No, we don’t need to do everything – super-parents only happen in stories!
My children are making me a grandmother these days but I still well remember a conversation with my doctor when my sixth child was a baby. I was a pretty regular visitor to his clinic, for the whole gang arrived in exactly nine years (to the day!). Father of six himself, Dr Forbes gave me a penetrating look as we finished with Jimmy’s earache.
‘You’re looking a bit peaky,’ he commented.
‘Yes, I never seem to get enough sleep, and there’s always just too much to do’, I replied with a sigh. (Doesn’t every parent of young children know this feeling?)
And then he dished out some of the best advice I ever had as a young mother.
‘Hire a schoolgirl for the Hell Hour,’ he said.
At the time we were a one-income family, and quite a small income at that. The funds were scarce. However, his advice was appealing so I counted my pennies and rearranged the priorities. A couple of enquiries discovered Leonie, a helpful 14-year-old from just along the road. For the next six months, while my last baby was small and I was in that particularly overwhelmed state, Leonie hopped off the school bus every afternoon at our place instead of hers. I gave her afternoon tea, and then she gave me an hour – for about the hourly rate she would have earnt as a McDonald’s check-out chick. Once things eased a bit she reduced to a couple of times a week for another year.
It was fantastic. She did anything I needed – tasks like fetching in the washing; bathing the bigger kids; peeling the potatoes; picking up the toys; and even the ironing. And so I had my first big lesson in leverage and delegation. An extra pair of hands was the life-saver I needed.
These days I don’t need a schoolgirl (although I certainly have other domestic help). Instead I love to share that story with the young parents in my seminar and conference audiences. They frequently tell me how exhausted they get – how it seems that they never catch up, feel as though they short-change their little ones on quality time, and as for time for themselves – what a joke!
A tired-looking young father’s reaction, when he heard my ‘Leonie’ story, was pretty typical. He perked up and said with great enthusiasm, ‘That’s a fabulous idea. I get home from work tired, and have to then pitch in to help with the two babies. I might be able to relax a bit quicker if we get a schoolgirl. I’ll suggest it tonight!’
If both parents work outside the home, all those feelings of pressure and stress are compounded. And even if the mothers don’t work outside the home, if the family has a business many women help their partners with administration, book work, and the multitude of related tasks. Often that in itself could be a full-time job – somehow squeezed in around the domestics and child-rearing.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop for a moment and consider. How would it be if you got some home help? Could you use a schoolgirl (or maybe a boy to do outside chores?) A housekeeper? Or send out the ironing? Or clean the windows? Maybe your conversation is ‘we can’t afford it’. However, how would it feel to come home to a clean tidy house? What else could everyone do with the time that’s freed up, that would improve the family’s quality of life?
(There are always variations on this theme, of course. When the kids are a bit bigger I’m a great advocate of making them responsible of their share of the chores, so they learn to be responsible adults. Maybe some of their pocket money is linked to satisfactory performance of certain home tasks.)
And if you’re running a business from home, or contributing to a family business from home, perhaps you could get a nanny for one or two days a week to give yourself free and focused time.
Get lateral. What can you get help with? Once you’ve tried it, you’ll wonder why you took so long!