Taking the Hands Free Mama challenge

Rachel Macy Stafford had her epiphany while she was out for a run. I have a natural flair for the dramatic, so mine was on the way to the emergency room in the middle of the night about two weeks before Christmas.

Working, playing, parenting, volunteering. It gets to be too much. Time to focus on what's important, supermom.
Working, playing, parenting, volunteering. It gets to be too much. Time to focus on what’s important, supermom.

Thankfully, after a few hours on an IV, some medication and a referral to a gastroenterologist, they sent me home to bed, where I — finally — rested for a few days.

My mother had been warning me for months: You’re doing too much. You need to slow down. You are going to make yourself sick. I read Katrina Alcorn’s elegy to stressed-out working motherhood, “Maxed Out,” and related to many aspects of it. When she said she just wanted the ride to stop, I nodded in understanding. I’ve said that to my husband, more than once.

So really, I shouldn’t have been surprised that my mother was right (she almost always is). Trying to juggle home and work, and trying to give my kids some of the benefits of a stay-at-home mom even though I had a full-time job, took a toll.

It wasn’t work that stressed me out or pushed me over the edge. Work is fine.  I’m blessed with an understanding boss. I love what I do. I also have a husband who completely splits the kid stuff with me and does his fair share around the house.

It was everything else: the volunteering, the shuttling kids to activities and appointments, the feeling that I had to be everything to everyone all the time, or I’d be a miserable failure. I did this to myself by trying to be supermom. No one expected— or asked— that of me. It was completely self-inflicted.

After my little ad­ven­ture, my mother told me that it is time for me to take off my cape. I’m taking her advice (remember, she’s always right) and following Stafford’s example to try to live a less jam-packed life. Instead of looking for ways to “do it all,” I am giving myself the gift of doing less, and not feeling bad about it. I can’t do it all, and more and more I realize, I don’t want to.

I’m going to learn how to say no to things so I can spend more quality time with my family, or curled up with a book and a cup of tea.  I will turn off my phone in the evenings and on weekends when it’s possible, and give my home life my full attention when I’m there. My illness, thankfully, was not life-threatening. I’m choosing, though, to make it life-altering.

Stafford’s book “Hands Free Mama” is divided into 12 chapters, with the idea that you can become less distracted and harried in 12 months. This is my version of a 12-step program. Each month I will report back on the chapter I’ve worked on and talk about successes and failures along the way.

I’m taking the steps out of order, though. Stafford has going public with your choice as  part of the second step, and I’m doing it first, here, to keep myself accountable. I’d love to hear how others accomplish this. Share your stories in the comments, or by e-mail, about trying to do it all or trying to lean back a little and slow down. I may incorporate them in a  future update on the Hands Free journey.

@OnParenting

Amy Joyce is the editor and a writer for On Parenting.
Mari-Jane Williams covers parenting and family issues for Local Living and schools for the Prince William and Loudoun Extras.
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