Have you ever said to someone, “I’m really sorry, I can’t do that because I’m too busy,” and felt as though they haven’t really understood? Or have you ever been so exhausted that you’ve had to cancel something you were really looking forward to, and no one understands how big a deal it was? Or have you ever moved house and thought you were being really organised and then felt completely floored several months later for no good reason?
Something that links all these scenarios is the fact that we don’t take minutiae into account.
When you tell someone that you’re too busy, you’re not telling them that your 2 year old son has been ill so your laundry basket is exploding with vomit-stained clothes and you and your partner are taking turns getting more than 3 hours sleep at night and that you’ve promised a friend who is getting married that you will finally call each other that night to catch up before the ‘big day’ and that you’re having to work in the evenings to fit in the work that you’re not doing at work because you can’t work your normal hours because your Mum is looking after your sick son and she can’t do more than 2 days a week and meanwhile you’re worrying that you haven’t started thinking about your partner’s birthday in a week’s time and that actually you don’t really feel like you have much to give him right now.
And when you have to cancel something you were really looking forward to, you tell your friends that you’re disappointed, but you don’t tell them that it scares you that they might start thinking you’re really flaky and that they might not ask you again and then you’ll be left out and become isolated and have to find other friends, and that honestly you would NOT be cancelling this if you could help it but that you have had so much going on at work and you’ve been having a hard time worrying about your sister being ill with cancer that you’re not sleeping, so you just feel like you’ll be rubbish company, which plays into your fear about your friends drifting away again.
And when you moved house, OK so you were on it with the packing, but did you think about how much effort and thought it would take to make your new home feel like yours? About how you would discover that you wanted to repaint a room or two to make your furniture ‘fit’ better, or how you would need to rearrange the furniture several times to make each room work the way you want it to. Or how you would keep finding more places where you needed to update your address details, and go through innumerable security checks in the meanwhile. How you would have to find out new routes to places, and re-learn how long it takes to get there. How you would have to get to know your new neighbours. How you help your children settle in and find their feet (that’s a whole chapter in itself). How you might have to make more effort to see friends who don’t live so close any more. How you still find that you are sorting out where things go months after you moved in. How you are finally figuring out how to look after the garden. And all that is if you don’t do any structural work to your house.
Minutiae matters. It really does. Our lives are filled with minutiae. We are constantly making decisions and evaluating situations and juggling emotions. We’re not just DOING things, but we’re learning and reflecting and adapting. And most of the time we do that pretty well. So well that we don’t even notice we’re doing it.
But sometimes we need other people to notice the minutiae, because saying ‘I’m busy’ or ‘I’m tired’ or ‘I’m overwhelmed’ or “I’m anxious’ doesn’t even vaguely explain the number of things that you are juggling at that particular moment. We often don’t give ourselves credit for how much we are doing at any one time. “Everyone else seems to cope,” is a common refrain I hear, as is, “It could be worse.” Often it can take someone else to point out why it’s not surprising that you feel the way you do. And the relief that is evident when you finally allow yourself to accept how much you are doing/ feeling/ processing can be massive. It’s like you’re then ALLOWED to feel that way. You’re not being selfish or weak or a bad mother or a rubbish friend or whatever other critical label you have got tucked away in your psyche.
Naomi Stadlen, one of my heros, talks in her book ‘What Mothers Do’ about how mothers often say “I get nothing done all day.” This is a classic case of missing the minutiae. Mothers do TONS every day. But to them it feels like nothing, because their expectations are out of touch with reality. So they fail to notice that they have spent all day listening and trying to figure what their baby’s cries mean, or that they have managed to do some shopping for tea, or that they have changed 8 nappies, or that they have hung out two loads of washing and put another in, or that they have called the health visitor to ask about a rash on their baby’s bottom, or that they have been googling about different kinds of crying, or texted a friend to arrange to meet for a coffee the next day, or that they have changed their baby’s bedding, or that they have changed their baby’s clothes at least twice, or that they have loaded and unloaded the dishwasher, or that they have sterilised the bottles, or that they have expressed milk for 30 minutes, or that they have fed their baby 6 times. And still sent a birthday card to their mum.
Minutiae. And it all matters.
And if you start adding up the minutiae, feeling overwhelmed can start making sense, especially if you have got other things going on, like financial worries, or a relative having health problems or all the other stressors in life that we don’t really pay attention to.
Break it down. Give yourself credit. Speak to others who understand the kind of minutiae you’re talking about. Don’t pretend that it doesn’t matter just because all the tasks seem tiny separately. BE COMPASSIONATE TO YOURSELF. And accept that being a parent is disappointing at times because you can’t do it all, your capacity is now being greatly taken up with the minutiae of motherhood.
Go well, and if you find this useful, please do share it with others.