“Unproductively Productive”

495 days of loving more! 

I had a really good dose of “self-loathing” going on Friday night.  We had just returned from dinner out to celebrate #2 graduating from pre-school. Theoretically, I should have been in a really fantastic, upbeat, yeah life is great mood, right? I mean hearts and roses and rainbows should have been bursting in the sky, right? Oh how I wish I felt that at that moment. Instead, I felt exhausted and pissed.

Pissed that it was Friday night and I had yet to do anything for Father’s Day.

Pissed that it was Friday night and I had only written one blog post that week; that I hadn’t written about Kindergarten graduation, pre-school graduation, or even my son’s 5th birthday that happened weeks ago.

Pissed that it was Friday night and pre-school was done and I still hadn’t gotten around to end of the year thank you notes or gifts because the week overflowed with big doctor’s appointments and school events.

Pissed that it was Friday night and I had been completely unproductive the entire week.

What a terrific attitude, right?! Only adding to the frustration was that all I wanted to do when I got out of the car was to go inside, put the kids to bed, and then tend to my to-do list. I didn’t need to do the entire list, just one, maybe two items. But no, we had promised #1 and #2 that they could stay up late and watch “Star Wars” for the first time as a gift for their graduations. Great. Not only would my to-do list continue to wait, as it had all week, not only would my productivity continue to stall, but I would be stuck watching a movie I had zero desire to watch.

Again, terrific attitude right?

And then #2 slammed his car door shut and it was as if he slammed all my bad thoughts and “woes me I was so unproductive” thoughts right out of my head.

DUH!

I hadn’t had an unproductive week; I had had an incredibly productive week!

I realized that #4 finally learned how to say pizza, please, and mine!
I learned that #2 didn’t need another brain MRI.
I learned that #3 might be struggling so much because of Celiac disease.
I watched #1 proudly sing at his Kindergarten graduation.
I watched #2 ecstatically receive his pre-school diploma.

AND the night was only going to get better. I quickly realized that I was going to watch a movie with “my boys” and learn all about a world I knew nothing about but that my boys cared about in the most ridiculously huge manner.

And I quickly realized that my definition of productive really needed to change.

I mean, I have known this since my oldest was born. It hit me immediately as the days passed and all I did was nurse, pump, change diapers, nurse, pump, change diapers.  Maybe I got to shower, maybe I got to eat, but I definitely never got around to doing anything “productive” like write thank you notes, go grocery shopping or call a friend. And let me tell you, as a type A personality, like wicked type A, it drove me nuts. NUTS! I thrive on productivity and when I don’t have it, I get cranky. CRANK-Y!

Learning to let go of my productivity as my main measure of a successful day was hard! Or rather, learning to let go of my definition of productivity as how many concrete things I accomplished and crossed off MY to-do list that day was hard. I had to learn to accept that now that I was a mom, more intangible items could measure productivity, like: how much love I gave my son and how healthy and safe I made him.

Six and a half years ago I would tell my mom “oh, what a frustrating day, I got nothing done!” She would of course reply, “yes you did, you fed your son, bathed him and loved him. I would say you got an awful lot done!” Harumph. She might have been right but oh, oh that was so hard for me to accept, it just felt like an out-of-body experience for me to not be “doing” things for a job or a house!

And six and a half years later, at times it is still hard to accept! I still struggle to accept that a “productive” day can mean that I got nothing done but played Battleship with my oldest and lost, soothed my tantruming three year old, listened to a long winded story about how cicadas make babies by my five year old, or fell asleep with my sweet two year old in his rocking chair.

Yes, six and a half years later I still struggle to accept that “unproductive” intangible items like watching my kids reach important milestones, like looking out for my kid’s health, like teaching my kids to talk, to respect others, to be good people and like loving my kids unconditionally, the best that I can, when I can, are indeed, incredibly productive and not just incredibly productive, but also incredibly important.

The good news is that in learning to yell less, I quickly realized that not feeling “productive” is indeed a trigger, a big one. I have been working to lessen it for over a year now and haven’t really cracked it. More than one time a week I get all in a twit and prepped to yell because I feel “unproductive.” These last few weeks were no different: if anything they were worse because of numerous time commitments out of my control.

But today, today when my son slammed his car door it all finally clicked how I could better manage this trigger. I finally got and accepted that some things are indeed “unproductively productive” and that that is not only more than okay, but sometimes actually what is most needed. Friday night as I unproductively sat on the couch with my son, he started getting sleepy and snuggled right up against me, eventually falling asleep in my arms. It brought me right back to when he was a baby and used to fall asleep on me, a memory that filled me with immense happiness and joy.

