Set boundaries and put the to-do list to bed

Defining ourselves by our work and roles as parents is so habit forming that we can find it hard to sit with ourselves just as creatures of God.
Our Faith

Every weeknight, sometime between 9:30 and 10:45 p.m., my husband will stand and say, “I’m heading up.” He climbs the stairs, stops in the bathroom, and gets into bed. This takes about approximately a minute and 47 seconds. He might read for a while. Then he falls asleep.

“I’m heading up” has become the cue for my mind to zoom around to all the things I meant to do that evening but did not. Did I make my lunch? Sign that school form? Oh look, I meant to wash those pots in the sink. Did I answer that one e-mail? As I check the computer, I’ll invariably find another e-mail or two that need answering. (I’ve discovered that legions of working women are e-mailing after 9:30 at night.) And then there’s the casual announcement by a child that a giant trifold board is required for the project due tomorrow. Calling it quits for the night is hard because my worth depends on how much I accomplished in the past 24 hours—right?

Somewhere back in the 1980s, it became an accepted fact that parents are ridiculously busy. The 1970s recession, plus the loss of many jobs that paid a real living wage, meant that many working- and middle-class people could no longer support a family on one parent’s salary.

Sometimes I wonder if the time demands of modern parents are beginning to rival those of pioneer parents who had to butcher their own meat and make their own clothes. Between long work hours, keeping the house afloat, playing traffic cop on homework, and the sports and extracurriculars that fill our kids’ lives, parents meet themselves coming and going.

Jesus had people clamoring for his time, too. He tells his disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). But people spotted them heading off and followed, bringing the sick to him. Jesus’ heart melted; he ended up healing and teaching, postponing his planned getaway. Sound familiar?

A busy working mom I know told me about a sermon she’d heard on this topic by Pastor Kevin McLemore of Chicago’s Epiphany UCC Church. McLemore pointed out that Jesus at least had the advantage of a weekly Sabbath on which Jews were commanded, in effect, to sit still, to let go of their work, to rest, and to enjoy the world around them. As for us, we often trade in our Sabbath day of rest for one more round of shopping or housework.

It takes firm boundaries to protect that time. Some families stake a claim, saying, we will not shop or do errands on Sunday: We will go to Mass, make a big breakfast, spend time in nature, visit Grandma, play games, enjoy each other. Bravo for them.

Defining ourselves by our work and our roles as parents is so habit forming that we can find it hard to sit with ourselves just as creatures of God, role-free, for a little while.  But blessed are those humble enough to realize that the work of God would go on without our 10 p.m. e-mails, our busyness to the point of exhaustion.

Pastor McLemore quoted a prayer that his mom keeps on her refrigerator, and that ought to be on mine: “It is night.  What has been done has been done, and what has not been done has not been done. Now, go in peace.“

This article originally appeared in At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ family spirituality newsletter, in January 2014. 


Image: Flickr cc via john.shultz