Getting Okay With Being Unproductive

Kids kill productivity. I used to be able to get so much done in a weekend. Not that I took advantage of that a lot, but I could if I wanted! Now, home projects tend to stretch out for weeks or months. Yesterday I was majorly inhibited on a deck/landscaping project and just now, while writing this, my littlest one keeps trying to touch the computer… I was like 3 sentences in and had to take a break because he was getting upset that I kept pushing his hand away. I only started because I thought he was busy with something else for a while. It is exhausting being a parent in so many little ways that are hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t been trough it, and been through it recently I think, because, at least our parents all seem to have forgotten somehow. Yet another way I pledge to try to do better than them.

Okay, so little guys insisted on hanging out with me, like a jerk, so I tried to split the screen and put YouTube videos on, but since I am not great at doing two things at once, the SmarterEveryDay videos that I had hoped would merely distract him – and they did for a little bit – sucked me in as well. Meanwhile he got bored and began annoying me by chanting something that sounded like “cheese”… seriously?! I am amazed I get anything done at all sometimes. It’s a six-minute video for the love of peanut butter!

Another writing break to get some lunch ready because it has been two hours since they all had a snack and starvation panic attacks are setting in. I’ll be back.

So, where was I. Right, productivity. Just gone. At least in terms I used to think about it. The irony is I do more now than I used to, but is all stuff I tend to not qualify as “productive”; stuff that generally falls into the category of keeping children provided for. Needy little boogie vandals! Note to self. I need to clean the walls in their room.

Maintenance. Maintenance. Maintenance.

Just when you thought you were done – nope more maintenance. Unproductive. I don’t think I am alone in this way of thinking. Typically I don’t think janitors and babysitters are thought of as “productive” members of the workforce.

At various times I get a little depressed about this. Being productive is satisfying in a way. Being unproductive when you’d like to be productive, when there are so many things you would like to accomplish, even if it is just so you can just relax for a while, is so… frustrating!

Another break.

This time breaking up a fight, finding that they have removed most of the stuff from a shelf in the closet. I guess the floor seemed like a better place? Maybe they thought there was a neat picture on the wall behind all that stuff? I decide it’s not worth the fight to get them to clean that up at the moment because it is time to get little mister shit pants ready for a nap. If only I didn’t have to hunt down that confounded stuffed animal at every nap/bedtime.

I am not making this up for effect or something. I didn’t sit down to write with the thought I would be interrupted. In hindsight, of course, I should have expected this. I think most parents will attest that this seems about right. Just a normal day-in-the-life. My wife left me alone with them for less than 48 hours! How in the world single parents stay sane is mostly incomprehensible to me. I figure you’d have to just let a lot of the tasks of keeping children provided for slide. Provided for, but less so. It’s not their fault if that is the case. Simple math. You can only do so much. Even trading sanity, sleep, or personal hygiene is only going to buy you small bits in the Sisyphean effort of child rearing.

Does having two parents present really help? I mean it should theoretically halve the burden, right? Maybe it does in some ways, but in terms of productivity? Nah, at least not in my experience. Kids are around? Then productivity is in serious jeopardy. It’s not like you take shifts with the kids. At least most of the time that isn’t how it works out, and probably wouldn’t be healthy if it did.

Even when they aren’t actively demanding your attention – like when they’re asleep – they hinder things. Have some home improvement project you were hoping to make progress on while they aren’t pestering you? Maybe if it is a quite thing, sure, but most home improvement stuff isn’t. Just need to run to the store? well, you can’t just leave them home sleeping. Coin toss for which parent gets to leave the house tonight! But don’t forget you have to weigh this plan of temporary escape against the risk that the noise of the starting car or opening garage door might wake the gremlins from their slumber. Forget it, lets just use paper towels for toilet paper.

Okay, enough of my whining/commiserating. That wasn’t what I set out to write about.

What I wanted to write about is how I am starting to be able to be okay with it all. This has to do with a realignment of perspective. Life in the big picture isn’t about being “productive”. Not to sound too much like some cliché flowery poster or something, but life is about love(1). And, since love only makes sense in terms of relationship life is also about relationships. Boil it right down, and kids, while they might be just the worst helpers(2) anyone could hope for, and are a huge productivity dampers by way of the relationship they impose on you, cannot be hindering your life. (No matter how much it feels like they are sucking the life out of you sometimes). They reduce “productivity” not life. “productivity” is not a valid synonym for life. A productive existence does not necessarily equate with an accomplished life, and these two might even negatively correlate given how relationships, messy as they tend to be, reduce productivity.

Maybe this is obvious to most people? Regardless, it is a simple truth. It is easy enough to say I believe it. On the other hand, letting it be true deeper down, and actually letting relationships have priority over productivity – this is going to continue to be a struggle.

One thing I have been trying out that is maybe helping with this some for me is incorporating the idea of a Sabbath into my schedule. And I don’t mean the drag the whole family to church services and activities for the day(3) that many people call by the same word, but more like the biblical idea of a Sabbath. One day where I intend to be entirely unproductive. The idea behind it is rest, spiritual rest more than physical rest as I understand it, so for me it isn’t about avoiding things that take energy, but about putting aside whatever to-do list I might have and focusing instead on resting, relaxing, and just enjoying life instead of working. Giving myself a break from the need and drive to be productive.

I think my wife thought this meant I just wanted to be lazy and go off by myself for one day a week since as an introverted person that is a common way I re-energize, however even as an introvert there is a certain amount of rest to be found in relationships when there isn’t any productive work I am supposed to be doing. For example, when I am not being emotionally worn down by the frustrations of trying to be productive with kids around I find I can more easily enjoy them. Even apart from Sabbath days I am attempting to see the ways that relationship interrupt productivity as less of something to be frustrated by and more like the primary thing life is about intersecting into that which is merely auxiliary to life.

1. I won’t bother to make a case for this statement, just read the bible or something. However, if you don’t agree then my conclusion won’t make any sense.

2. I cringe inside every time people at the store say to me “looks like you have a lot of helpers today”

3. Dragging my family to a church service would be almost the opposite of what Sabbath is meant to be. It is only one of the many reasons I think “church” is dumb.

4. Why WordPress doesn’t have flippin footnotes as a built-in feature by now!

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