The Myth of Doing it All

No sooner did the comments (amazing, amazing comments!) on my last post about working moms start coming in, that I knew a follow-up was in order. Something about this notion of “doing it all.” Because it seems that whether we work out of the home or not, one thing so many of us seem to have in common is this struggle with balance; the feeling that maybe we do too much.

(And God, don’t you hate that expression “juggling?” I wish there were a term that didn’t come from the world of mimes.)

Recently, I was speaking on a panel about moms and mobile technology when an audience member raised his hand to ask how I “do it all.” It was a wildly uncomfortable moment for me (geez, you couldn’t just ask me my favorite app?) and I mumbled something awkward about making the most of every minute, Then I think I said something about waking up really early to write, segued into a self-deprecating quip about not doing everything so well, and made a bad analogy about hourglass sand or something before settling on some point about how it takes a village and my parents are very helpful. 

Not my finest public speaking moment.

I’m not insulted when people ask about “doing it all” – I just find it to be a difficult question. Lisse summed it up so well in comments by paraphrasing a brilliant Tina Fey essay in the New Yorker: When you ask a working mom about how she does it all, it either puts her in the position to say something disparaging about herself (check) or deliver an answer that makes the questioner feel somehow inadequate for doing less.

Thank you Tina Fey. I kees you.

Frankly, I don’t do it all nor do I want to. I’m sure I do more than some and less than others; there’s great comfort in that middle section of the bell curve. I also find solace in the fact that I won’t be busy forever. There are times for productivity and times for rest.  Times for input and times for output. There were times in my life when I sat around and played Spades on Yahoo for hours on end. I just don’t have that luxury right now.

Those of us who are visibly busy I think at times give a false impression of togetherness that’s rather unfortunate and unattainable. You don’t see my trainwreck of a bedroom. (Well, some people have. And they’ve been sworn to secrecy.) You don’t see the dishes in my sink or the scary, scary things under my couch. You don’t see my overdue bills or the crud under my keyboard or the lightbulb that’s been out for three weeks in the closet. You don’t see when my toenail polish is chipping and when you do see that I’m way overdue for some hair color, thankfully you don’t mention it.

We busy people, we prioritize. We make concessions.

I don’t read the New Yorker articles my mother flags, rips out, and places right in my hand insisting READ THIS NOW, or I’d have written about that Tina Fey piece a month ago.

I don’t exercise. It’s been four years since I’ve been to a gym. I do however climb a million subway steps every day. I also own a lot of Spanx.

I don’t go to every pediatric visit. I’ve already been skewered about that on Babble, so no need to do it here.

I don’t do the laundry. God bless my sitter. I have also given up on the pile of Nate’s clothes that grows in the bedroom like a fungus. In fact I don’t make cleaning much of a priority any more, which is why I do not throw a lot of dinner parties either. Clear a place on the floor! We’ll throw down a blanket and make it a picnic! just doesn’t sound all that inviting.

I don’t cook much.  Definitely not eggs.

I don’t feed the homeless, foster rescue animals, host benefits, endure walkathons, chair volunteer committees. Although I did drunk bid at our preschool auction last week and end up with a very expensive drum lesson for Thalia.

I don’t RSVP yes as often as I RSVP maybe.

I don’t look at my Google reader. In fact, it kind of scares me to think about.

I don’t write hand-written thank you notes. Hooray for Paperless Post, and a culture that’s increasingly accepting of rude behavior.

(Thanks Kelly for the suggestion. Phew, that was liberating.)

Do people think you do it all? What are the things you “do it all-ers” don’t do?

Thank you for including this post in Five-Star Friday, Schmutzie.


97 thoughts on “The Myth of Doing it All”

  1. In the madness of working part-time and raising three kids (including one very demanding toddler), I have started to find some comfort in the notion that there are seasons of life.

    There may be a season of life (many years from now) when I serve homemade dinners and volunteer on the PTA and keep up-to-date on what's happening in Congress and go to Pilates class.

    This is not that season.

    For now, I am starting to think that it is perfectly fine to limit dinners to things I can make in the toaster oven; to send a check to the PTA instead of actually showing up to a meeting; to be completely clueless about world affairs; and to have bye-bye arms (and thighs and plenty of other jiggly parts).

  2. I love that you wrote this, because it illustrates perfectly what I told our mutual friend David Wescott during our chat on Monday. You, me, and every other mom I know – we all set individual priorities. There's no single right way to manage our lives. Even among those of us who are close, professionally and personally, differences exist.

  3. I'm right there with you on a lot of this (though I just started going to the gym for the first time in, well, my life), but I worry that by admitting all this stuff, we then put ourselves in the “bad mother” category. So we can't win. We're all bad mothers who do it all.

  4. Oh, you found it!

    And of course it makes sense that it was Tina Fey. She has this wonderful way of putting things that makes you think “Yes. Yes, exactly!”

    As do you.

    Thanks for the h/t.

  5. I love this. I frequently try to “do it all” – or at least people think that I do – but there is so much that gets left undone or half done. There are days like yesterday, when I feel terrible about it. I set my priorities, and I do the best I can. Some days, I pull it off; others, not so much.

  6. I don't keep up on world affairs
    I no longer coach or volunteer for extra-curriculur stuff at the school I work at
    I don't go to most of my students games but I try to ask how they did.
    I don't cook much and my house is not clean. Ever.

