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Dvorak: Modern moms live in Overwhelmia
First Published Mar 14 2014 11:16 am • Last Updated Mar 14 2014 11:16 am

I wrote a few paragraphs of this column between school drop-off and an appointment. I sent a bunch of emails between making dinner and taekwondo. Bedtime reading with the kids, then more writing at 1 a.m., after a few hours of sleep. Then back up at 4 a.m. to write and sign up for summer camp.

There’s a name for this. It’s called "time confetti." It’s miserable. And it’s part of why we are all Overwhelmed.

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My Washington Post colleague Brigid Schulte somehow carved out the hours to research and write a book - "Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time" - about this modern-day madness, the abject misery of allegedly having it all.

It’s the plight of many middle-class working mothers trying to juggle careers, children, activities and friends. Boohoo for us, right? But it feels like being handed a fat check from the lottery, only one that’s been through a paper shredder. Confetti.

Schulte and her husband, Tom Bowman, were talking about the book this week, and I had the brilliant idea of trying to get a few citizens of Overwhelmia together to hear their thoughts and share some of our own afterward.

My mom friends and I all live in Overwhelmia. But, somehow, we usually find the time to get together and talk about having no time.

The most recent gathering included an international lawyer who works full time and has two kids, another mother of two who recently re-entered the workforce as a part-time construction manager and a lobbyist with two children whose husband used to be a stay-at-home dad but who is back to working. The one mom who doesn’t work outside the house was too busy and Overwhelmed to make it.

"Ha!" was what all of the women said when I asked them whether the University of Maryland time-management guru featured in Schulte’s book is wrong in saying American women have 30 hours a week of leisure time.

"Some confetti, maybe," the construction manager said.

Our having-it-all, second-shift lives leave many of us conflicted. And exhausted enough to fall asleep on the floor of the kids’ bedroom, still in our work clothes, drooling on the smartphones in our hands.


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There is so much to say on this topic. It’s about a workforce that isn’t as friendly to men as it is to women when it comes to flexibility and family time. It’s about a nation that insists it’s family-friendly yet has never meaningfully addressed safe, reliable child care. It’s about a truly new world order where our hunter-gatherer genes are completely eclipsed by the physically attainable yet emotionally challenged goal of gender parity.

But let’s get back to how it all feels: better after a lovely bottle of Xanthos red we all shared.

The problem is, we make time confetti because we often misunderstand what it is that makes us good parents and good employees.

The construction manager, who left a high-profile job being a kick-butt, feminist woman in a male-driven industry, thought focusing full time on the kids would produce strong, happy boys.

But then she heard this: Her older son was at a playdate one day, and a girl put a backpack on and pretended to head off to work. "Silly Hannah," the boy later told his tough-as-nails mom. "Girls don’t go to work. Only boys do."

"That shook me to the core," the construction manager said.

Or take the lobbyist, who actually made history a few years back as the first female chief counsel in a high-profile government job. She’s a military veteran with two girls and was eager to stay on her high-caliber career trajectory, with retired naval officer Dad staying home with them.

Feminist’s dream?

"I was miserable. One month I’d be in Europe, and two weeks later I’d be in Asia," she said. "I never saw them. I was missing everything."

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