I’d say being unproductive was definitely a win.

I’d also say that realizing it was a win will help me to stay calm when I get frustrated from my lack of “productivity.” Another win. Yep. I was “unproductively productive” and that is more than okay, it was most needed!

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41 thoughts on ““Unproductively Productive”

  1. Are you from New England?! I love that you said “wicked type A”! That’s me as well, although I work at a tech startup (from home) and am expected to be wicked productive all the time. I’m about at my breaking point of their productivity! Can we just redefine success and productivity at the same time, please?! I think they go hand in hand.

  2. “Learning to let go of my definition of productivity as how many concrete things I accomplished and crossed off MY to-do list” ….. LOVE this thought …..thank you for sharing. My new definition of productivity now includes remaining calm during the chaos, yelling less and loving more!

  3. I found your blog tonight. Thank you for being so honest about the yelling. It’s something I need to change. I’m with you on the productivity trigger. I’m going to buy some orange post-it notes tomorrow and get started.

  4. Thank you for this tonight. I feel my whole self worth is wound up in being productive and checking off tasks rather than being my little guy’s mom. It is such a struggle. I keep thinking if I just get this done, I’ll be better and more able to be with him. And I know that’s not true coz then something else will just take it’s place. Being a mom is being productive, just without the checkmarks… Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Thanks for sharing. Now that you wrote it, I totally get how being unproductive is one of my triggers too. Even as our babies grow up, this poem still has meaning:

    Cleaning And Scrubbing
    Can Wait
    Till Tomorrow…

    For Babies Grow Up
    We’ve Learned
    To Our Sorrow…

    So Quiet Down
    Cobwebs…
    Dust Go To
    Sleep…

    I’m Rocking
    My Baby,
    And Babies
    Don’t Keep.

  6. you always give us inspiration and you have a way of enlightening us. Thank you for sharing because we learn so much from you.

  7. I am really enjoying reading your blog. Though thru the “exhausted times of raising children”, I miss those moments and am living vicariously through your blog. Raising a blended family of 7 children, I love experiencing your life through your blog. You are a wonderful Mom and how great that you are keeping this blog to help you remember. I so wish I had done journaling or blogging. What a blessing your blog is to me during my empty nest journey.

  8. This is a good reminder for me as I am due with my third son,in 11 days, and struggle with how it all will get done when #3 comes along and I’m nursing, etc.thank you

  9. SO TRUE! This is me exactly to a T! I feel totally unproductive at home with kids. I feel like I get nothing done all day off my list (which continues to grow) and then stress over what the kids are doing or that I have to do for them. I need to change my thinking big time and let that to-do list go sometimes. “Unproductively productive”…have to remember that! Thanks!

  10. This is just what I needed to hear. Been thinking all weekend about what a lazy worthless person I am because there are so many things I don’t get done. I was even researching prescription drug “uppers” on the Internet, so I can get more done around the house. And this is definitely a trigger for me (that I hadn’t identified until now). I do play with my kids and take pretty good care of them, lots of “unproductive productivity”. Thank you so much for this post!

  11. OH MY! THIS IS MY TRIGGER. I am overproductive, and get SO ANNOYED when little things get in my way, and of no fault of my kids. I LOVE this site, the honesty is such a gift. In a world where we are judged, and measured by so many, it is refreshing to come here and read these posts. thank you, thank you thank you. Now I have to go to bed so I am not a bear in the morning.

  12. Y.E.S.!!!!!!! This is my biggest, if not my only trigger for being perpetually irritable and for yelling/snapping at my loved ones. I find it SO frustrating that some days, you just seem to spin around in circles and are simply unable to focus on a task and see it through. Even though your words and insight are correct, I wonder if I will always struggle with being able to accept that I can no longer be productive with concrete tasks. At least I now know I am not alone in feeling the way that I do. Thank you for this post.

  13. Oh my goodness! I think you just summed up one of my biggest frustrations of the past 10 yrs. And it is a huge trigger for me, too. As the dishes pile up in the sink, and laundry invades my baskets/bed and it’s still not folded, I get crabbier and crabbier feeling a mountain of chaos taking over. My feelings of being overwhelmed because of a lack of productivity make me crack like and egg. Thanks for sharing this. It’s something I definitely need to look at differently.

  14. You have just summed up how I have been feeling for weeks. So anxious about trying to get things “done” when really I “do kids” and that is more than enough productivity. I am a wicked type A personality as well, and I try so hard to let go of the to-do list, but it is oh so very hard for me. Thanks for the inspiration to keep at it!

