Laundry has somehow become the litmus for how well we feel we can control the chaos and conquer the to-do list. It also represents the invisible internal battle that plagues modern motherhood. There is simply not enough time to do all the things we feel we need to do. We live in a complex society, and while our privileges in the West can be massive they often come at a cost. In participating in this modern rat race, we get tasked with managing all the things we buy and collect over the years. And let’s face it – we all have a lot of clothing.
There are endless choices, distractions, noise, and responsibilities that hang like a quiet weight on our souls. Our generation was not handed the same economic picture that our parents had, and dual incomes are often necessary to get by these days. We earn our badge of business, accept the toil and collapse into bed at night. But the bottom line is most of us chose a more complex life – either because we wanted it or because we thought it was the “right” thing to do. The unquestioned principle here is that it’s somehow possible to stay on top of all the small things (like laundry), and that an inability to do so is a sign that we are somehow failing. Most women are not aware that they even have this internal dialogue happening either.
Whether scraping by or flourishing financially, our lives are overwhelming. So many mothers I talk to are like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot, and I don’t see them in my office until the steam is really rising.
How did we get here?
Despite creating this losing battle for ourselves in the first place … after all, we bought and kept those clothes … we resent the job of managing it all. The brimming schedules and unquestioned expectations we carry inspire all kinds of negative and self-deprecating feelings.
We feel guilt for not having the house clean for our partners and kids, especially if anyone else comes over to see it.
We feel inadequate as moms for our inability to manage all the things that appear to be a breeze for most other moms.
We feel defeated when the basket of clean clothing sits there for 2 weeks collecting dust.
We feel frustrated that the to-do list never ends, and refuse to make time for our own self care until it’s all checked off. Which of ten means self care never happens.
We feel a deep longing for simplicity, and to Marie Kondo the crap out of our houses. But we keep finding ourselves at Target to replace torn or stained items and the closet never shrinks, and the endless plastic toys flow in from all directions.
We feel annoyed that our partners don’t see our inner laundry struggle and think to help out, especialselfly if both of you have careers.
That’s a lot of feelings over a pile of clothing. Why do we allow the success of parenthood to be represented by success in menial tasks like laundry? It’s a small example of how we have hinged our self worth to the completion of a household chore. This meme nails it on the head:
How did laundry completion become the dream? Yes, this is sarcasm, but it’s only funny because there is some truth in it. We live in an outcome and production oriented culture. We learn to hang our personal worth on our tangible contributions to productivity. This isn’t making us a happier society or better moms. It’s a distraction from what really matters.
Why aren’t we measuring our success by the number of happy moments of connection with our kids, our ability to root into peace (even for 5 minutes a day), or our commitment to personal growth? Is it because they can’t easily be checked off of a list?
I remember repeatedly getting so frustrated that my daughter kept filling her hamper with clean clothing she had only worn once and “didn’t feel like putting away.” I explained, reasoned, yelled, and even appealed to her love of animals. “Will there be any water left for the fish after all this laundry?” But no change, just more laundry. Out of desperation, I even created a storage box to put the clean items I found in the laundry and threatened to pack them away and out of reach if she couldn’t manage to take care of them. That actually worked, but I hated how it felt to motivate change via her fear of losing clothes. I was just SO SICK of the never ending laundry (made worse by laziness) that I lost it on her. That’s not the mom I want to be. And I certainly don’t want to pass on the stress of laundry down to my daughter because … ick. We chose this life, and laundry is actually a privilege.
I wasn’t demonstrating gratitude, so my daughter did not know how to connect with it either.
If you think you’re alone, I promise you that you are not. Most other moms are also struggling with laundry (and everything it represents), and all the other tasks created by the privilege of having so much stuff. I’m not suggesting you have to change how much stuff you have. I am, however, pointing to the fact that you have deep and intrinsic self worth that is never connected to how much laundry you do or do not get done. I am asking you to question what makes you feel successful in your life, and to examine how often you celebrate both the big and small successes. I encourage you to be aware of everything that bubbles up inside when you see that pile of laundry, and open yourself to the potential personal exploration that lies within those moments where you get to fold socks. I am also suggesting we take responsibility for our feelings and all the things we choose to buy and have to manage. I am encouraging you to remember gratitude in these moments of frustration.
The list will never end, and you are tasked with finding peace in the everyday chaos of this complex world. It takes a good deal of self-awareness to do this and it’s tricky when you’re already elbow-deep in “laundry.” Measuring self-worth by our productivity will either leave you consistently vulnerable to disappointment, burn the candle at both ends, or cause you to miss the precious moments that make life worth living. We are moving faster and feeling more stress all the time, and the cost is great. The predictable consequences of that stress on our body’s delicate hormonal balance is massive.
I want my life experience to be joyful, peaceful, and fulfilling. This simply won’t happen if I burn myself out through.
Real Success in life is not measured by how many things we took off of a list, but by our overall subjective emotional experience of moving through that list. This experience is something we can choose. Yes – laundry needs to get done, but what what is your lens in approaching laundry? How do you create an intentional experience of gratitude with laundry? I implore you to pay close attention to where your self-worth lies, and what defines your feeling of success on any given day. If you choose to shift your emotions around it in self-inquiry, it will shift you experience of motherhood entirely.
Thank you, laundry pile, for reminding me about what matters.
Author: Dr. Emma Andre
This is the work I do with women. We dig deep into the invisible emotional weights we carry that keep us from having the experience of motherhood that we really want. It is courageous work, and the rewards of watching women blossom fuels my own vitality and sense of purpose. If this interests you, reach out and schedule a free coaching consult. Let’s chat and see how I can support you.