Growing up, my sister and I giggled over a “super-weird” television commercial—A sexy blonde supermodel belted the praises of a perfume that unleashed superwoman abilities. Evidently Enjoli enabled looking glamorous and working round the clock. Shimmying across the screen, the woman exuded energy for bringing home a paycheck, reading to the kids, and giving her husband a great time in bed:
“I can bring home the bacon! Fry it up in a pan! And never let you forget you’re a man! Cause I’m a woman!”‘
To this day, the thought of an eight-hour perfume to support a twenty-four hour professional and domestic life exhausts me.
What about sleep? Friends? Recreation? Ministry? Vacation? Fun?
Does successful womanhood really hinge on looking glamorous and flawlessly managing it all?
What about when kids vomit in the car? Or when the dog eats a poisonous slug and gets the trots in the house? What about when work deadlines collide with the chaos?
Through years of juggling domestic and professional work, I continue questioning the notion of finding balance between the two. My experiences look less like juggling and more like hopping roller coasters in a theme park. Doing everything at once might work for others, but it’s never worked for me.
I wrestle with the gap between my ideals and what is and is not humanly reasonable or possible. I stumble over the fact that I don’t have enough time, energy, and inclination to do everything that society says a woman should do. At forty-five, I’m done trying to look sexy on top of it all.
Although I gravitate toward perfectionism and people pleasing, I’m learning to embrace my limits. For example, I like clean floors but getting a full night’s sleep generally trumps my desire to eradicate dirt and dog hair. I enjoy home cooked food though driving kids all over the community—school, sporting events, play dates, church—cultivates my appreciation of Chick-fil-A.
Don’t get me wrong—it’s not that I like cooking. I’d rather be researching, writing, and doing ministry. When dating, I shared with my husband-to-be that I don’t care for cooking recipes unless it’s a holiday. I value balanced and simple meals such as pasta, salad, or paninis. Thankfully Andrew likes cooking, and the children and I like eating the food he prepares.
I’ve come to believe there’s no good reason to spend inordinate time doing things I’m not good at. Sure life requires some grunt work. But why should any of us have to labor round the clock to look sexy and be good at everything women are supposed to do?
Since when did women become responsible for maintaining such a façade?
Rather than suffering shame for not holding it all together, I’m learning to reframe my thinking. As I jump between roller coasters—marriage, kids, dogs, cleaning, errands, recreation, ministry, research, writing, and the unexpected—I’m learning to put a positive spin on less-than-tidy situations.
It’s not that I live in denial or underachievement; rather sanity requires my redefinition of success in terms of what is humanly reasonable and possible.
Reframing my thinking when things go wrong is making all the difference.
Knowing the average woman feels guilty about not doing more, I offer 10 Ways I’m Learning To Reframe Domestic Chaos:
1. I’ve come to believe it’s ludicrous to measure successful womanhood by whether or not you could eat off my floor. If you came for dinner, I’d discourage you and your children from trying to eat off mine. I’d offer you a plate or bowl. Isn’t that what civilized people do?
2. I roll my eyes over the occasional sermon (usually on Mother’s Day) that “God made women to be beautiful.” If women were made to look good, I can’t help but think we’re all in trouble. I know I have important reasons, probably a deadline or tending sick kids, when I don’t wash my hair for three days.
3. When the family vehicle smells like death for a week, and I roll the windows down until I have time to sniff every inch of the carpet, I’m learning not to be ashamed. I know it’s an opportunity not to swear.
4. After discovering the dead snails my kids stashed under a car seat, though I asked them to “please leave the poor creatures in the yard,” I’m learning to take it in stride. Might their interest in snails lead to culinary aspirations?
5. When the neighbors knock on the door to report our dog hiding plastic bottles in their bushes, a diplomacy workshop comes in handy. Knowing that I forgot to take out the recycling, I wonder if the dog meant to help. Even more, I wonder if Cesar Millan could teach the dog to take out the trash.
6. If the car breaks down in the drop off line of my kids’ school because it ran out of gas, I’m grateful for kind teachers who push it out of the way. I’m sure God is developing the virtue of patience in everyone waiting.
7. When my yard becomes littered with silly bands, hair clips, and tennis balls, I imagine the contributions it could make to future archeologists. Might it help generations to come know what life looked like in the early 21st century?
8. When toothpaste appears on the bathroom wall, I challenge myself to recognize possible ways it resembles art. Could one of my daughters be the next Cezanne, Cassatt, or Dali?
9. If I haven’t made it to the gym in three weeks, and I ate Jesus’ leftover birthday cake and the Christmas cookies and pie, I know my family still loves me. And if my clothes become too tight, and I can’t afford new ones, I’m sure things will improve in the New Year.
10. When the toilet paper runs out and my husband forgets to replace it, I’m learning to remember the times he fixed the dryer, made pepper-poppers and drove the kids to school (all romantic gestures according to my reframed thinking).
When struggling with research, writing, or ministry, I’m learning that it’s much easier to navigate professional work than the ongoing mysteries of marriage and parenting. I’m coming also to believe that looking sexy while maintaining a clean floor (simultaneously) may be a sign of a wasted life. I don’t mean this as a judgment against anyone who looks sexy and has a sparkling floor (you probably aren’t a forty-five year old Labrador owner). I only hope to extend kudos if you have been aching to adjust your standards.
Please know that if you look like a normal person, and if nobody has caught a disease from your kitchen or bathroom floor, you are doing great.