  15. I struggle with this all the time. I’m thinking I should brainstorm all the things I absolutely have to do every week and then add them to my list. That way I can cross them off. We have a family calendar that helps because when I look at it I see how much I’ve done all week, plus we try to add game nights and bike rides to guarantee we do those things together. If playing with my boys is on the schedule then it feels productive in my brain. Crazy parenthood.

  16. Oh my goodness! This is such a big trigger of mine, and I was just pinpointing it today as part of the 30 day challenge (I’m a few days behind). Even more than not feeling productive at the end of the day, it’s being actively interrupted while I am trying to be focused and productive. I just snap. And I hate it. AND thanks to you I’m naming it and working on it. Thank you so much for your continued support for so many of us moms struggling out here! Much love to you and yours.
    (PS-As a former teacher, the best end of year gift I ever got were 2 e-gift cards a week after school was out. One was for Starbucks and one was for iTunes. It included a note telling me to put my feet up with a good book and a cup of coffee and enjoy a blissful summer. Pretty sure she was running behind but I loved the surprise! I appreciate it even more now that I’m a mom.)

  17. Oh, wow, wow, wow, how I needed to see those words. I am EXACTLY like that and I never realized how much that must be a trigger for me! I, too, need to learn to change my definition of “productive” and also to delight in focusing on my boys rather than finding them as obstacles in the way of conquering my “to-do” list! I mean, really… When I look back will I be glad I cleaned my floors instead of snuggling with my kids? Yet as obvious as it seems, when you are “programmed” to be productive, it is so, so hard to let go of.

  18. This is fantastic! I often feel this way about plowing through a to-do list and feel like the kids get in the way, when they should be the focus of my attention, not my distraction! This post reminded me of an incident Ann Pleschette Murphy writes about in her book – she told her son how frustrated she was that she didn’t get anything done that day, and he said she did lots of important stuff! Really? she wondered. “You found Lego Man’s hair!” Our kids always call us to what’s really important. Thanks for the reminder!

  19. I can really relate! I have to stop myself a lot of the time from saying “no mommy can’t play right now, I have to _______”-insert something from the to do list here. I have to tell myself a lot of the time that the tings to do will still be there later. And there is always later. My kids will only be so little and want to play with me for so long. I get so wrapped up in crossing things off the list so it feels like I accomplished something that day, that I forget to have fun with the kids. I think that especially happens to stay at home moms. I feel like we feel the need to validate to people what we do all day instead of work. We should start making to do lists that have things like, read to the kids, cuddle, build with blocks, race cars. Then we can still cross things off and have fun too.

  20. Felt so much this way this past weekend – thank you for sharing! Summers get busy and yet it feels like so little actually gets “done.”

  21. I find myself every night when I tuck my daughter into bed, telling her that no mommy can’t stay I have to get back downstairs and ______ (do whatever it is that I didn’t get done that day), She looks sad like I am choosing my tasks over her. Thank you for pointing out what we need to hear, that being a mom is job enough and one that is completely different than anything else we have done previously.

  22. I love reading posts that I feel like I could have written myself, especially ones that bring tears to the eyes. This is a wonderful entry. Thank you! It is nice to be reminded that it is OK to be “unproductively productive.” As much as I hope to get many things organized in my home this summer, my real goal is to just enjoy time with my girls and be… “unproductively productive.” (Love that term!) It is in reminding myself of my most important priority and accepting that MY priority is OK, that will cause me to be calmer and more relaxed. Thank you for taking the time to express what I am sure many of us feel and for making us feel we are not alone.

  23. Indeed, I am with you on this one. I now have four children under seven years of age, and I am only just learning that I need to add at the top of my to-do-list: hug my child, smile at my child for no reason, enter into their play for a while, provide clean clothes, provide nutritious food, etc. The other more adult-world things on my list….well, if I can do one or two of them in a week, it’ll have to do :)

  24. This definitely strikes a nerve. I get most annoyed when I have a personal ‘to do’ list that is not getting fulfilled because I am busy parenting. It’s nice to let go, much of that stuff ‘to do’ doesn’t really matter in the end!

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  25. I have EXACTLY this problem. I love my lists and love a tidy home. I work outside the home and my boys go to daycare so I know in my mind and heart I should cherish the time we DO have together at home. But then I see messy counters and dishes and laundry and just get sucked into NEEDING to get it done.

