What to do when your Most Important Job feels Unfulfilling

We know parenting is the most important job. We’re shaping young hearts and minds. That matters. And yet, it so rarely feels important. Meaningful. Fulfilling. The field of neurology sheds some light on why and what we can do about it. (And it’s easing my guilt besides!)

A study in the 1980’s had people report in real time what they were doing and how they felt at that moment. The conclusion was

“[t]he best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”[i]

Winifred Gallagher, author of Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, adds, “…when you lose focus [which happens often when your day is filled with mindless, unchallenging tasks], your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong with your life instead of what’s right.” [ii]

Do you realize what this means?!

This is solid scientific evidence that I’m not a jerk for feeling less-than-fulfilled by the mundane bits of motherhood. Thank you, neurology!

I know that being home with my kids is meaningful and valuable. Yet it rarely feels that way.

Photo credit: Click-and-boo on Unsplash.

My daily chores are mind-numbingly shallow. Diapers. Laundry. Snacks. Curious George puzzles. The same Pete the Cat story for the 42nd time this week.

Note: By shallow, I don’t mean these things are without importance, rather, that my brain is not engaged. These tasks are the opposite of deep, intellectually or physically challenging work.

Your shallow tasks might not involve playing with little kids, but constant emails and texts and other daily tasks affect you in the same way. Shallow work keeps your brain jumping from one thing to the next instead of engaging deeply. 

Adopt a new definition of self-care.

Sometimes pushing yourself is better self-care than pampering yourself.

Self-care is what helps you be more fully yourself. More alive. More human[iii]. What does that for you? A good story? An intense workout? Redecorating your home or launching a new project? Whatever it is, dust it off and pursue it today — if only for a few minutes.

Engage your brain. Push your body. You’ll feel so much better!

[i] Csikszentmihalyi study, quoted in Newport (2016). p. 84.

[ii] Gallagher, quoted in Newport, C. (2016). p. 82.

[iii] Oxenreider, T(2018) The Art of Simple [podcast] ep. 123. Social Self Care. Storytelling as Self Care. Available at https://theartofsimple.net/podcast/

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