For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a busybody. Constantly rushing from one task to the next; never slowing down enough to take a breath. As a typical only-child high achiever, I work myself up into a frenzy trying to be the best, do it all, and keep myself as busy as possible, instead of simply enjoying life. I’ve had mild anxiety my whole life, which, for me, manifests itself as a nagging voice in the back of my head saying “Hurry, on to the next task!”
Pregnancy exacerbated my anxiety. My husband, who has more of a calm and laid-back disposition, became increasingly shocked at how far I would take it. For example: The night before I went into labor, at 39 weeks pregnant, my husband walked in to find me scrubbing all the toilets in the house… at 10pm. After working all day. This was more than just the normal pregnant lady nesting instinct. “Go, Go, Go… all the time!” was the only existence I knew. Checking tasks off my list made me feel calmer and more in-control.
Once our beautiful baby girl was born, I had ten weeks off to be with her. For me, staying home without the daily routine of work was a challenge. I craved a schedule and order in my life. I continued to try to do it all. Instead of letting my body recover, I wanted our home to look perfect for our visitors. Instead of relishing in the precious first moments with our brand new little human, I slaved away in the laundry room doing load after load. I worked tirelessly on her baby scrapbook. I sanitized bottles. I straightened up and organized the diaper station after every change. I checked work emails. I had to be in go-go-go mode, or the voice in my head would start to creep in… “Hurry, on to the next task!” I wanted to look like I had it all together, and I thought I did. Reflecting on this time, I now realize just how out of control my anxiety had become.
Then one day, it hit me. In an instant, my sweet daughter turned one-month-old. And I felt like I had barely taken the time to slow down, breathe, and enjoy her. This was a tremendous mental wake-up call for me. Suddenly, all the menial chores I had been so rigid about before seemed inconsequential compared to this beautiful little human who was growing up so fast, right before my eyes.
How did that happen? Did I really want to waste away my maternity leave doing…this? When she’s older, do I want to look back on this time and have regrets?
At that moment, I made a little unspoken promise to my baby and myself: Slow down. Breathe. Connect with her. Cherish the little moments, like watching her tiny chest move up and down while she sleeps, or watching her light up while her dad sings her silly songs. I made up for that missed first month by being 100% present and focused on her. I simply put down my to-do list. I finally let go of being a taskmaster and enjoyed just being her mama. I let go of the housework. The dishes can wait. The vacuum can wait. The scrapbook can wait. If the house looks messy, so be it.
It didn’t happen overnight, but little by little I learned that a slower pace of life could increase joy in so many ways. I felt lighter, freer, and happier.A little therapy and a lot of yoga helped.
Here are some more tips for slowing down:
- Finding yourself overwhelmed or rushed? Physically pause and take a deep breath. It helps to pause what you’re doing, inhale for ten, exhale for ten, and repeat until your mind settles. Try it next time you feel stressed. I learned this from yoga. It truly works!
- If you can’t completely part with your to-do list, here’s a good starting point: Designate a specific date and time each week to work on your essential tasks. Saturday early mornings work best for me. I start the weekend feeling like I’ve accomplished something, which helps me relax for the rest of the two days.
- Ask for help. Especially in those first few months. Your husband, family, and friends are probably more than willing to jump in and help you out.
- When all else fails, just love on that baby with all of your heart and soul. Enjoy them. Stare at them. Hug them. Learn everything you can from them. This is the only time you get when they’re this little. It goes by so incredibly fast.
- Accept that being a mom is hard. Don’t fight it or try to power through. It’s hard and we all know it. Be gentle on yourself.
Life is about trade-offs. You say no to one thing in order to do the other. Having a baby has taught me to stop doing everything, and just do the important things. Brilliant business leader Greg McKeown talks about choices and trade-offs in his book, ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.’ He says, “What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?”
I still have a long way to go, but I hope someday I can teach my daughter to let go of the never-ending trivial tasks and treasure the present moment. Right here, right now. Because you can never get these weeks, months, years back. Some days, the nagging voice is still there, although it gets a little quieter every day. I still find myself torn between getting tasks done and spending time with my kid, and I have to remind myself: There is nothing more important in this life than being with my daughter. I am so grateful to her for helping me learn to ditch the to-do list and just be her perfectly imperfect mama.