When You Can’t Do It All

screen print by James Brown – click for info

When I was young I used to love our annual visits to the family of my mum’s sister. They were such interesting people, particularly my aunt. Her many and varied hobbies included wildlife rescue work, auto mechanics, and fashion, and she often accompanied her sleepercutter (lumberjack) husband into the forest to fell trees. What an exciting life she seemed to lead. My own mother seemed so mundane by comparison.

I once asked my mother why she didn’t do more fun stuff like that, and she told me something that has stuck with me. She said, “All of that would be interesting but I would still have to do all my housework when I got home, and I just cannot do it all.”  I felt very annoyed on her part, and resented how my dad was keeping her down, stopping her from being fulfilled. Of course, the issue was not so clear cut as that; Mum wasn’t really a dull housewife and Dad was not a domineering taskmaster. My mother loves handcrafts, music, and books, and she made time to sing, sew, and tutor kids. My dad, while saying a woman belongs in the home, taught me to roof and gutter and supported my ambition to enter the trades.

As a work-at-home mother to young children, I am really trying to do and have it all, the thing my mother said she could not do. And right now we are remodeling a room in our home, turning the master bedroom into an amazing playroom. My husband and I are doing the work ourselves, and instead of the usual struggle I have to balance housework, mothering, and my business, I have hit right up against the blunt reality that I truly cannot do it all. Not “I can’t do it all as well as I like,” but that it is physically impossible. And the thing I enjoy so much, building things, is the thing I feel like I shouldn’t do.

I discovered the real person holding me down is me.

Luckily for me my husband won’t let me get away with that. His nudges for me to hire help range from the pragmatic — “a teenager to watch the kids is cheaper than a carpenter” — to the sarcastic — “it sure is lucky that when you are working big days we all stop eating and wearing clothes.” So I have hired help. And I hate it. I feel guilty and annoyed and lazy to need other people in this way. Even when the housework is a hated obligation, it is hard to give the task to another person who won’t do it exactly right.

So what is the answer, and where does all this lead? I don’t know. I hope I will get better at letting go with practice. I know that it is different for everyone, but I hope some of you can offer ideas or support.

All I know is that I am pushing ahead and trying, and that is all anyone can do.

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