The Productivity Junkie Had A Baby

It sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it?

So, this productivity junkie had a baby….

I got a very kind email from a reader a few weeks ago that boiled down to this, “how do you do so much while having little kids?”

This reader had recently had her own child, and was learning – as new moms do – that time just sort of seeps through the floorboards when you have a small one. You wake up, you do a load of laundry, you nurse the baby, you change the baby and eight fucking hours have passed.

Your spouse comes home and asks, “How was your day? What did you get up to today?” and you don’t answer, because the answer is….nothing. Nothing that makes a good story, or can be quantified or even measured. Nothing that shows that you have achieved anything.

And yet, you are quite certain that you never stopped working, never just sat with a cup of coffee and your thoughts. There was no Calgon, no bonbons, no soap operas. You are exhausted and want only to fall into your bed, but their is no accomplishment behind that fatigue. There is just more fatigue.

When you are a productivity junkie, Type-A, a perfectionist, not achieving anything is a kind of mild psychological torture. You know, in your heart, that your days are full, with something, and that something is wonderful. But you can’t quite define what that something is. If you can’t measure it you can’t control it, and oh! how we want to control it – how much more comfortable we are when we do.

And so you work harder than you thought possible, and still slip slowly backwards from whatever vision of before that you secrete away in your heart. Before you had kids, before you quit your job, before when you could leave the house without a caravan of equipment, before when you showered daily, before when people affirmed that you did something well, before when you had clean toilets….before, before, before.

It’s not that you want to go back to before. You love now, you love your little pink miracle that makes now so important. But you want to be you, too. The you who does things, and achieves things, and can point with pride to a garden or a report or a presentation or a personal best time in a 5K, and say, “Now that: that is what I did today.”

I have the baby (toddler, now, really) and an almost-eight-year-old, so I know that it does get easier. Babies get older. Children are raised into capability and begin to need you in different, less time-consuming ways. Your ability to be you comes back, though of course you are never the same as you were, before. You’re different, and you’re better.

So, this productivity junkie had a baby….and then one day, the baby was a man.

Eventually, God willing, your children need you hardly at all, and instead turn to you as a friend, and maybe ask for a little babysitting help with their own kids, now and again. In the meantime, if we learn in our way to be content without having to achieve all the time, then we really will have accomplished something.

Put that on the list. Call it a resolution. Make it a goal.


  1. says

    I have a niece who is struggling with this right now. Her kids are 2-1/2 and 6 months. She has a hard time believing me when I tell her it will get better. I think I'll forward a link to this post to her.

  2. says

    I've been talking about this with quite a few local mums recently. Not a one believe that a woman can have time for gardening, 'making' or even cooking once you have children. And that also seems to be the excuse to not care what type of food they purchase from the shops – whether it's processed, non-organic, or otherwise. I can't say now exactly what our lives are going to be like once we start having kids but I can guarantee that I wont be brought so low as to feed my family rubbish.

    • neligh says

      I’ve found parenthood to be a whole lot of eating crow on all the opinions I had before the kid arrived. I was sure I wouldn’t nurse past 6 months, would never co-sleep, I would make all the baby food from scratch, there would be NO screen time, etc, etc. Before the kid was born, I rejected all the talk about “this too shall pass,” “everything is a phase,” “just survive it.” I didn’t want to merely get through my baby’s infancy, I wanted to do it right. But compromises will be made and that’s ok. Really.

  3. Anonymous says

    Crazy fruit lady agrees. It does get better and somehow type A personalities learn how to not have it mess with your head to much. You'll figure out your own ways to make it work, and get some mental stimulation/achievement along the way. It does happen. If you need to in the interim, make a list of all those diapers and feeding sessions and you'll see quickly just how long that list is and how busy you are! Now also keep in mind that Erica is also a bit of a super human, smarter than the average bear, AND able to miraculously have the stamina to have her little one piggy back on her via an ergo baby or some such almost all day long – while doing garden work (heavy garden work such as spreading a yard or two of mulch)! Love and respect you dearly Erica – but us average folk should not compare our lists to hers! We should just learn from them and try our best!

  4. says

    Ps-love the post! How to donate to your tip jar by the way? I'd love to buy you a cup of coffee for all the good reads and a happy new year!

