How are you?
Let me guess. You’re busy.
It’s the default answer of the decade. You’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy.
Little kids are busy, dashing from school to soccer to French to playdate to party. Teenagers are busy, with tutoring and tests, 25 kinds of social media apps to keep up-to-date at all times, sport commitments and part-time jobs. Non-parents are busy (although, let’s be honest, parents can’t imagine how or why, so I might not try). Retirees are busy, with ever-growing demands for grandkid-care taking over their days.
But no-one wears the badge of busy-ness quite like the working parent. We are the kings and queens of frantic.
I am a card-carrying member of this brigade. On the rare days I make it to the school yard for pick-up, you can guarantee I will be wild-eyed, late and sweaty, having vastly under-estimated the time it would take me to get there and vastly over-estimated all the things I would get done before I did.
Like squeezing in those eight different work meetings, and finishing that story I'm writing, and calling that mum about the sleep-over on Friday and filling in the form for Billy's excursion, and picking up something for the kids' dinner and forgetting the bread rolls for lunch and calling my mum because it's her birthday and texting my friend because she started a new job and getting someone to come and fix the washing machine that's been stopping mid-cycle for two weeks now and making an appointment to get that mole checked, digging out something to wear for that dinner with my neglected friends tonight and a buying birthday present for that five-year-old's party on Saturday morning at 9...
Basically, I am a walking cliche, one of the most popular memes in parent-land:
If you bumped into another parent - at the school gate, on the sidelines, at a party pick-up - asked them how they were doing and their answer was different - "I'm good. Things are pretty chilled at the moment, actually, we haven't been doing much." you'd walk away thinking, What is wrong with them?
Being busy gives us status. It demonstrates how successful we are, how popular we are, and how much time and effort we're prepared to pour into our families.
But lately, there's a backlash brewing against busy-ness. We're deep into the era of self-care, of slowing down, of meditation, of face-masks and digital detoxes and cancelling plans. The fact that this constant level of frenetic activity and stress is not good for us, our brains and (whisper it) our children, is beginning to hit home. Because, well, frankly, we're all falling apart.
Kids are stressed - an OECD study shows that 47 per cent of Aussie kids say they are 'highly stressed', against an international average of 37 per cent - and parents are stressed and all of those tabs open in our brain are just little pin-pricks of anxiety, hammering away at our happiness.
But the self-care revolution has its work cut out when it comes to infiltrating the culture of working mothers who have been conditioned to try harder at everything, always. You might be very aware that you're too busy, but you're trying to achieve the holy grail - what Annabel Crabb describes as: "The feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one's children as if one did not have a job.” And it's hard.
Trying to fit a yoga class into an already crammed weekly schedule is probably going to add to your stress levels, not reduce them.
So talking on This Glorious Mess this week to a woman who has taken real, actual action to cut down on the busy - comedian, podcast host, writer and Buddhist Meshel Laurie, was eye-opening.
Meshel has written a book called Buddhism for the Unbelievably Busy - you can read an extract of it, here - where she takes deeply practical ideas from her chosen faith and sees what's useful in calming us all the f--- down.
You can listen to the interview with Meshel below. Post continues after.
Here are just a few of the great things she said, paraphrased via my tabbed-out brain.
- SIMPLIFY, DOWNSIZE. For Meshel, it meant down-sizing her home so she could give up the job that needed her to get up at 4.10am and focus on earning her money in more manageable ways. At first, she says, she missed her "nice house by the beach", but two years on she's happy she took the financial pressure off herself. Obviously, we don't all have a big house to sell, but in making any choice about time and money, do we give TIME as much value as we should?
- GET BRUTAL with your diary. Look at everything you have coming up, for yourself and your family over the next few weeks, and ask 'Why am I really doing that?' Do you really need to? Who's it for? Do not overschedule, or agree to things that will see you sprinting between commitments.
- ASK FOR HELP. What would happen if you set up a standing fortnightly sleep-over with a friend where you swapped kids for the night, giving you both a regular night off? Having a couple of extra kids for dinner and bedtime once every two weeks probably won't kill you, but a quiet night with (or without!) your partner might be life-changing.
- HAVE COURAGE not to keep up with the Joneses. Don't sign your kids up to a million after-school activities because everyone else is, when you know it will only add stress and pressure to your life, and therefore theirs. Only commit to things they can't live without. Unstructured down time is not a Bad Thing.
- TURN OFF YOUR NOTIFICATIONS. When you pick up your phone to see a list of news, emails, texts and social alerts, the stress is instantaneous. You can choose to check your messages at any time that suits you, so why have them constantly yelling at you when you don't?
So we're not all going to be Buddhists overnight, but giving busy-ness less status is something we can do. 'We're not doing anything this weekend,' is my new aspiration. 'We were going to do ballet/soccer/ceramics on Saturday mornings but then we decided we needed some lazy mornings in our week,' is going to be my boast, not my guilty secret.
I want to hand in my busy-badge, close a few tabs, stop talking at a million miles an hour, stop yelling at the kids just because I'm feeling the pressure of my to-do list unspooling in my head.
I want to do all of that. And then I want a good lie down.
Who's with me?
This content was created with thanks to our brand partner Yoplait Petit Miam.
Listen to the full podcast with Holly Wainwright, Andrew Daddo and guest Meshel Laurie, it might just completely change how you feel about the 'b word' and finally get you to slow down.
Kids are the best, and as parents, we want their lives to be full of joy, but never at the expense of their wellbeing.
That’s the beauty of Yoplait Petit Miam. To kids, it’s a tasty treat, and to mums, it’s a nutritious snack.
With 30% less sugar than the average flavoured yoghurt*, real fruit and the goodness of milk, Yoplait Petit Miam celebrates the things that make little kids so special.
*see www.yoplait.com.au/nurture-their-nature for more information