I’m going to start with something controversial: I believe having a lot on your plate as a parent can be a very GOOD thing—both for you and for your kid(s).
Please don’t take this the wrong way, I know parents are exhausted. I’m exhausted. The last few years have been tough, and that’s an understatement. So: the first thing I want to say is that whatever you need to do in order to function and maintain a good relationship with your kids—and with yourself—is the right thing to do. Time spent with a loving, relaxed parent is better than anything else.
Yet from my own personal experience, whenever I am busy—like really, really almost-to-the-edge-of-over-extended busy—it’s been very good for my family.
It’s a perspective we don’t discuss often. Probably because many of us are still learning how to step back from toxic expectations and prioritize self-care. Those things are important, and I’m going to say the wildest thing a person can say from the frontlines of the parental advice/philosophy wars: just because something works for me, doesn’t mean it is right for you.
From my parenting experience, I have found the old adage to be true: “When you have something you need to get done, give it to a busy person.”
The reason this is true is because when time and energy feel like finite resources, they become precious, and we get much better at prioritizing them. I know I do, including quality time with my child.
So when I was feeling excited about finally being allowed to go inside my daughter’s school after years of pandemic lockdowns and strict protocols, I decided to lean in and go wild on volunteering.
I am a working author, screenwriter, and comic book writer, and mother to an almost 8-year-old, who decided to join the PTA exec board, run the school book fair, be the “room mom” for my daughter’s class, and be our Girl Scout Troop leader. Does this sound familiar? There’s a stereotype of this kind of mom. The media portrays us in a frequently negative, uber competitive light, yet what I’ve found in the PTA meetings and Girl Scout Troop leader gatherings have been my people. The ones who, yes, do way “too much,” but also understand how finite childhood is. My daughter will only be a little kid for a couple more years. Then she’ll be a pre-teen for a three-year blink, then a teenager for a precious few years and then… I’ll always be her mother, but the entire rest of our relationship will be as two adults.
I know. That’s a big gut-punch, and I’m sorry to go all “Cat’s Cradle” on you, but it’s just the truth. We get a decade as parents to little kids and that is it. That doesn’t mean you have to do every single thing—you can’t—but it does mean that, if you are feeling overwhelmed, know this time is not endless. Those of you have multiple kids will have a longer period than I do—I fully cop to that—but there will be a point when this part is over and there will be a new exciting era of your life to live as a parent to adult kids.
When I have extra time, I find ways to fill it with bullshit. And yes, I need some BS time. I love procrastination and, honestly, I find procrastinating to be an important part of my writing process and a good way for me to give my brain a break. But when I am super busy, those procrastination breaks become “treats” that must fit in a tighter time frame.
If I feel like I have all day to get one thing done, it gets very tempting to fill my morning with other crap. Instead, when I am just a tiny bit “too busy,” I fill my time with things I hope lay a foundation of connection and memory with my kid, and with things I want and need to do to build my career. It’s important to me to prioritize that—and that my daughter sees me prioritizing that. I also do the self-care practices I need: those are part of filling a busy day. I journal, I go for walks, I read books for pleasure, bake with my kid, and binge watch TV shows with my wife. That stuff is important. I believe you really can “have it all” as long as you clearly define what the “all” is… because there are things that don’t matter, and a truly busy person is far too busy to worry about dropping those things. Let them go like a CEO.
Take care of yourself and remember that nothing about your life right now will last, the good or the bad. If you want to say “yes” to something, try to worry a little less about if you will have time to do it and more about what value you can get out of it: is it good for your career, your family, or you as an individual? Then make time for it. Most of the time people regret the things they did not try, not the things they did.