go in (thus wasting my time resource). I have addressed that by making social media an incentive: if I work hard at the gym, I allow myself down time on the stationary bike to cool down and scroll.
I believe you can do this. I believe you can make meaningful change. This grid can help guide you and help you to identify stumbling blocks PRIOR to them causing you to face plant. I encourage you to take some time to journal on the points mentioned here so that you can make the changes that you want to see in your life!
I’m sitting here on my back patio listening to my 2 year old cry because I am not pushing her on the swing, my 6 year old is asking 5 questions per minute that I’m half-heartedly trying to answer, and my 8 year old was forced against her will to being her Barbie’s outside to play. I am home with my kids while my husband got to have his early morning photography time – something we try to build in once or twice per week. I am trying to work on this blog and grow my business (Your Mental Restoration).
I don’t do it all. I won’t do it all. I cannot possibly do everything and I accept that! I CAN choose where my attention goes. I CAN give myself permission to feel accomplished when I tackle something mindfully. In this moment, I am empowering my children to learn to play self-sufficiently (against their will), I am empowering myself to carve out time for my interests and values and I am empowering my husband to grow his photography business by practicing his skills. I could choose to look at the scenario through a fatalistic lens: I’m failing as a mom because my kids want my attention and I am not giving it. I am failing as a housekeeper because the chores are not being attended to. I am failing as a writer because I have distractions. I fundamentally reject the fatalistic lens. I believe it comes from comparison (ahem Instagram feed) and the belief that other moms, other wives, other writers, etc. are somehow achieving their goals without any barriers. I reject that notion because I talk openly with others and that allows me to know their truth: it isn’t true! Instead of letting shame take over and convince you that you struggle more than anyone else does, I invite you to talk with your friends, peers, and families about the realities of their lives. I think you will find validation and comfort in the fact that they are also having to choose what to prioritize and what to ignore. They have to choose not to beat themselves up for their perceived failures.
Everyone struggles to juggle the identities, roles and tasks in their lives.
How many basketballs do you think you could hold?
I’d venture to say that at any given time, I could probably hold three…but not well. I think of the various life “shoulds”, to-do list tasks, expectations and roles as metaphorical basketballs. I cannot hold them all at once. If I try to hold too many at once, I end up dropping them and making a fool of myself! I CAN decide which ones I choose to pick up and carry, I CAN decide what I am going to prioritize and where I am going to put my attention. This morning, I’m carrying my “writer ball”, “mom ball” and “self-care ball”. I can switch between making the three of them my top priority (when I get stuck on writing, I play with my kids!) None of them are getting my full attention; however, because I am willing to accept the limitations of time, I absolve myself of any guilt related to the state of my house, my inbox, my friendships, etc. I’ll pick up those balls later…
So how do I do it all? I don’t! I do what I can, when I can. I allow myself the freedom to NOT have intense levels of guilt and shame over the things I do not do, while allowing myself to feel pride and satisfaction in the tasks that I DO accomplish.
Resentment, animosity, jealousy, hurt and loneliness are not words anyone wants to use to describe the partnership they have with your spouse. What do spouses fight over? Marriage failure statistics do not agree on the primary reasons for divorce. I have seen money troubles, communication difficulties, and an uneven distribution of weight in the relationship as some of the most frequently cited reasons from couples counselors and divorce attorneys alike. If we look into those reasons, it wouldn’t be difficult deduce that the concept of domestic labor disputes are a common thread! Feelings of inequality in a relationship will lead to resentment, animosity, jealousy, hurt and emotional loneliness. From there it is not a far leap to end up with an affair, substance abuse or domestic violence (three of the other top cited reasons for divorce.)
If this topic is important to you and you have not yet read The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates, you need to. You can find a summary of her key points here, however I’d recommend a full read. Melinda covers a lot of ground in this book on gender inequities around the world; however, I want to tune-in particularly to the equality gap found within domestic labor in the home. Melinda refers to tasks such as cooking, cleaning, child rearing, and running errands as “unpaid work” and in this article I am using the term “domestic labor”, they are one in the same. Melinda cites research that finds a gap in all cultures (in India for example it’s 6:1 with women doing 6 hours of unpaid work per day and men doing 1, in the United States the ration is 4:2.5. There is clearly a disparity that needs to be addressed and openly discussed in homes across the world.
My stance, albeit controversial, is that there is not a way to have a truly even distribution of domestic labor and furthermore, trying to achieve a truly even distribution will reek havoc on your marriage as one person will always feel like they did more. Someone will feel that their load of laundry had more socks in it, the day they mowed the lawn was hotter, the kids were harder to control when they had them…
A marriage is a partnership, it is a mutually agreed upon relationship in which you and your spouse agree to work toward common goals. These common goals include keeping the house, maintaining the the yard, parenting the children, etc. all in agreed upon conditions. In general, I agree that there should be an equal division of labor…over a long period of time (such a a year). I suggest looking at longer periods of time because it is a normal life occurrence for each partner to have natural ebbs and flows in their career/paid workload (such as tax season for an accountant), their health (perhaps pregnancy or after an injury or surgery), or the demands of their extended family (such as taking care of their ailing parents). Partners need to have faith that if their partner is not able to keep up their end of the workload for periods of time, there is not a personal insult attached. The tides will turn back to normal and there will also be times where the workload tips completely in the other direction.
All of that being said, if you look at a longer chunk of time (such as one year) and feel the balance is lacking, it is time for a conversation. Gaslighting, excuses, defensiveness and blame would all be red flags. A respectful conversation about workload can and should happen several times throughout the year to share feelings and prevent the build up of negativity.