    I remember playing trivial pursuit with my very intellegent grandmother. She knew every answer to every question….unless it was a pop-culture or world events question while anyone of her five children were in diapers. Then she would just shrug her shoulders and say, I was doing laundry and feeding your father, next question!

  7. I don't invite people over, because my house, while livable is not guest quality. I clean when absolutely necessary. I only vacuum when I can't find the kids under the dog hair.

    I don't cook. We eat out more than we should and my children believe french toast is a gourmet meal. I don't volunteer at the school. I don't even send things for bake sales. I only sign my kids up for activities that are once a week. No soccer for us. Thank god for the rec center, so we have one activity night a week.

    I only read books (that aren't preschool and elementary level) on planes, so that's maybe two in the past year. I haven't gotten my kids photos professionally done since Harrison was two months old. He's two and a half.

    There are grey hairs on my head, my eyebrows are out of hand, I believe the last pedicure I had was before BlogHer last summer and I haven't shaved my legs in a month. I started the Shred but quit after two weeks, because it's too time consuming. Hell, I have 45 hours of TV on my DVR.

    I, like you, make silly jokes when someone asks me how I do it all. Because really? It's a myth. Doing it all is a myth. I am busy and crazed and I have three active kids. I know in most peoples eyes, I'm not doing it right. I have been judged my many a person. Including some in my own family. In my heart and my head though, I know I'm doing the best I can and that has to be enough for me and my kids. Despite all my shortcomings, I seem to be doing something right, because my kids are truly amazing.

    Thank you Liz for both of these posts. It's nice to not feel like it's just me.

  8. I love this. I also love Tina Fey!
    I most often feed my kids breakfast (bagel with cream cheese, yogurt tube, or something else portable) in the car on the way to school. I don't watch TV. Ever. I rarely go out during the week because that's what I write. Ergo some people think I'm chilly but really I'm just trying to protect the few hours a week I get for myself. I don't really cook. We eat very simply here.
    I love this post. xox

  9. I'm practicing a few things. I'm practicing saying no to invitation without making up an excuse. I'm practicing not saying “exhausted” every time someone asks how I am (we all are, obviously.

    I'm practicing not apologizing for my time away or not focused on my kids. I'm practicing giving where it's genuine and trying to let go of the self-punishment over areas I just don't do well or sincerely.

    But fuck if I don't cuss out the kids bathroom every day because it smell so bad no matter what I do. It is a living a foul example of my lack of homemaker ability, and loss of order, and a symbol of my shame that I will have a seder here Monday and have to tell everyone NOT THAT ONE NOT THAT BATHROOM. I'm working on it.

    Love Anna Quindlen. Love Tina Fey. Love this post.

  10. I can do it all if I want to do it all poorly. I'm not okay with that. It sends me into a downward spiral that is difficult to crawl out of. I don't aspire to perfect by any stretch of the imagination but there are some things, like being a parent, that I can't do poorly anymore.

  11. I'm working on being okay with not doing it all, or not doing anything somedays. I don't work outside the home and am lucky enough to have my oldest in preschool for a few days a week and I still don't do everything I “should”. I do what I can and, if I'm lucky, do what I want. The rest will wait and sometime I will be okay with that.

  12. As I like to say, we all have priorities and a clean floor isn't one of mine.

    I don't clean, except the few things that drive my husband crazy. I don't cook anymore. I don't watch the news (although, really, I don't miss that one). I don't read anymore (I really miss that one). I feel zero shame when we eat out, and am more than willing to take convience options when they're given to me.

    I don't even pretend to do it all. I don't pretend to myself or to the outside world. I think, in part, it helps to have grown comfortable saying, “sorry I can't do that, I don't have the time.” Because I know I mean it–at least in the sense that I don't have the time without giving up one of the following: time with my kid/time with my husband/time with ME/ one my few pleasures(blogging and sleeping).

    I can't do it all. I don't even really want to, if I'm honest.

  13. I don't clean my own house–thank god for people who like to make their own hours. I do straighten up and do dishes.

    I don't drop my kids at school, I don't make all the dr appointments (thanks honey for yesterday). I don't exercise regularly and you can tell.

    I don't organize play dates for my kids and I don't have people over.

    I'm imperfect and that is exactly how it's supposed to be.

    thank you for saying it so well.

  14. Great follow-up and the Tina Fey bit is a perfect fit. I recently gave up some of the things I was trying to do that were not making me happy just to have a little less money and a little more time to keep me happy so I can do all the other things well. Here's hoping it works as making sure there is some happy for me is important too (or so we've all learned).

  15. Now THIS is my kind of post! Thank you for not doing those things. And it's the bedroom in our house too.

  16. My kids are alive and well and my house is fairly clean and we have friends over every now and again. If you call that “doing it all” then yes, I DO!! ha ha ha!

    I love Tina Fey's response too. She's just so cool. And real. I think it's all about keeping it REAL.