    On top of it all, I’ve just realized I’m very addicted to online on the computer. No particular site- check facebook, check email, randomly click around, meanwhile my boys are off playing by themselves. It is a time SUCK and I am ready to make a change. Nothing that some friends who aren’t even here or some random strangers has to say is more important than what is in front of me- my husband and boys. All of that stuff can wait. I often tell my oldest who doesn’t want to stop watching a DVR show when it is time to leave: That is saved on the TV, it will be there when we come back; you can always finish it then. I need to heed my own words and remember, what is online is always going to be waiting; also the dishes/laundry/etc can usually wait. (unless I need to quick toss one load in so we have clean clothes/dishes :) but I don’t have to do it ALL at once!).

    I’m making a goal right now to get off the computer and not worry about the mess and play with my kids. No computer for me unless I’m doing an activity on it with the kids or they are watching a show. Otherwise it can wait until they go to bed or during my breaks at work.

    • Goooood goal! Wishing you the courage and determination to make this kind of change. It will pay off totally. Thanks for sharing.

  26. Made me cry! This is exactly how I am and get so frustrated when I am not on top of things and something isn’t going the way I had planned it in my head. I am changing my priority and To Do List starting now and enjoying my kids rather than always rushing them in one way or another so I can stay on my schedule.

  27. Time crunches and to-do list urgency are my BIGGEST triggers for yelling, right after “safety” issues. (When I say safety that includes everything from life-threatening to skinned knee to pinched skin…not always necessary to raise my voice.) ANYHOO! Yes! I am working on this as well. My best tip so far is to just take a deep breath and “accept” that we’re just going to be late and that doesn’t trump being a patient, loving mama. I also tell myself, we’re already late so no use fretting any more…if by some miracle we arrive on time, it’ll be a bonus! As far as the to-do list, I’ve been reading Hands Free Mama, and it’s been a good voice to have in my head.

  28. I had the epiphany today. And it just so happened that i saw your blog via my newsfeed from another friend. Today i witnessed my 2.5 year old yelling at my 1 year old and then saw him grab him by the arm to get him to listen to him. This is a copied behavior. One that broke my heart in half. It was right there and then that i realized I had to make a change on how i talk to my kids. I’ve been reading all over this blog for the last hr and all i can do is cry. I have a 6 year old girl as well. She is very impressionable and loveable and caring. I find that i am taking more and more outside factors out on them. Today i am taking a stand. I will no longer yell at my daughter for asking for help with the computer because i was busy trying to be “productive” and get stuff done! I will no longer yell at my kids because they are trying to get me to play with them instead of scrubbing the floors or cleaning the kitchen for the 100th time that day. They only love you this much and unconditionally for so long and then they become teenagers. I will no longer waste this time. I want to cherish moments not dread them. I want to find the joy in our daily routine again. I want to stop feeling like a crappy parent because all i did was yell all day. Because this way is exhausting. And i am tired. Thank you for existing. Because today i really needed to find this.

    • Good luck Tanya! I’m in the same boat as you–I hate seeing my kids’ copied behavior and realizing that I’m not the good example I hope to be. I wish you all the best!

  29. SO needed this one today. I struggle with this ALL THE TIME! When doing only what they want and need and never accomplishing what I want or need to do. Then on those days when things are filled with my “have to’s” I get frustrated quickly and soon blow my top. Not sure how to control my triggers and I am still learning them but as I am quickly learning this orange rhino thing is a process. One I am trying every day. Thank you a million times over for what you are doing not only for me but for all yelling mom’s everywhere. Thanks for helping us to not feel so alone it our yelling struggles. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  30. Thanks, this is a wonderful post– a fantastic reminder to all mothers! I need it especially since I’m in a temporary situation where I don’t really have housework. That might sound like heaven, but it makes me feel a little listless during the day, wondering what I should do. :) But my kids are right here with me! What else but give them attention, right?

  31. Thank you for this post!!! I did not have a successful no-yelling day, but I was already making my list of all the things I got done today so I could proudly list them to my husband when he got home. Despite getting so much done, I felt terrible, and I realize why–my priorities were wrong! Now, if I could only get off this mindset of “How much can I get done today?” and on to “How can I make today awesome for my kids?”…

    Some day I hope to be yell-free. Today, I’m just hoping for a better tomorrow. :)

  32. I feel like this could be me talking in this post and your follow up one on this subject. Thank you for your honesty and sincerity. Through your words, I am coming to understand, accept and forgive myself for not being the “perfect” mom I think I should be, and instead embrace, love, and encourage the great mom I know I am (even if I am not perfect a lot of the time).

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