Dear Mama: You Don't Have to Do It All

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I see you.

I see you in the early morning, when it's still dark, before the kids are up, trying to type out a business plan that's taken you a month to finish, because you only get to work on it in the tiny little margin hours, and I see you racing through that devotional and jotting down your own words, and then I see you come quietly down the stairs to start breakfast and hot tea and lay out all the vitamins before it's time to wake up the kids, because this is how you love.

I see you rushing through the morning, kids asking for shoes and where their socks are and can you help him find his pajamas, because today is pajama day at school, and no one wants to miss pajama day, no way, and where is his lunch and can you help him zip his backpack, tie his shoes, pour more smoothie, find his other library book, decide which picture he should take, sign his reading log, wipe this yogurt spot off the table so he can do the homework he forgot to do yesterday, read this one little part of the book because it's due today and he didn't know it. I see you bending, just a little more, with each request that flies your way, because it all feels heavy this morning.

I see you walking them to school, down the sidewalk where too many cars go too fast, and I see you watching them with every bit of attention you have, making sure they don't even miss a step, because if they do, you fear they'll go stumbling toward a street that's much too dangerous in a residential area like this one. I see you walking half of them back, up the same road but with a little less anxiety, because three have been safely delivered, and I see you return to the house you so hurriedly left and straighten up, without ever having a bite of breakfast to eat yourself.

I see you opening your laptop to try to fire off a few emails, or just get a few random thoughts down before kids start coming in and asking for things and the baby needs to eat again, or gets tired and wants to fall asleep in your arms, which you don't mind, because he's your last. I see you using the other "free" time to tidy what needs tidying and cut carrots and slap peanut butter on a sandwich and pull grapes from their vines and arrange it all on a plate you slide before them after they've cleaned up the crayons and put the Hot Wheels back where they belong.

I see you wrestling them down for naps so you'll at least have a little bit of time to work, and I see you sitting right outside their bedroom, because you can't really trust them to be left alone for a single minute, and I see you smiling at their little twinanigans, when before you only felt annoyed, because you're learning, minute by minute, day by day, to be grateful instead of perpetually annoyed. I see you steal back to your room as soon as the last one falls asleep, to steal a few minutes with your computer.

I see you look around your room and wonder how anyone could work--or even sleep-- in a disaster area like this. And even though you'd like nothing more than to work or even sleep, you should really be prepping for the afternoon, getting snacks ready, doing dishes, finishing up the laundry, tidying up the house or this disaster of a room.

I see you bending over the pile of laundry, this pile that seems to pile again as soon as you've finished the week's loads. I see you sorting it all--the white clothes and the light clothes and the dark clothes and the towels and the random things like hats and stuffed animals and blankets and costumes that get put in the laundry because kids are too lazy to put them back where they're supposed to go and think it would just be easier to put them here.

Easier on everyone but you, of course.

I see you standing at the sink, handing off those plates to one of your boys, while he bends and loads them into a dishwasher you'll probably rearrange later, because he hasn't quite mastered the art of saving space yet. I see you wrinkling your nose at those old plates they all forgot to wash off this morning, with the dried yogurt spills, and I see you smile, because you remember what they said when you put those plates in front of them, but they ate it all in spite of the complaints.

I see you, at the end of the day, sit on the side of your bed after the last one has been pointed back to his, and I see you put your head in your hands, because no matter what, no matter how much work you do, it never feels like you've done enough. There's always something else that needs doing Always some cleaning to be done. Always some relationship that needs repair. Always some request that needs to be filled. Always someone needing something from you. Always some other, more important thing that you should take the time to do, instead of taking the time for you.

There is so much to do in this mother world. And you are only one person.

How does anyone do it? How do they make it look so easy? You must be a failure, all around.

But you're not. Do you know why?

Look at all this. Look at what you've done in a day (as if that's the measure of success or failure, but we'll get to that). Look at all the love and the attention and the care and the detail that threads through your morning. Look at the afternoons when you'll open a window into your soul and let it come sliding out onto paper. Look at the evening, when you'll sit down to dinner or take them places or read them long stories or let them splash in the bath or put them back to bed a thousand times because you know sleep is important, and you're kind of a little bit of a freak about this.

What you're doing is enough.

You, dear mama, don't have to do everything. You don't. You don't even have to come close to doing everything. You don't have to make beds and do laundry and fold it the same day and scrub the table clean and try to write and make that perfect business plan and send those invoices before they're too late and read to your kids and bathe them every night and keep your house perfectly neat and tidy and fix dinners that are immaculate and wonderful and should grace the papers of a magazine, or Pinterest, at least, and send those homemade goodies to school so he doesn't have to eat processed food and volunteer at his class party and cheer him on at field day and somehow find the time to call his teacher about that one thing and pick up all the socks they left on the floor yesterday and write on that one story and make those important calls and balance the checkbook to the last penny and do a puzzle with one and play chess with another and wipe down all the counters until they shine and reserve, if you can, a little bit of energy for your husband tonight and smile through it all, like you're the happiest June Cleaver on earth.

You don't have to do it all. You don't. You are not a failure if you don't do it all. You're not a bad mother. You're not selfish.

Because what you do is already enough.


Rest in that, for today.

A version of this article first appeared on Wing Chair Musings. Follow Rachel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.