Yesterday I mopped my floors. I read a few books to my preschoolers before their nap. I had a lengthy phone call with a friend in crisis. These are not remarkable moments, but they felt heavy with meaning.
The day before yesterday, I lost one of my jobs.
Like many women right now, I am a “work from home” mom. I have multiple jobs that I love that also help provide for my family. I find identity and meaning in my work and love being able to use my skills and education while still being home with my kids. But there are sacrifices and trade-offs. I was sad to realize it had been months since I’d taken the time to sit with my kids and read them that pre nap story. I’m a little ashamed of how long it had been since I mopped something other than spilled milk or jelly spots. The struggles and needs of people I love had begun to feel like impositions.
I’ve been running at a frantic pace that is unsustainable, but also seems totally normal when I look at the other women I know. We are all The Amazing Plate Spinning Lady, never letting one drop to the ground, always in full make-up, driven by a mix of adrenaline and duty. We can do what we’ve committed to doing, but if you try to throw one more plate into our act, it will all come crashing down. And be prepared for the rage and shame breakdown that will follow.
Sometimes that extra plate can be an illness in the family. Or marital problems. Or a friend in need. When that letter comes from the school asking us if we’d like to volunteer we feel an instant rise of bitterness. Don’t they know how much I’m already doing? I can’t possibly add one more thing.
As I sit here today, with one less job on my plate, I’m wondering about the value of intentionally leaving space for the unexpected. What if I didn’t try to schedule every free minute? What if I believed the work of reading my children a story was equal in value (or even greater) to the work that gives me a paycheck? What if I acknowledged that mopping my floors isn’t just a stressful, pointless act, but a duty that allows me to feel more at peace when a friend needs to unexpectedly drop in.
Last night our church small group met in our home. My floors were mopped. The counters were clean. My children ate a healthy dinner and I had time to supervise them cleaning up before our friends arrived. We had cake and coffee. And I wasn’t stressed. This is not how it was the last time our small group met. The last time, I felt frustrated. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, but the pace of my life didn’t allow me to take any joy in the hospitality I signed up to provide.
When I’ve left no room for the sacred act of keeping house, of caring well for my children, of delighting in creating order out of the chaos that is motherhood in a large family, I’m going to be living life with my anger on a slow simmer all day. I can’t be available to my children when they need me. I can’t drop things to go help a friend in crisis. I can’t have a lengthy phone call with my mom or sister when we need to talk about life.
In short, I can’t be part of community. And I’m not alone.
We are a lonely generation. We’ve scheduled ourselves out of the ability to connect and then we sit down with our screens and pretend that’s the same thing. It’s not. That screen can’t bring a casserole in a crisis, it can’t throw my son’s birthday party, it can’t make the coffee for our small group. All those acts of service and sacrifice are what create community for us. But who has time for them anymore?
The job I lost wasn’t the main support for our family. I can not replace that job and we will be okay. I continue to have a job I love in a field I’m passionate about along with other writing and speaking opportunities. I know I’m speaking from a position of privilege about leaving space in my life. We will miss that income, but we have seen God provide before and I feel in a better position today to know what healthy boundaries look like in this life I’m living. That job change happened because they wanted more than I could give. Looking back, I’m not sure how I was giving as much as I was. But I think I struggle with thinking there’s always room for one more thing. . . especially if that thing makes me feel validated.
I will continue to be a work-from-home mom. I love this life and I feel it gives me the best of both worlds. I’m also realizing how zealously I have to guard my kids from the encroaching work demands that could easily eat up the time I think I’m spending with them. I have to continually remind myself that just because I “can” do something doesn’t mean that I should. And often my definition of “can” means “I can do it without dying.” This is not a healthy way to live.
I respect that what those healthy boundaries look like can be different for every woman and in every stage of life. I know the dividing up of household responsibilities is unique to each marriage and family. I don’t think I will still feel this way when my kids are all in school at the same time. Things will continue to shift and settle for me and my ability to devote myself to employment, volunteer opportunities, and hospitality will change. But right now, I need to figure out how to fight the urge to find my meaning and worth in things that can’t ultimately satisfy. I’m finding that leaving margin is a lost art. It’s one that I need to rediscover.