  17. Love this post, because — as all good writing does — it reminds me that I'm not alone. It also reminds me that I shouldn't freakin' try.
    I don't clean my house.
    I rarely cook anything more complicated than pasta.
    I serve my kids zone or balance bars for breakfast (actually way better than most cereals, the kids love 'em and if you throw a handful of berries on a plate next to one, it's actually a breakfast not to be ashamed of)
    I cut my own hair. Mainly my bangs.
    I have even done my own bikini waxes. Yes — I am crazy. And yes — ouch.
    I don't get pedicures — I use that stuff that dries in under a minute and often just keep heaping on new coats of polish because who has time to remove the old ones?
    I don't have sex with my husband nearly often enough.
    I color my own hair — usually just using that root touch-up stuff every three weeks. And while it sits on my head, I get work done in my home office (of course).
    I don't play games with my kids as often as I should and do let them watch too much tv because I'm too exhausted to argue with them.
    I don't go out with friends as often as I should because… I'm too exhausted and would rather chill on the couch and watch an hour of mindless tv before bed (usually while folding laundry because my 10 year old daughter has whined about her lack of clean clothes).
    I don't shave my legs very often. (this from the dark-haired woman who has waxed her own bikini line… well, yeah, I'm full of paradoxes, but who isn't)
    I don't hold in my temper as often as I should…
    I don't remain patient as often as I should
    I don't call my mother as often as she'd like
    I don't get to more than half of the “art projects” I plan to do with my kids, even if I've bothered to buy all the supplies
    I don't cry often enough — because when you do, it really does let out all the poison and stress you've been holding back. Instead, I let the anger build up until I wait until the kids and husband aren't home… and i hurl something breakable against a wall while screaming at the top of my lungs. No, it is not ideal. But… I am working on it.
    Again — loved your column.

  18. Thank you for that! I am heading back to work in the fall and am a little bit frightened at the attempts to balance stuff! My daughter & I are checking out daycares together and suddenly I am torn. However being at home has been a luxury I know I will miss.

    I appreciated your take on reality!

  19. I often say that having kids acts like a big filter on your life. You find out what really matters to you, because those are the things you keep doing. The details are different for everyone, but everyone filters.

    I don't go to all of my kids' pediatrician appointments, either. I don't feel bad about that. Their father is perfectly capable of talking to doctors, too.

    I get my haircut once every 6 months, at best. It has a simple style that takes about 3 minutes to do. When that stops working, I braid it until I get around to going to the hair stylist.

    I don’t get manicures or pedicures, but then, I never did. I wear very little makeup. Just mascara and, when I remember, powder. But again, this predates the kids.

    I don’t buy clothes that need to be ironed, because I don’t iron. My shoes are horribly scuffed, and I just don’t care.

    I don’t watch TV or go to movies. My internet time is very focused. If my husband didn’t tell me about the latest cultural memes, I would never know about them.

    I still read, but not very much. I keep up with my book club, sort of, and that is about it.

    I don’t take lunch breaks. I eat lunch at my desk, working (with a short break to read my blogs).

    I don’t go to networking events anymore. I try my best to keep up with my current professional network, but I’m not actively growing it. (This one makes me nervous- I work in a volatile industry, and my network is essential for finding my next job.)

    I still exercise, but only once a week.

    I don’t clean my house. I am fortunate enough to be able to afford a housecleaning service and I’ve finally convinced my husband that they should come twice a month. We still do some cleaning, but not much. Most days, our living room is overrun with toys and our office is a mess of papers. We only tidy up the night before the cleaner comes.

    I cook, but I keep it simple. If it can’t be done in 30 minutes or less, it isn’t a weeknight meal. I make unapologetic use of convenience foods like packaged tortellini and jars of pasta sauce. (I have an infrequent series of posts on my blog called “Dinner during Dora” where I share my recipes.)

    I don’t do much yard work- that is mostly my husband, and we try to keep the maintenance simple.

    We live in a small house so that we can keep our commute time down. We now wish we’d bought an even smaller house closer to work, so that we could have a 10 minute commute instead of our current 20 minutes.

    I buy just about everything from Amazon. I don’t go to Target anymore. I don’t care if it would be cheaper.

    I’m sure there are more, but those are the big ones, and this comment is already too long.

  20. We're supposed to do it all?! WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN?!

    No, really, I was raised in a home where my mom always emphasized that it wasn't about doing everything, it was about doing your best at what you did decide to do. So that's what I do. I don't always have my cleaning done and I am constantly cancelling plans at last-minute because I forgot about them, but I pick a few things and I throw my everything into them. Mostly, that's just being in the present with my daughter.

    And I'm okay with that. I wish more people were.

  21. None of these comments are too long (or too short) and they're all wonderful.

    I think it's fascinating to see what each of you give up. And more so, which things you care about and which you don't.

    Looks like clean floors is today's loser.

  22. Like the above poster, I don't wear anything that has to be ironed.

    Or dry cleaned.

    I don't cook gourmet meals. I feel accomplished if they're remotely “balanced.”

    I don't scrub my baseboards every week anymore.

    I don't do weekend & late evening appointments with clients anymore.

    My shoes are always scuffed.

    I forget to wear perfume.

    I color my hair from a box versus spending the time & money in a salon.

    I don't exercise on a regular basis.

    I'm a solid 30 lbs overweight.

    I don't watch television. I don't have shows that I watch religiously anymore & I don't have DVR to make sure I don't miss them.

    I don't go to every pediatrician appointment.

    Sometimes I do laundry & let the husband take care of the kid's bath versus doing both.

    & while I could probably make it myself, Etsy is a fun addiction.

  23. Oh my gosh. Yes! Yes, yes, yes. To not cleaning enough, to not always cooking, to not always being the parent at the doctor visit, etc., etc. Thank you for this post and the previous one. I think SO many of us moms are feeling this way.

