I've been thinking about a comment that women should "take off our superwoman capes when things get out of hand and ask for help. Not only will we get help, hopefully, but it allows others to ask for help as well."

I agree that we should take off the superwoman cape. Let's take off our superwoman capes before things get out of hand.

We need to take honest inventory of ourselves. How much energy do I have, what do I need to get done, what is important to me? If we don't take honest inventory, then we run the risk of playing really hard and then dumping the actual necessary duties, like meals or cleanup, on partners or friends.

When my second child was born, I was working more than full time. I was on call every third night and weekend. When I had a day off, I would look forward to it and think, "I will organize the photographs, call my friend Joyce, go running and get out my summer clothes." What would I get done on that weekend off? Nearly nothing. Certainly not the long list of things that I had daydreamed about in the spaces between the minutes at work.

At last I sat down and thought about the necessary duties on the weekends. Two children. They and I need to be clean. We need to wash clothes. Clean up the house and toys. Three meals a day, that many people in the world would envy. Sleep. Pay bills. Do dishes. And they've missed me at work, so a lot of interaction. The lawn needs to be mowed or snow shoveled. The piles of projects on the desk grew higher. If we went out of town for a weekend, the problem was exacerbated: really, the next weekend was payback. At last I realized that I couldn't plan to "organize the photos". I would think about my projects and pick one. Just one for a two day weekend and I would plan to do a tiny part of that project. I could, it turned out, do that. And then when I returned to work, I didn't feel deprived any more, because I had a more realistic idea of what I could and couldn't get done.

Vacations were stressful too and out of hand by the time we had two children. I thought about that too. Again, everyone needs to get clean, get dressed, have meals, clean up, there is travel time. I made a rule for travel: no more than three events planned in a day. Staying with my mother-in-law, we'd plan dinner together, I wanted to see my aunt, my mother-in-law wanted to take us to the bookstore. That, or take the children to the pool? That was enough and still sometimes almost too much. Setting limits and staying within them.

My father's rule has been useful: "If you get 1/3 of the things done in a day that you planned, you are doing well." Try it. Take a piece of paper and write everything down that you are planning to get done in a day. That includes meals and showers. Sometimes my lists have more than 20 things: post office, dry cleaning, bills, filing, vacuum upstairs, bike ride, dinner with friends, letter writing, and on and on. When I write it all out, it looks silly. How could I ever have thought to get all of that done in a day? I would make myself crazy if I tried and failed. Instead, I prioritize the list. Count the items? I can get 1/3 done. Which are most important? Which can wait? The meals can't wait, the post office, the laundry does need to be done because we are all out of socks. The dinner plans are important. I try to have a mix of necessary and fun things. I pick my list. I pick the order. And then I go about my day. I might get one thing on the list done that I didn't prioritize: that feels like something extra. A bonus. I get the third that I picked done usually. And I am happier because I have chosen what to do and I have been realistic.

I don't mind helping friends, unless it's the same thing over and over. Everyone needs help sometimes and a crisis can come up for anyone. But if it is a continuous pattern of not being able to budget time and energy for the normal duties of everyday living, that is not responsible. Sometimes people are not being realistic about their energy level, what they can do and can't do. And they are dumping the chores that they don't like on other people. "Help me," they say, "I've let myself get over scheduled again." They seem amazed. If they think it's wearing a superwoman cape to over schedule and not get the household jobs done, I wish they'd take it off. I really don't want to add their chores to my list, thanks. Take off the cape.

Everyone has times in their life when they can get a lot done. And everyone has times when they are sick or are caring for someone. And we can be realistic about what is happening now.

Of course, I ought to be cleaning the house instead of iron noding, but at least dinner is in the oven.

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