For 14 years, I’ve been my household’s director. (And no, I’m not a single parent.) Despite a full commitment to an equal partnership and parenting relationship with my husband, I have still voluntarily taken on the role of organizer, captain, and coordinator. Whatever you choose to call it, I’m guessing you’ve done the same. Research supports that women do the majority of household duties, even when they also work a full-time job outside the home (and even if they earn more than their husbands).
I’m exhausted, to be honest. Managing the lives of six people—myself, my husband, and our four kids who are 14, 12, almost 10, and six—is a full-time job. As a type A, enneagram 8, I can be what’s not-so-endearingly known as a “control freak.” However, these past two years have been different. What changed? I decided—and was even forced—to cease handling all-the-things. (More on that later.)
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Perhaps you’re like me? Those dirty socks on the floor can grate your nerves worse than your sister-in-law boasting about her child’s high honor roll award. Why won’t anyone pick up the socks? Does anyone else even see them there? And if they do spot them, do they even care?
The old me would either pick them up myself, sighing loudly (hoping someone would notice), or go right into organizational mode. I’d update the family chore chart or gather the fam and lecture them on the importance of being a team player. I’d remind them that I am not the family servant, that it’s important that everyone pitch in and tidy up, or even “if you don’t gather your dirty laundry yourself, you’ll have no clean laundry when you need it.”
Let’s cut to the chase. None of these really work. Inevitably, I end up frustrated, the kids are confused as to why I’m so disgruntled, and my husband remains unbothered by the mess. Don’t even get me started on making medical appointments, organizing extracurricular activity schedules, and planning fun events, like holiday gatherings.
Now, I certainly don’t do well living among piles of laundry, papers, and random objects (LEGO pieces, anyone?). I need some level of tidiness to stay mentally cool. However, just because there’s a drained battery (ironic, right?) sitting on the kitchen countertop, it doesn’t mean I need to be the one to toss it, right? Everyone else is fully capable.
The reality is, if I handle every single mess, no one even has the chance to notice it or look for the item they discarded on their way to the bathroom or out the door to basketball practice. Plus, kids need to learn life skills, which won’t happen via parental lectures. Life skills are acquired by practicing them—imperfectly.
Moms, we need to learn to let go a little (or a lot), because doing everything for the people we love sets us up for exhaustion and resentment. Let’s stop and think for a moment, what if we resolved to do less—not more—this upcoming year? What if we decided to intentionally reduce our mental load?
I am speaking from experience here. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021 and began a year (yes, a year!) of treatments. Three surgeries, 12 rounds of chemo, a year of immunotherapy infusions, and 33 rounds of radiation. I didn’t have a choice but to leave the sock on the floor, the cereal box on the counter, the dishes in the sink. I didn’t have the energy to tackle the tasks. And guess what? My family managed to handle everything when I was laid up.
Related: I Didn’t Hide My Cancer Diagnosis from My Kids
The world didn’t fall to pieces. Bills got paid, the floor was sometimes swept, and the laundry was washed when absolutely needed. These are basic things that need to be done—and my family managed to do them without my reminders, exasperated sighs, and chore charts. Don’t get me wrong: they were never done perfectly or completely—but they were done mostly. You know, good enough. Meanwhile, I focused on fighting cancer and then healing.
I dare you to think, what if? What if during this new year, you decided not to take on every single random task with the ferocity of a lioness stalking her prey? What if you decided that if your child forgets their homework—again—you won’t run it up to the school in the middle of a weekday? What if you didn’t sign the permission slips and didn’t gather the dirty laundry off your teenager’s bedroom floor (and frantically wash their favorite sweatshirt)?
I’m not advocating that you become a jerk who refuses to love your family. However, loving our families doesn’t mean we take care of every teeny detail of their lives. After battling cancer, I can tell you that loving your family means loving yourself first, conserving your energy and effort, and looking at your family as a unit of humans who are learning rather than a project to be tackled.
If you have a partner, they can step it up while you step back. If you have older and able children, they can take on responsibilities that prepare them for life after they leave the nest. Younger kids can chip in, too. And the only way this happens is if you and I resolve to surrender some of our former musts and allow others to take the reins.