  24. I just left my baby diaper-less on the floor to read this. And he peed everywhere. I cleaned it. But I think it was the first time that patch of floor has been washed since we stopped hiring cleaners a year ago. There are so many things I don't do. But they just aren't worth sacrificing the things I do do for.
    (And it needs to be said that the word I have to type in is “poodon”. I'm all kinds of glad that's not what just happened to my floor.)

  25. Dear Liz, thank you so much for wiring this post. I think all people whether or not they are parents can relate to this. “We busy people, we prioritize. We make concessions.” This line said it all.

    I also noticed that a lot of people wrote exercise as being the one thing they give up when they become parents. As a personal trainer I want to remind all the busy people of the world that it's never too late to start and something is better than nothing. Sometimes 8-10 minutes does more than an hour. Have you heard of Tababta training? It is a form of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). You can do a ton of Tabata workouts at home in 4-16 minutes. Tabatas are among the most fast and efficient way to burn calories and fat, far superior to steady state cardio on the elliptical or treadmill.

    All the best,

  26. Oh gosh. As a mostly solo parent (God I hope the single parents don't skewer me for that) who is also a full time student, I do what I can, when I can. And sometimes studying or an essay has to take priority over the fact that we have pretty much lived out of the dryer since Christmas holidays. My 12 year old is an amazing help – amazing – and I'd much rather spend my spare moments rewarding him for that by playing Catan or watching a movie together than folding laundry!
    I keep saying to myself that my kids are only kids for a short time, and dirt never ages. So dirt can wait. (Plus we have a dog who cleans up the kitchen floor like a dream.)

  27. No one's ever asked me how I “do it all.” I wonder what that says about me.

    — This year, with kids in first and third grade, I've been taking back time for myself, and time for my husband and me to be together. It's working out beautifully. The kids are fine; they're happy and they turn their homework in on time; and I am fine, too, at last.

  28. I admire those who juggle so effectively, but worry about those who present an airbrushed existence to the world. Something has to give! Thanks for being so open.

  29. I'm so happy you are writing these posts. I worked full-time in-house for a long time, and then switched it up to work from home, but will be going back to work full-time in-house 9-5 starting in May. I know there are soooo many things I won't be able to do anymore.

    Drive carpool….i.e., be at the school to drop off my kids and pick them up…you know, that facetime with their teachers and their friends, etc. I like that. I will miss that.
    Laundry. no question. I will NOT miss that.

  30. (whispering) I don't do many, many of these things and I also:

    *Don't work.* Gulp. I win? Lose?

    I would very much like to put pediatrician visits on my “don't” list.

    More seriously, I liked both of your posts and I think we should all make lists of the things we do. In this group, that would be an impressive list.

  31. I don't take tub baths anymore, I don't even paint my toe nails because of the up keep, I don't wear foundation (takes too long to rub in), I pay someone to clean the house when I can, I will probably get reamed for this but I don't steralize bottles-just wash them, I cook fast meals, wow, I could go on forever…loved the post

  32. I don't beat myself up for all the things I don't do. I'm “doing” stuff all day long, so if a few things fall through the cracks, I figure they weren't that important to being with.

  33. Brave post–and very important, since we tend to see others as more capable than we!

    My dad worked as an electrician at a paper mill. One day, he was to accompany a new employee to see a CEO. When she expressed her anxiety, my dad answered, “He puts his pants on the same way everyone else does.” And this put her at ease, of course. My dad can be quite profound.

  34. This one's tough, because I think my husband left me in large part because I stopped “doing it all.” I can now let a sink full of dishes sit for three days if my kid wants me to play a board game, or if we want to go swimming, or if there's a scary part in the movie and we have to sit together; he just couldn't handle that. I really like Cloud's comment about filters. I guess I'm just sad that it was my marriage that got filtered out.

  35. There is one mother who does it all. She lives in Oak Park, IL. She is heavily medicated.

    Liz, this post is just one more reason why I dig you. You write all the stuff down that we all have swimming around in our heads. You and some of our mutual mom blog pals and cool celeb moms like Tina Fey keep me sane, you really do. Or close to it.

    So glad that there are some moms who call bullshit on the whole idea that women can “have it all”. I can't believe it's 2011 and we still have to spend 3 seconds doubting ourselves because of the INSANE standards set by—I don't know who—that there are some women who can do it all.

  36. I'm kinda pissed at those 70s feminists who insisted that “yes, we can have it all.” Clearly, they were high, or shitty moms, or not moms at all…it's taken 5 years, but I'm finally getting sorta used to mediocre. I no longer have 150% to give everything. I just have a little here and a little there to spread around. Also, unlike those crazy bra-burners, I need my shit held up. So, there you go. Also, I graduated from Barnard.

  37. Ah, but maybe there is a distinction to be made between having it all and doing it all.

    We may be parents, but I have never thought that meant we have to be servants.

  38. I have a wise mentor who opined, “We can have it all, but not all at once” and “it's a marathon, not a sprint – you have to pace yourself”, and I've come to understand that there will be seasons in my career and in my life. I don't take many photos of my kids and I don't do a good job organizing the ones I have online or printing them and framing them. Oh, and I'm the mom who missed her kindergartener's first Christmas pageant due to a long-planned out-of-town presentation. Other than those two things, I don't feel too much guilt over the other stuff I don't do.

  39. The most important thing I remind myself to give up, every day, is giving myself a hard time.

  40. I don't stay up on music. I listen to classic rock and nineties alternative and tell people it's because I like it best, but really it's because I can't find the time to discover who is making good music today. Sigh.

