Inside & Out: The Agile Mom

There’s a rather remarkable phenomenon at work in motherhood that I like to call Momflation – a rise in the cost of pretty much everything in our life after we have kids, for at least a couple of decades.  This phenomenon doesn’t just apply to actual money.  It affects everything…our bodies, our sleep – you name it.  And one of the commodities most affected by Momflation is often our time.

Because as a mom, there are constraints on my time that those without kids don’t always have the joy of experiencing.  Some of them, I already knew about even before I had kids, like having a trip to the grocery store last twice as long because I spend most of it trying to bribe my toddler to stop screaming, or bribe my toddler not to run into the next aisle and pull things off shelves, or bribe my toddler…well, you get the picture.  But I had to learn to accept some other things, like using the bathroom in record time while my kids run amok in the house (apparently a seven-year-old can break anything if given thirty seconds without supervision.)

Additionally, within these time constraints, Moms have a lot of stuff to get done.  You know what “Mom stuff” is.  It describes everything from changing the clocks when Daylight Savings rolls around to pitching proposals to venture capitalists.  It’s that jumbled up kitchen drawer next to the paper towels that you dive into every time you need something random, like an extra button, some super glue, or a crowbar.  But if you just keep dumping stuff into that drawer without taking time to clean it out, eventually it’s going to get stuck.

In short, Momflation + jumbly drawer of stuff = going nowhere, fast.

So how is it possible to change the result of that equation?

I borrowed some great ideas from a software development philosophy called Agile, in which a big project gets broken down into small, manageable pieces that can be accomplished in short timeframes called sprints (which is an astonishingly apropos term.)  Each sprint has a goal, and each builds on top of the other until one day you wake up and realize – voila! – you’ve sprinted your way to something you can be proud of.  The biggest challenge – but also the most life-changing one – is to recognize that progress at a different pace is still progress.

It doesn’t work for everybody, but becoming an Agile Mom transformed my life.  I stopped looking at those ten-, five- and even two-minute snippets between activities as wasted “transition time” and started looking at them as sprints.  In the ten minutes of quiet playtime that my infant can sustain, I will outline a Power Point presentation.  In the five minutes while my toddler draws and paints and stamps his way into Stick Figure Heaven, I sit next to him and sketch out in pretty good detail the design for a dress that I had dreamed up while at the playground earlier that day.  In two minutes, while my grade-schooler and toddler dance around the baby in her high chair, I chop an onion and use my sleeve to wipe the tears from my eyes (upon which my eldest scolds me…with relish.)

But at the end of the week, being an Agile Mom means that I have accomplished things that I wouldn’t have been able to do before I started using those little snippets of time to their fullest.

I don’t always use those moments as sprints, because sometimes it’s nice just to relax and simply live.  In the Momflated world where most things have a steep price, sometimes a peaceful cup of tea is priceless.  And if it means that I have to occasionally jiggle that drawer a bit before it opens, that’s okay…I’ve got a two-minute sprint for that.

Growing up, Pauline Benninga dreamt of becoming an architect, the President, and a princess, all at the same time. Once she realized that none of jobs would allow her to get any sleep, she abandoned her dream in favor of motherhood. Now that she has three children, Pauline is considering phoning the President and asking him to babysit for a couple of hours while she takes a nap.

Pauline blogs about research that impacts women at opusfemina.com.

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