How The 80/20 Rule Saves Me When I'm On The Brink Of Breaking

by Kimberly Pencille Collins
Originally Published: 
A blonde woman smiling and holding a cup, looking at it and smiling.
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This week, like most, I stood among a sea of overwhelmed, over-stressed, over-caffeinated, and over-tired mothers in the school playground. With a baby in one arm, a forgotten school lunchbox in the other, and the weight of the entire family on their backs, they discussed strategies to combat/make-up for the reduction in recess hours at school.

“Recess offers our children cognitive, social, and emotional benefits,” they said.

“All true, all important,” I said, muffled through the fingers of my three-year-old’s fist in my mouth. Then, as I began to find the space to fit “fix nationwide school recess crisis this afternoon” into the delicately glued together pieces of my fractured mind, I thought, nevermind the kids; I need a fucking recess.

While most women are nailing motherhood when it comes to advocating for their children’s well-being, we are absolutely failing at advocating for the well-being of ourselves. We offer ourselves the basics: food (leftover sandwich crusts), sleep (the occasional 20-minute power nap to compensate for years of sleepless nights), and water (the 80% that is in wine).

The rest of our time, however, is allocated to family, home, work, financial, ethical, or general pintrest-based “be a better/fitter/healthier/successful mother/person/wife/woman” pursuits. When it does come to “me time,” we often choose to treat it as another “job” we have to do. Reading self-improvement books, watching TED talks, spreading coffee grounds all over our bodies in hopes of reducing stretch marks have all taken the place of the long bath, the solo browse through a clothing shop, or the collapsing on the floor in the fetal position in a dark and soundless room for 20 minutes.

However, just like our children, without this unstructured daily recess to regenerate our minds, our focus falters and we become tired, irritable and incapable of stringing together long sentences.

Ironically, our personal reasoning for cutting out our own recess time mirrors that of the education board’s. We simply do not place a high value on time spent that does not produce a direct and tangible result. Children need to be learning, not unstructured playing; and mothers need to be doing, not unstructured resting. We recognize the first half of this as faulty logic for our kids; however, we accept this when it applies to ourselves, and even take the fallacy to new heights.

Our days have become 24 hours of opportunities to better our children, our careers, our homes, our society and, in our spare time, even ourselves (fueled on by a near 10 billion dollar a year self-improvement industry). Sadly, time spent daily on oneself for personal enjoyment, is not seen as gain, but as shameful and wasted.

Perhaps this state of extreme doing is a natural defense mechanism against the perception of being a “bon-bon eating” mom. It seems we are producing a virtual barrier of accomplishments/activities to ward off the mom-shamers, the career-shamers, and/or the self-shaming that we inflict on ourselves. We then wear our hectic lives like a badge of honor, praise the busy mom, and often times participate in criticism of those who self indulge in the blasphemy of “spare time.” Time spent with concrete rewards is highly valued; time spent doing whatever we want is often misperceived as laziness.

Certainly, “productive” things have to be done, and many of those can only take place when the kids are away/asleep/occupied. Yet, rather than taking our own time to recess, we fill it with “jobs” — ones to finish, ones to start, and ones to stress about not doing enough for.

I noticed, with myself, that if I was given 5 free minutes of free time, I tended to fill it with something that requires 10 minutes. Free moments were for dishes (necessary), laundry (necessary), marathon training (really?!?), solving America’s gun crisis (okay, but definitely not doable in 5 minutes), and researching if Nutella is really that bad for us (don’t do this, it will only make you sad and want more Nutella). The result, however, was a chronically overwhelmed woman, whose energy and brain capacity was absorbed in an endless game of catch-up.

To help myself achieve the right balance, I developed, “The 80/20% Rule for Moms Who Live Life on the Edge of Sanity.” Instead of over-budgeting my free time to start new jobs and self-improvement tasks, I choose to take on something that requires 80% of that time and reserve the remaining 20% for my own mom recess. Then, to help break down the stigma associated with aimless rest, I post and/or boast about what I did in the 20% (“enjoyed a cup of tea, a slice of toast, and complete silence!”), not what I did in the 80% of that time.

Whether you choose to follow the 80/20 Rule or come up with your own plan for a more balanced life, it is vital that we all be a bit more unabashedly unproductive. In time, we may find that simply carving out a percentage of our spare time for a daily mom recess actually does have a tangible result — happiness — which is the heart of the cognitive, social, and emotional benefits we so tireless advocate for our kids.

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