  41. Mom…if it were not for Google Reader, I would not know about you. 🙂

  42. I often have to tell my daughter to play by herself for a little bit because I'm busy, even though I spend the rest of the night feelings guilty for not playing trains or ponies or barbies with her. So I make a promise to myself that I will say yes every time she asks toplay the next day. And then the baby wakes up about a million times that night and by the time morning comes I need a pot of coffee just to keep one eye open and instead of energetically playing with my daughter that afternoon I turn on Dora and doze on the couch because I just don't have any energy left. Then I feel guilty and the whole cycle ctarts again!

    It's nice to think that we can prioritize and put the most important things at the top of the list but truthfully some days I don't have it in me to do those things that mean the most to me. And other things – like taking out the trash, making dinner, making sure we all have clean underwear, etc – actually do have to come before things like playing with my kids a lot of days.

  43. I laughed when a friend asked me once how I do it all — she was getting ready to go back to work after being home with kids for a number of years. What I told her was: “It's a major balancing act, and usually something ends up getting the shaft on time and attention. Try not to let it be you or your family. Your house, on the other hand, will not take the lack of attention personally.”

    So I still cook and bake because I love to do it for me and for my family. And I've taken up exercise again because I feel so much better when I do (also I can feel a little less guilty about what I do cook and bake).

    But I don't iron (don't even own an iron).

    The floors in my house could all use a good scrubbing or vacuuming. In general, I clean when things get icky enough that I can't stand it any more. Though I'm trying to be better.

    My stack of recipes is a disaster — really need to organize them in some fashion. I have so many that I've printed or pulled from magazines just sitting in the pantry next to the cookbooks.

    I rarely get prints of photos. And I'd really like to make photo albums for the kids to flip through. I loved doing that when I was a kid.

    I rarely read books. I barely make it through the newspapers and magazines that we get.

    I've stopped going to all the doctor's appointments.

    And so many more things that I could add that it could easily become very depressing. But instead I'll remember that I need to focus on doing those things that are good for my family AND for my soul and mental health; and if other things slide on occasion… well, no harm done.

  44. I can't stop reading these comments. I love them.

    Also…Leanne is a genius: “Your house, on the other hand, will not take the lack of attention personally.”

    Pure genius.

  45. These are great comments and actually therapeutic for me to see how much others don't do. I struggle with balance daily (hourly actually). Things I don't do:
    – I don't clean the house. We've made room in the budget for a cleaning person to come every 2 weeks.
    – I don't do the kids laundry. That's on my husband.
    – I don't read as much as I would like to.
    – I don't exercise regularly, and my health is starting to show it.
    – I don't go to the movies. And I'm usually too tired to even watch one at home.
    – I don't make the bed.
    – I don't balance my checkbook.
    – I don't buy anything that needs to be dry cleaned.
    – I don't keep things organized – at home or work. Although everyone thinks I'm organized.
    – I don't make it to every after school event.
    – I don't delegate enough or say no enough (see balance issue above).

    Ahh, I feel much better now!

  46. I don't read the New York Times. I don't read anything but the front page and the opeds of the local rag.

    I don't wash windows or dust.

    I don't give my dogs as much love as they deserve.

    I don't write letters.

    I don't volunteer.

    I don't do my kids' school projects. They do.

    I don't have as many friends as I once had. I mean, they're out there somewhere, but I don't actually see them.

    I don't fold kids clothes. We have baskets and shelves.

    I don't worry about it. Mostly. Life is amazingly wonderful and I'm so lucky I get to make these choices.

  47. I don't write about what I don't do (harms my phyche 🙂 Like so many parents, I just shuffle those priorities each morning, make sure the important stuff comes first (hugging the kids, etc.) and throw some ideas of 'balance' in there along the way (things that keep me happy and sane).

  48. I hardly ever cook anymore. And I've only recently found the motivation — and time — to cook. Is it worth the time I spend with my baby? Absolutely. But it's not easy working a full-time job and being a mom. Would that I could afford to quit my day job.

  49. Although I never expected that I'd be able to “do it all” as a working mom, the struggle of trying to do just what needs to be done has caught my by complete surprise. There is no balance between work and home. No balance between my responsibilities and my husband's responsibilities in caring for our 1 year old. What don't I do? A lot of things I used to love. I don't cook anything that takes longer than about 45 minutes (on a really good night). I don't exercise. I don't take my dog for walks. I don't pay attention to the news. I don't email my friends or even call them. I never have people over because my house is a wreck and I have no time to cook. I miss my old life, but I love my son more, so I guess that's the only balance I'm going to find.

  50. I do it all. I wake up in the morning, I make breakfast, I drop my kids off at daycare, then I come home and nap before spending the next 4-6 hours making jokes on Twitter or reading blogs or writing my blog that makes no money but has netted me a year's supply of air freshener and face lotion.

    Twitter and blogging are serious business and not many people can make it all work like I can. But if you're a good parent you totally can. I think it's important we all realize how easy doing it all really is, and commit to it.

    For the children.

  51. I am about to send in the (already been hunted, still filled with candy) Easter eggs from my 2 year old's preschool hunt on Wednesday in with my 5 year old for his hunt today.

    Though I am an avid recycler(there's something I DO do!), I think this may be taking it too far.

