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Every woman has an 'I Don't' list. And it's about time we shared them.

Friends, we need to talk. I have a confronting question.

Are you doing enough?

I really doubt it. Let’s see.

Are you squeezing the most out of every minute of your day? Chasing your dreams? Being true to yourself? Refusing to take no for an answer?

How to spot and combat burnout. Post continues below. 

Are you setting that alarm early enough to fit in a meditation session and some weight-bearing exercise before the kids wake up?

Are you sending your boss links to articles about innovative business improvements at 10pm on a Saturday night?

Are your children enrolled in a mixture of after-school activities that perfectly balance their intellectual, physical and social development? Are you driving them to all those appointments yourself, in a non-carbon emitting, electric car?

Are you having interesting sex five times a week in a variety of hygienic locations?

Are you next in line for promotion at work, and grabbing every single opportunity to prove why you’re the person for the job, which perfectly aligns with your five-year plan and your boss’s ten-year strategic blueprint?

Are you there, smiling, at the school gate daily, after fitting in every important meeting and not missing an email?

Are you watching your alcohol intake, your carb intake, your sugar intake? Are you intermittent fasting? Are you totally Keto? Are you cooking from scratch every evening with only organic, paleo, dairy-free, meat-free, grain-free produce ethically-sourced from a plastic-free farmers’ market?

Are you networking, but never pushy?

Are you monitoring your kids’ screen time, while staying off your phone, while miraculously staying abreast of local and international issues so you can lead your well-tended friendship group in intelligent discussions about cancel culture?

I didn’t think so.

I told you, you’re not doing enough.

How could you possibly be? You’re a woman, living in an age of extreme expectation. Superwoman Syndrome has shaken off its shoulder pads, pulled on its activewear leggings and buddied up with Hustle Culture to provide you a continual feed of All The Ways You Could Be Better.  If you’re a woman with a child, then throw in a dose of Peak Parenting, and the bar for a successful life is now so high the Hubble telescope would squint.

Superwoman Syndrome lives in the inspirational, ‘go get ’em’ memes scattered through your Instagram. It’s in the relentless productivity apps being advertised in your news feed. It’s in the ‘The Surprising Habits of Successful Women’ stories that algorithms and magazine supplement covers serve up to you daily.

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And it’s the prism through which we view the influential women around us and the gauge we use to measure ourselves – just as humans have always done and will always do – against them and find ourselves wanting.

And it’s making us sick.

I got sick. Some time ago now. It’s a long story, and one that isn’t finished.

Listen to Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo talk parenting on the latest episode of This Glorious Mess. Post continues below. 

But I was pretending I was capable of everything. I had little, needy children. A big, needy job. I was running half-marathons. Trying to be a good partner, part of a close family, an attentive friend. I thought that work-life balance was for wimps, and complaining about it was for whiners.

It’s not unusual or surprising that I burnt out. That I fell in a heap, gripped with a constant sense of dread, so crippling I couldn’t stop crying.

I got help. I recalibrated, rebuilt. It’s an unfinished story but now one with more LOLS than tears, most days.

And of course, I realised that I’m part of The Problem. My life, from the outside, looks like I “do it all”. And from the inside, of course, it feels like I barely do anything. The nature of many women is that we can only see our shortcomings and never our strengths.

But now I can see that what women really need to hear is not how other women “do it all”, so that we can mimic their to-do lists and add more and more to our cracking plates. No. We need to hear what other women aren’t doing.

Because we all have an ‘I Don’t’ List. And every one will be different. Most of us don’t have endless choice about what we do and what we don’t. Often there’s simply no one else to bloody well do it, so prioritising gets brutal. Some of us shirk the domestic in favour of the professional. Others choose to let the endless demands of work leap off the bottom of the list in favour of home. Some people love to, say, bake, while for others it feels like an exam they’ll always fail.

But we all have one, and in the interests of sharing, here’s my ‘I Don’t’ list. The things I let lie, for better or worse:

  • I don’t cook dinners, most nights of the week. My partner does that, because he’s home first. I could write an essay about how I would do that differently but… I don’t.
  • I don’t sit down and do homework with my primary-school-aged kids every evening.
  • I don’t remember to make my daughter practice her violin.
  • I don’t make birthday cakes.
  • I don’t iron. Come on, who irons?
  • I don’t exercise most days.
  • I don’t live in a spotless house. Or even a vaguely tidy one, if I’m honest.
  • I don’t ‘decorate’.
  • I don’t ‘entertain’.
  • I don’t organise playdates with fun activities and snacks.
  • I don’t shave my legs (*very often).
  • I don’t know the names of all the kids and their parents in my children’s classes.
  • I don’t volunteer at school. I know it’s important, I’m sorry.
  • I don’t meal prep.
  • I don’t cut the sandwiches into heart-shapes.
  • I don’t remember all the birthdays I should remember.
  • I don’t meditate.
  • I don’t reply to every email. Or even most of them.

And I don’t feel guilty anymore about doing things that I need to do with my family – or for myself – that make our little world sunnier.

Today, that means lying on the couch under a blanket watching Australia’s Got Talent and eating biscuits. My daughter’s feet are in my lap and my son’s head is on my shoulder.

I should be cooking for the week. I should be cramming maths with my nine-year-old, who struggles with numbers. I should be out for a run. I should be answering all those bloody emails.

But, today, I don’t.

What’s on your ‘I Don’t’ list? 

You can follow Holly on Facebook, here. Or buy her novels, here

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