“So what time do you get home?” I asked. I desperately wanted to know how my friends had managed to solve the conundrum of living in the suburbs with young kids – how to spend time with them while also getting them to bed at a reasonable hour. They had just told me that they got their one-year-old to bed by 7:30 pm, a feat that has never happened at our house.
“6:30,” my friend replied, shrugging. “We grab her something out of the fridge and do the bedtime routine.”
I blinked. They didn’t have dinner together. Or much time together at all on weekdays. I literally had not considered that possibility.
Chris has heard more than his share of angsting about bedtimes and schedules. I always say, “Where do they find the time? Giving your kid extra time to play before bed is great and all, but at 7 pm, we’re just starting dinner!” I don’t work much more than 40 hour weeks. But with an hour-long commute, it’s hard to get home before 6:30. Even when I work from home, I guard those precious hours afterwards with my kids. I’m (usually) sincere when I say to Sprout, “I wish we could stay up all night playing!” Similarly, eating dinner together is sacred. Both of our families did it. Even if dinner’s a combination of food fight (Little Bird) and hopelessly off-key musical (Sprout), it’s the single time we all have together on weekdays.
Before then, I hadn’t considered that other families can have those bedtimes by not having play time or dinner together. It wasn’t that they had magically short commutes or “found time” that didn’t exist. Their schedule simply didn’t include something that ours does.
None of that is to say that what our friends or others do is wrong. Everyone has different priorities and schedules. If your kid is an early bird, you may also have that time in the morning. (Ours aren’t.)
But it’s a perfect example of how so easy to compare yourself to others and fall short when you’re missing part of the picture. Social media is a parade of snapshots. Even if people aren’t trying to hide anything, you lack the context to see the whole image. It’s only through one-on-one conversations that you can get a sense of the rhythms of other families’ lives.
So when I wonder how people “do it all,” of course the answer is that they don’t. Or at least the version of “it all” that I would like, which involves about twice as many hours in the week then are currently available. Everyone makes trade-offs; being okay with ones you make is the important part. I want my kids to go to bed earlier – but I want that time with them even more.
For honesty’s sake, I’ll even reveal my major trade-off besides bedtimes – cleaning. I despise it and hate sacrificing time to do it. I’m happy when I go to bed if the dishes are done and I’m not actively tripping over things on the floor. (There are also times I go to bed unhappy about the state of the house.) I laugh when I read articles that recommend lowering your standards because we cannot possibly lower ours anymore without descending into gross.
Now, I hope that whenever I stare at advice or someone’s blog post with despair, wondering “How the hell do they do it?” I remember that conversation with my friends. I’ll think about chilling at the park, eating home-cooked meals (or take-out) together, or snuggling after bath time when they’re in bed too late again. I’ll recall the times we’ve gone to a museum despite the fact that the house is a complete disaster area. Our family will never be able to achieve everything I want to do because it simply isn’t possible. But as long as we focus on what we need as a family, we’ll be okay.