  52. Because I homeschool, have four children and my husband travels with his job, many people think I'm Supermom. Here are the things I don't do:

    I don't organize. I throw away. There are plenty of items I wish I held onto that I haven't, and many things I have held onto that I shouldn't.

    I don't put photos in frames. In one of our previous homes I hung all the frames my sister bought for me. They sat for 3 years with models in them.

    I may have to take this thread to my own blog, because there are so many things I don't do. That said, the things I do I try to do with all my effort, and well. After all, I might as well be satisfied with the things I get accomplished than do more half-assed.

  53. People think I do it all, and of course I don't, but I do like to take a little bit of credit, sometimes.
    I work full time, I'm a full time student, and I'm the only parent in the household.

    That said, we miss some little league games, I rarely cook, my house is in a just-livable state of disarray, and I'm not good at 'activities.'

  54. I hope you don't mind. I decided to comment by writing a post on my own blog. Thanks for this post, it made me think about what is important to me.

  55. Thanks for making me feel normal. I certainly don't do it all either. And since I'm Greek, I've got all this extra guilt to deal with. I don't cook, I roll my fitted sheets into balls, my closet is a mess. It really does take a village, and I'm thankful my family babysits my boys when I'm at work. Anyway, I could go on and on… but I just want to say thanks for this. 🙂

  56. A lot of people think I'm this amazing stay at home mom and while I do believe I'm a good mother I am far from amazing. My kitchen floor is currently a disgrace to humanity. I haven't vaccuumed this week. I buy jarred baby food (Heinz is cheaper than Gerber). We get fast food once a week. I guess all that matters is I play and take care of my 23 month old and 7 month old all day long. They're happy and healthy so I'm content that even though I'm a stay at home mom, I don't get around to keeping my house spotless.

  57. Just reading this made me feel better! Anytime someone decides to “drop in” on me at home, I have an urge to turn off the lights and pretend we are not home. I have decided that my house will be spotless when the kids are in college.

  58. From Sept 2001 until his death on Nov 29, 2009 I took care of my totally disabled and unable to speak, or really, not able to communicate at all, beloved husband. His 3rd or 3rd & 4th stroke(s) occured one month after a broken left hip – his entire left side was weak anyway, from May 1998 stroke – so he was unable to walk. He had difficulty swallowing, so he had a feeding tube. He was also incontinent.

    I cannot tell you how many times I heard the phrase, “I don't know how you do it” or “There is no way I'd be able to do what you do” or the saddest of all “I would never even attempt to take care of my spouse the way you take care of Rich.”

    It was NOT EASY, but we went out almost every day (he could not be left alone) and I would leave him in the car while I completed short errands. I learned to shop for just a few items every day so I could use the express lane. And whenever I ran into someone I knew I would hear one of the phrases above.

    I finally came up with a standard answer, “You don't know what you can do until you try.”

  59. Wow. First of all, Liz, how do you always look so good and put together if you never exercise and get regular pedicures? What don't I do after working (from home, which is in so many ways, harder – I relish my in office days) – I don't always make homemade meals, I don't plan playdates for the kids which gets me in a lot of trouble, I don't clean my house (I pay someone to do that), I'm not on the PTA, I rarely entertain as many have mentioned. I rarely look in the mirror, but myself new clothes, I never wear make up and I've gotten lazy about accessories. But what I do above all is make sure that my kids have a great time in the process of what may appear as “neglect” coming from mommy.

  60. Wow – thanks for this post Liz! I've been really struggling with how much time I don't spend “engaging perfectly” with the kids to help with delayed milestones and I needed this reminder. There is no perfect mom, no one who does it all.

    It's a old saying, but I still like it, “Follow your bliss,” and I hope I'm doing it. I also hope I teach my daughters that.

    And I love what Kami said about those 70s feminists who said we could have it all.

  61. I think I give the impression of doing it all.

    But I don't do my own laundry. I don't dust. I don't fill out the paperwork I'm supposed to for my volunteer job. And I don't sleep as much as I should.

    That last bit – lack of sleep – really is the hardest. I suspect it makes the rest of it much worse.

  62. The pressure of feeling like I was doing nothing – but wanted to be doing so much more – led me to therapy. (Thank god.) In that I have learned a lot about my perception of having to “do it all” and am working towards a better understanding of what I actually am doing – which is a freaking lot!

    Cleaning definitely takes a back seat in our house – our dinner parties are also few and far between, which bums out our few friends since my husband is a chef as well!

  63. After struggling the last few weeks with some Mommy guilt, and also feeling the pull of oh-so-many things that need to be done, all I can say is thank you for this post.

  64. I am grateful that Tina Fey, you, and others are stepping up to call bullshit on this whole ridiculous antiquated notion of “doing it all”. Maybe it was begun in the spirit of empowering women, but to me, just serves as another way to make us feel inadequate. I love reading all these comments, it's much more empowering & inspiring to me to know that there are all these women out there, making tough choices, falling short sometimes, but cobbling together a happy & amazing life none the less.

    I am very much in agreement with the idea of “seasons of life” that several have mentioned before me. Nobody can physically “do it ALL”. We all do what we can, picking & choosing from day to day and hour to hour what our priorities are.

    I'm not going to list all the things I don't do. They are myriad. And include “commenting on blog posts in a timely manner” 🙂

  65. I'm trying to stop worrying about the things I don't (or can't) do. And focus on the things I can.

    Like: Next week I am taking 2 days off to chaperone the 5th grade trip to Gettysburg. Which is far more important to my son than me worrying about the fact that I was out of town 2 weeks in a row this month. Or that the linen closet is a mess. And a whole host of other little imperfections.