  5. says

    Tanya – well I think there's a spectrum. I broke down after the baby was born and bought compostable paper towels. And felt guilty about it, which was f-ing crazy. You just do what you need to do, but we try to be conscious about what we're doing, what compromises we will make and what ones we try not to….and if you want to talk parenting food choices and how some things drive us crazy, I'd be here all day! (I once started a blog – now defunct – called Kids Eat Crap to photo document the horrors of child feeding I was witnessing. Like the bag of fruit loops in the kids backpack as lunch….::sigh::) Ah well, we can only do what we can do.

  6. says

    1st – they need to realize they are going the most important thing there is at that time – raising a child with love and affection.

    2nd – they need to realize that babies are very portable – they go everywhere with you and don't keep you from doing much, except maybe skydiving in tandum. …With some planning and adapting, they CAN go in the garden, in the kitchen, etc… Women have done that for years and years back before there were disposable diapers and convenience foods. Make the most of their naps times for the more baby-difficult tasks, once you are getting enough sleep yourself.

    3. Nurse the baby while you are eating and let your hubby cut your meat and tend to the other kids… It may be your only chance to sit down and fully relax:) lol …. ok, worked for me :) And it seems one of them was ALWAYS hungry the minute dinner was on the table anyway….

    4. Live with the seasons of your life… as well as the seasons of the year. "There is a time for every purpose under heaven." Focus on that!

  7. says

    Amen, sister! My baby is now 30years old and such a kind, funny, hard working young man he is. I remember how time slowed down when he was an infant, but boy was it worth it.

  8. says

    Once you get thru the sleep deprived stage, things look up and you find that you can cook and grow things. As Erica mentioned, somethings just don't return to the same state of cleanliness, but who cares! You can do everything..just not at the same time.

  9. says

    Thanks for this reminder. I have a 4 year old and a 17 month old and I know it gets easier, but my 'to-do' list is never-ending and it's frustrating to rarely accomplish all of the things I want to do in a day. The hardest thing for me is that I feel like I'm ignoring my children to 'get things done'. It's easy for the baby to be entertained with helping me do laundry, but my preschooler knows better now :)

  10. Jennifer Burns Levin says

    Still wondering how you get things done, since you're exceptionally productive, even for someone with kids. I'd like to hear the backstory more than the inspirational rhetoric. :)

  11. says

    ‎Jennifer Burns Levin – I have taken the liberty of copying the "functional side of the answer" that I wrote to the reader who asked the original question, and I shall paste it here for you, too. Hope this helps. :)
    Things that *do* help me keep it together half the time:
    -really supportive husband (can't emphasize this enough)
    -mostly automated watering system – saves gazillions of hours in the
    growing season
    -professional cooking skills – I can always throw SOMETHING together that's probably edible. Which doesn't mean the kids eat it, of course….
    -ergo carrier. the only way my son sleeps more than 20 minutes during the day is physically on me.
    -coffee. I do almost everything relating to my blog posts between 9 pm and midnight. Basically, I live my life between 9 pm and midnight, and everyone else's life the rest of the time.
    -getting my machines working for me. Every day, consistently. Load of wash, load of dishes. Rice cooker, crockpot, etc. The machines are like your little energy slaves. One day I will work harder to reduce my energy consumption by building a solar cooker for rice, etc. But not today. :) Today I need all the help I can get.
    -Exercise. for me and for them. If I can get an hours exercise in at the beginning of the day I get WAY more done the rest of the day. (I work at a gym 4 hours a week for the free membership, so an hour lifting heavy things makes me happy, but a long walk pushing the stroller is good too). Relatedly, if I can run the heck out of my active little guy he sleeps better and longer (on me, granted) allowing more time to do stuff like write this.
    -Pack lunches the night before, even for you, and get out of the
    house. Big realization for me: cooking three hot meals a day means 3x clean up, etc. And there is a LOT of cleanup from feeding a toddler. So if I can skip one of those prep-make-serve-clean-up cycles by having lunches packed the night before from leftovers or whatever you and your kid will eat, you can not "open up" the kitchen midday. Also, take it out to the yard or the park or whatever and call it a picnic.
    -Relatedly, time you are not at home is time you are not messing up your home. I know this sounds crazy, but unless you have a peaceful non destructive kid (my daughter was one of those) it can actually SAVE you time to leave your house for 3 or 4 hours. Reason – 4 hours of kid at home time does not mean 4 or even 3 productive hours for you. It probably means 5 hours of cleaning up from the 4 hours you're at home. Better to go out, enjoy your kids littleness, have a good time, come home, out em down for a nap, and try to bust out 45 good minutes of targeted work while they are sleeping.

