Women (and men) who do too much seem to feel torn no matter what we’re doing. There is always something else we should be doing instead—another project, chore, or task left unfinished, a person we need to see. All of these things require our attention. They call to us in our quieter moments, when we find ourselves alone or with time to think. They nag at the back of our minds when we are otherwise occupied. We feel guilt, shame, and eventually resentment about these tasks: Guilt for doing one thing when we should be doing another, shame that we continue to put it off, and finally resentment that it remains to be done. While this is true for everyone, I think it is especially so for working mothers who must balance the paradox of being career-driven yet family-centered.
On this topic, Anne Wilson Schaef writes:
“Being torn seems to be an accepted given for women who run a home and also have other work. Many of us have tried to be superwomen and have almost pulled it off. Yet even when it appears that we are ‘making it’ and successful in both arenas, we are aware that internally we feel torn and guilty in relation to our family. Frequently, this results in our taking our frustration out on our children, which results in more guilt. We feel like a violin string pulled taut and about to break.
Perhaps it is time to sit down with our families and tell them how we feel. They probably need to hear that we really want to be with them and that we do not know how to balance our lives. They may even feel relieved to know that our lives feel overwhelming (which everyone but us has admitted!).”
Herein lies the heart of overwhelm and too many commitments: There are only so many hours in a day in which to accomplish what we need done, so we cannot possibly do it all! There are things we have to do, things we want to do, and then those things that society tells us are important. No matter what, something is left unfinished. We feel as though we disappoint, neglect, let down, and otherwise fail others when we don’t live up to our own expectations of perfection, but that’s just being human. It’s good to occasionally examine our guilt about imperfection. Perhaps we feel torn because we are just doing something we think we should be doing, and not something that is actually important. Or maybe it’s because society has trained us to feel guilty by setting up paradoxes that no reasonable person could meet.
Honesty goes a long way both with ourselves and others. When we acknowledge that our lives feel overwhelming, we can do something about it, such as take steps to reduce the amount of commitments we have. Focus on what truly matters. Do the next right thing. We also acknowledge the feelings of the people we love when we are honest. By letting them know that we really would rather be spending time with them than with our work, yet our work is something we have to do, we are able to do what needs to be done while still putting the people we care about first. It takes admitting imperfection and being honest in order to let go of feeling torn.