  66. Thank you for these last couple of posts! I'm the primary wage-earner in my house, and I struggle daily with the guilt of missing so much of my children's lives. But the need to pay the mortgage triumphs over the guilt and every morning I head out the door. And like you, I don't do it all. I don't make all the doctor appts, swim lessons or soccer lessons, and more often than not my husband is the one planning the playdates. The house is never as clean as I'd like, and there is always a pile of laundry. (I did finally clean the bathrooms this weekend, but only because they were THAT bad).

    What I am able to do is make the time I have with them be as quality as possible. Because I have no other choice, and they will be grown before I know it.

    Thanks again for your posts — it's so comforting to know there are others going through the same struggles.

  67. Thank you! Tina Fey is my current mom hero – her pieces in the New Yorker have been so down to earth (hate that term, but it works), and your post is such a wonderful follow up to that, and adds so much!

    I also love that this post doesn't try to limit itself to speaking to working moms or stay at home moms – it speaks to the commonalities in all our the experiences. I have been thinking a lot about how useless the working/stay at home categories have become. This got me thinking about it even more and inspired me to write my own post about it – thank you for the inspiration!

  68. When asked how she “did it all” my mentor, a wise, brilliantly talented VP at Time Inc., once said “balance is overrated.” She elaborated by explaining there were times when her career took first place and others when her kids needed her more and she stepped back in her career. I've never forgot this because I know she's a good mom and her kids, now gown, are great people.

    I've taken a step back this year and have learned a lot about my kids and my own ambition. (

  69. I used to think I could do it all. Truthfully, I still want to most days. But what don't I do? Relax. Sit. Stop. Enjoy.

    No wonder I'm burned out, guilty, sad and exhausted.

  70. Love the honesty! No, we don't do it all, and it's nice to admit that. I always like to think that some other mom is good at all the things I suck at…and just maybe I rock at some stuff that sets me apart as well. Great post, great reminder to ease the pressure we put on ourselves.

  71. Thanks for saying you don't get mad when people ask you how you do it all.

    I have 5 kids and get asked that all the time. I have my signature shoulder shrug, glazed look, and “meh?” comment down pat.

    But why do you think people ask that? Surely it's not to insult the person. Surely it's not to try and trip her up, trying to find some crack in the perfect persona.

    I really believe that people ask because they are truly wondering how it's done. Like, when you see a magician cut his assistant in half, and you ask, “Wow, how does he do it?”

    Maybe they want to know our secrets (my personal secret is LOWERED EXPECTATIONS). Maybe they want to feel camaraderie with someone else who has less-than-perfect housekeeping skills. Maybe they're close to the brink of breakdown and want to hear, “I've been there too. I've been where you are, hon. Don't worry, you'll push through. I did. You can too.” I just don't believe they are trying to piss us off, as much as some women – I guess Tina Fey? – want to be pissed off at people who ask this question.

    I guess I'm just tired of people getting pissed off at what other people say, in general. We should all be forced to limit ourselves to getting offended only once a day. Man, can you imagine how much happier the world would be????

  72. Texan Mama! I love it! Only allowing ourselves 1 “offended” a day. And, maybe adding an internal filter that says “I'll only offend someone once today myself & will apologize the minute I do.”

    It's an interesting thought and maybe one that concentrates more on compassion. Again, loved your comment.

  73. Ha, I'm not too easily offended. And of all the things to be offended by,that's not it.

    It's an uncomfortable question for me, but not an ill-intended one.

  74. Feed reader sadly neglected. Say no to many offers of walks, coffee and hangouts, even with people I'd like to get to know better. Don't talk to friends or family as much as I'd like. No more novel reading. Very little school volunteering, except for stuff I KNOW I can follow through with in a single day. Email a daily struggle.

    Trying to get better at caring for myself (food, sleep, exercise, time). Really trying to do that.

  75. Lots of comments about not being able to “DO IT ALL”, and the concessions we make to make sure everyone is HAPPY!! I have always said…I do many things, I do nothing well…my mantra!
    Now that my kids are grown and doing the “crazy life” thing with their own kids…I can now clean my house and get organized the way I always wanted to. My kids will never remember the house being clean or messy…they remember the things we did as a family! Just keep it healthy clean and go outside….soon the kids are gone and you can clean all day instead of going to little league. (That is of course unless your grandchild is now on the team)

  76. I used to get uncomfortable with that question. Doing it All is just an illusion. Now I just answer “I don't. I do the things that matter most to me so that I can give my energy fully to the tasks I choose to tackle.”

    Can't remember the last time I vacuumed upstairs. Have no shame in admitting that I taught my 8 year old to do the laundry. Order out or let my husband cook most nights. Most importantly, I've learned to cut myself some slack. People have stopped expecting perfection from me because I stopped expecting it from myself.

  77. Late to the party, but better late than never.

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Rarely do people ask me that question, mostly because clearly I am barely keeping it together, but you’re right how else do you answer the question without putting yourself down or make the other person feel bad?

    Pretty much we just make it work because we have to. We do our best and that’s all we have.