    • says

      Thanks for this post. I especially latched on to : “Basically, I live my life between 9 pm and midnight, and everyone else’s life the rest of the time.” Sometimes it’s been hard for both me to realize that 1. My life must now be pushed to the fringes and others lives take center stage and 2. I must still take the time to have my life or I go crazy and can’t be any good to anyone else.

  12. says

    oh how i remember that time. i also remember it creating tension between me and the husband. he could never quite grasp what i did all day. then i'd leave the baby on his ass and see how much he got done :)

  13. says

    Wow – how is it we've never met and you know me so well?? I like your practicals, I do these too to some degree. For me, without the really supportive husband, automated watering system, baby carrier and coffee NOTHING would be done around here. Especially the husband part. Thinking I'll employ the leaving of the house more this year. Awesome tip!

  14. says

    Good to see your magic didn't disappear at midnight when the new year ticked over!

    Thankfully, with my kids being 6 and almost 4, I have gained a certain amount of freedom and reclaimed a certain amount of time, but then, dang it, the garden stole it all away!!!

  15. says

    Carrying my babies on my back helped me get so much more done! I thought life would be easier when they got older, but found out that teenagers need their moms sometimes more than a toddler does–just in a different way. Now two of them are out of the house and I'm so glad I took the time to enjoy them when they were little. They may not have liked all the weeding/watering/pruning/picking that we did together, but they all know how to garden! Our oldest is starting Culinary Academy tomorrow and I would like to think our family gardening (and the great eats that we grew) had a tiny part in it. Enjoy your babies!

  16. says

    Ah yes, I can understand this! I was the woman 3 days post partum wearing my child in a Moby and vacumning the house because guests were coming over.

    After thinking "f@Ck my crotch hurts, what am I doing?!?!" I resolved to take it a bit slower. It's hard to transition from go go go to slow, slow, slow and not have an end product to point to at the end of the day.

    That moby monster is now almost 3 and life is better and easier. If any new mom is reading Erica's great post, know that it does improve. And heck, eventually you do get to poop and shower without an audience!

  17. says

    This one…this is my most favorite of all your posts! Even more than Urban Homesteading Asshole, which is saying a lot! I still don't get how you manage your time, which you must because from where we sit, it's obvious you get a ton of work done! MAD PROPS!! You rock!

  18. says

    hey. been absent lots, but always reading.
    this one. got me. been having a rough go myself in this department of late. good to hear the words i ought to know by now.

  19. says

    I love this take on the "not wanting to go back, but still wanting to be *me*" experience of motherhood. I have a 9 year old and a toddler (plus one in between), so I too know that it does get easier, but I haven't quite forgotten the 'before' either, LOL.

    Mind you, I'm no where near a Type A personality!

  20. says

    Love, love, love this post. Oh, how I identify with it! But, I wasn't as productive as you with an almost 2 year-old once baby 2 arrived. I was surviving, and trying to love every messy second of it.
    A friend of mine is having her first this summer, and though she's too far away for a cup of tea, I'm sending her posts like this one. Little bits of hope as she prepares for the biggest change in life!

  21. says

    I am in this place right now, and I feel like a lot of what I love has suffered for it (including blogging). My daughter is about to turn 2, and she is the most wonderful, smart, loving, but ALL-CONSUMING child. She wants your attention and participation in everything she does. My mother tells me I was nothing like this, that she would have to search for me to make sure I was okay. That being said, I know it will get better, although it might not be too terribly long before I do it all over again…

  22. says

    Thanks for this. I am so a Type A, and I still struggle daily with Doing Enough. My daughter is 6, and while she doesn't need me like an infant or toddler or preschooler even, she needs more of me than she gets. Heck, *I* need more of me! One of this year's goals: getting past the long-held view of my self-worth being based largely on the number of visible, measurable Things Done. So thanks for the perspective and encouragement.

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