When the dishes can wait

Mother and son touch noses

I read a quote on social media this week that has stuck with me since. It simply said, “You can have it all, just not at the same time”. In the caption, the creator of the post shared how she had returned home after a busy day to find a messy kitchen. She was also yet to spend time with her husband due to the demands of the day. In that moment she had two choices – either clean the kitchen or spend quality time with her husband. She decided the kitchen could wait until the morning…

Reading this experience resonated with me in a big way, especially as a wife and mum. Liam is always telling me that things can wait, and he is definitely the type to take time out and relax before finishing a task. For him, he would rather relax and see to any outstanding tasks when he is ready, rather than compromise on the time he has to switch off after a long day even if for a little while. Up until very recently, I was the complete, polar, contrasting, black and white (you name it) opposite to this man! I felt like I wasn’t able to switch off and relax until the tasks before me were out of the way. I would hear my husband say that whatever I was doing could wait, but what I was hearing in my own head was “he just doesn’t get it!”

Why is it that in many marriages, the husband and wife seem to fall into these similar patterns? Sometimes I feel like Liam is able to switch off and prioritise his downtime so effortlessly, whereas it is far easier for me to get stuck in “mum-mode” and place an intense amount of pressure on myself. Forget leaving myself until last on the list – time for myself just didn’t seem to be a feasible option in the first place!

If there is anything that I have learned so far in motherhood, it has been the importance of unlearning the expectation that I have to always be doing something for someone else.

To be completely honest, I think it was finally listening to my husband that helped me to address this challenging cycle and get myself into a better headspace. I mean really listen… I realised that when he asked me if something could wait, it wasn’t because he didn’t want me to complete my to-do list for the day or that he was trying to disrupt my productivity, but it was simply that he wanted to encourage me to rest. Whether it was to spend quality time with him, or to finally take some time out for myself, I began to learn how to stop resenting his ability to switch off and to instead start learning to do the same for my own benefit.

Let me just add in a little disclaimer here, because this isn’t to say that you should just set fire to your to-do list and dance around the house naked (although there’s nothing wrong with dancing naked if that’s your thing!) but what I am saying is that the time we have within each day is limited enough as it is without us making time for the things that truly matter to us. Yes my husband is able to switch off, but he is also able to step up and do the dishes without any issue when required. He has just learned how to make himself a priority too.

If you have grown up in a home where your mother set the bar so high that you never really remember her stopping to relax, while your father seemed to live more “easily” based on the consistent efforts of your mother, then is it any wonder that you place similar expectations on yourself as a wife and mum? Or maybe the opposite can also be true, where your mother had a lot of personal challenges that spilled over into your childhood, and you found yourself becoming her support system and seeming mature from a young age simply because you were a child trying to cope with adult problems.

There are so many contributing factors that form even subconscious expectations of what it means to be a spouse and parent, and this is why it is so important to try and address any trauma that you may be carrying from your childhood, because I can guarantee that it will show itself in your marriage.

We are all a product of the homes we have grown up in, but that doesn’t mean that any challenges need to restrict us from experiencing a happy marriage. The work needs to begin with us, and if we aren’t willing to recognise those parts of us that require extra care and understanding, then there will always be a hurdle between us progressing to a healthier mindset that breaks what is often a generational cycle.

The next time you find yourself struggling to switch off and relax, ask yourself if whatever you are itching to do can wait. If it can’t wait, then ask yourself why, and if you have a valid reason then go ahead. If it can’t wait, but you can’t come up with a valid reason why it can’t wait, then it can wait. If it can wait, then tell yourself with confidence – this can wait until tomorrow… Of course it will feel strange at first, and you may even feel guilty for leaving something waiting that you initially intended to do that day, but the more you work on this way of thinking the more you will feel a sense of relief at the opportunities you can instead take for those things that are more important than the dishes in that moment.

Quality time with your spouse, quality time with your children, quality time for yourself. These are three areas that should always sit at the top of your to-do list for each and every day.

You can’t get back the time that you could and should have invested in your marriage, your children or yourself, but as long as you are married it’s never too late to start making the things that matter to you the true priority. If the things that are important to you stay at the top of your list, then the length of your to-do list doesn’t matter. Issues arise when the things that truly matter fall to the bottom of your list, as often they are hardly given the required time when they are buried by everything else that you choose to place as your priority.

There is no point having sparkling dishes when your marriage is buckling under the weight of unresolved issues, lack of communication, self-neglect and burnout. So yes, the dishes can wait…


Are you feeling particularly overwhelmed right now? Have a go at the following exercise to help you reprioritise and consider making time for more of the things that matter to you:

Step 1: Make a list of all of the things that you typically find yourself doing in each day, from cleaning to work to time spent on social media – list everything you can think of.

Step 2: Make a list of all of the things that are important to you. This may take a little longer, as often this isn’t a question that we stop to ask ourselves (but definitely should!)

Step 3: Now compare both lists to see how much time is actually spent on the things that are important to you. Often there is a clear difference, but doing this exercise can help to give you some much needed perspective to work on. With this in mind, it is now up to you to try and find ways that you can be intentional about making your “Important List” become an integral part of your “Daily List”.

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