  78. I have a girlfriend who is a mom of three but one of her children was born with a genetic disease. She has not been able to maintain a career her homelike is not always the easiest to manage. I have been fortunate to have had the ability to continue my professional career while raising three children. She has taught me a great deal. I often think of a descriptive she has often used “I am doing the best that I can.” I think women are frequently very hard on themselves. In the end it is not too much different than what most of us try to teach our children your do your personal best!

  79. I realize I’m pretty late to this game, but I spent all day returning to this post and reading every comment. It was precisely what I needed to read. I wrote a response on my own blog. Thanks for saying this, and making space for the conversation.

  80. Hi Liz,love your writing! I stumbled across your blog via Sleeping mom’s and have enjoyed reading a few posts so far with bub helping me along on the keyboard! I am one of those women who is conditioned to doing it all or die trying..while keeping a sense of humour. Love your work

  81. I’m a do-it-all-er and I could fill a book with all the things I don’t do. I don’t do anything off of those 100 things to do with your toddler lists on Pinterest. I don’t make my own play dough because it costs roughly 50 cents at the store. I don’t home-sew Anthro-inspired accessories or paint my own shoes. I don’t call my friends just to talk. I don’t experiment with gourmet meals. I don’t stay on top of my armpit maintenance. There is SO much I don’t do, and I’m okay with that. If I tried to actually do it all, I’d go out of my mind.

  82. I am a slacker mom. My kids don’t do sports and dance and music and art and karate and and and and. I can’t afford it, and my sanity can’t handle it. They do religious ed and one activity. The oldest does school, working nearly full time, and is about to graduate high school. (phew! 1 almost down, 3 to go.)

    I don’t do their laundry. I only do mine, the toddler’s and linens. The rest of the family does their own. Yes, even the husband does his own.

    I do make them help me clean the house. If it was just me here, that pile of junk wouldn’t be there, now would it? It’s not always clean, but it’s a process, and they need these skills as an adult anyway.

    I don’t give them a cellphone. They want it? They earn it themselves. Take some initiative and work for it.

    I don’t let them drive – yet. The oldest is 18 and still has his permit. The 2nd one is about to get his permit. I can’t afford the insurance, just like I can’t afford the activities and cellphone. The longer they hold out getting a license, the lower the insurance premiums stay.

    I don’t drive them to everything they want to do. “Mom can I… ” is met with “how are you paying for it, how are you getting there and back, and who are you going to be with while you’re away from me?” I want them to think ahead, not expect that I’ll foot the bill for everything, realize they need to learn not to rely on me for everything, and cooperation between parties. (I’ll drive to, if their parent picks up, etc). I also want them to be mindful of their associations, because the wrong ones could make for biiiiiig problems.

  83. I am a home managing mom that cloth diapers her 10 month I’d son and makes all of his meals. We dont eat prepared or processed foods. I cook and clean a lot and deal with a lot of snide sounding “don’t you just have it all together,” accusations. It hurts. Now to avoid the hate, I don’t discuss my labors. If they come up reguardless, i diminish the difficulty of the task or their importance in my mind. I do sacrifice time in other areas, but I don’t want to have to tell people a list of my shortcomings just because they feel, falsely, that I “do it all.”

    I don’t take my son to story time.
    I don’t play with him enough.
    I never trained my dog.
    I never walk my dog.
    I spend too much money at the grocery store bc I don’t coupon or bargain shop.
    my husband’s socks have holes in them.
    I put a towel in front of my fridge because it needs to be defrosted so badly it leaks.
    I am so stressed I am getting dandruffy, breaking out in pimples and sometimes cry on the floor after I get the baby to sleep.
    My husband would tell you our sex life is lacking.

    Maybe I’ll add all of that into my Introductions.

    1. I like that and maybe I’ll try it. Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Christa, and before we start our conversation, here are all the things in my life I’m neglecting. Then I read off the list so we can just get it out of the way and look at each other as people.

      1. Christa, I think if you introduced yourself that way we’d end up talking the entire cocktail party.

  84. Thank goodness for this post. I can now feel less guilt over the unwritten thank you notes that have piled up in the correspondence basket for years.

    I love to shop for things I need online (time savings of course) and founded to help others in the same “Working Mom” boat.

    Cheers to Mom-101!!! Love this post and have forwarded to all of my Mom friends… and to my own Mom who still thinks I should make all the beds in the house each morning before coffee!

  85. I’m a toddler Mom working part-time and doing online courses for my Master’s degree. I was accused this weekend of being Super-woman, “Where is your cape?” Umm, well, I’m neglecting a whole lot of stuff and now that my semester is “over” and I see all this house-work looming before me, I’m getting stressed about that. It’s the never-ended to-do list. My husband gently reminded me that the house will still be here next year, when I’m done with grad school, but dammit everything needs to be done RIGHT NOW and perfectly! Mostly my relationships are suffering- with my lil girl, with my husband, and with my friends who I’ve hardly had time to see. I’ve never been good at relationships and suddenly having time but having no idea how to re-connect with people is just so overwhelming.

    Thank you for this post, and for getting me thinking about what I can really let go of.

  86. I so needed this post and this thread this week. I am the owner of a small business that I co-own with my husband, and mom to two kids, one of whom has aspergers and is having a helluva week (suspended from school, kicked off the school bus, and banned from daycare for three days – all related to end of year anxiety stemming from his aspergers).

    Trying to do it all put me into therapy. It is hard enough to do enough to survive, doing it all makes me crazy. It is getting easier as the kids get older and as the business gets bigger, but it is never easy.

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