I recently had the good fortune to have lunch with some very successful women. We talked business and politics, and inevitably, as we all warmed up to one another, the conversation turned to romantic partners, family, and kids.
I didn’t say so at the time, but the conversation really surprised me. Here I was with a group of business women at the absolute top of their game—people who were killing it in their respective industries. And yet, to a woman, they were completely drained by their personal lives.
I can’t leave the grocery shopping to Bob. He never gets the right stuff.
Ugh, my [eight-year-old] daughter’s bedroom is always such a mess. It takes me ages to get it cleaned up.
Michael has saxophone, skating, and basketball. Sarah has soccer, chess club, and choir. And I also do the parents’ association every Friday….
This weekend I have two weddings to attend, and next weekend three barbecues. I don’t know how I’ll fit it all in.
I know it’s hip to claim to be super busy right now, but these women weren’t bragging. They were genuinely exhausted and severely overscheduled.
My question is: why?
As entrepreneurs, we don’t think twice about applying terms like “optimizing” or “efficiencies” or “best practices” or even “outsourcing” at work. Why don’t we do this more often at home?
No, I don’t mean you should conduct annual performance reviews on your partner, nor should you outsource your teenagers (although you might be tempted to!) But there are a lot of things you can do to make your life easier.
Let’s start with the mundane: house-related care. If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to seriously consider offloading all of those routine jobs as quickly as possible. Getting a house-cleaning service is a no-brainer. Lawn and garden care can be handed off, and grocery purchasing and delivery is available in most urban centers in North America. And unless you regard shopping for other things as a way to relax, then online is your friend here too.
Those of you in the start-up or early phases of your business might be cringing at the out-of-pocket costs. It’s a valid concern, and if cash is tight, it might not be an option. But if there’s any way you can manage it, do it. Consider the opportunity cost here: two hours a week dedicated to grocery shopping adds up to nearly two and half weeks a year—time you could be using to pitch new clients.
Moving on to kids, I am always surprised by the number of mothers who feel they must do everything for their children. It can be room cleaning, cooking, laundry, deliveries—even job applications and finishing homework. I’m not sure if this happens because old habits die hard (kids come to us as helpless, completely dependent babies), because of perfectionism (“If you want a thing done well, do it yourself”), or if it’s personal (feeling needed is pretty awesome).
Obviously, you shouldn’t expect your toddler to be able to cook for himself or herself, but the average two-year-old can pick up clothes. By age 10, kids should be looking after their own rooms and doing things like laundry or dishes, and learning to cook (with supervision, of course!)
Finally, there’s that schedule to consider. Most of us enjoy contributing to our communities, but how effective are you being right now, with everything else on your plate? Why are you doing what you do?
Likewise, there’s a lot to be said for providing your children with extracurricular activities to help them learn and grow. But a lot of our thinking on providing opportunities for kids still assumes that learning (both formal and experiential) will stop when they finish school. That simply isn’t so anymore. Lifelong learning is the norm, not the exception now, so how much of what you’re doing needs to be crammed into the years between ages 6 and 18?
Which is truly better for our children and our spouses: packing everyone off for another class, event, or obligation, or just sitting down for a cup of coffee and a chocolate milk together?
There’s a woman I quite admire who has an exceptionally successful career, has raised three kids and obtained her PhD, and is still quite sane. I asked her once what her secret was. She said, “You can have it all. Just not all at once.”
She might have heard that from Oprah. But it’s good advice. It implies a certain amount of patience and pacing.
There’s no good reason that you have to do everything. Doing so only makes you feel overworked and underappreciated. You’re not doing your kids (or their future partners or employers) any favors, and that undercurrent of partner resentment won’t do your relationship any good either.
Remember: by definition, no martyr ever came to a good end.