Opportunity Cost

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone point out something I do in my home with my family and say, “You’re so amazing. I don’t have time for that.” Even more often, I’ve heard moms compare themselves to other moms (not me) and say how amazing they are. Pinterest seems to heighten our abilities as mothers to compare our own weaknesses with others’ strengths. Many women have already eloquently written about the dangers of doing just that, but I wanted to take it in a different direction.

In my high-school economics class, I learned that everything has a cost, even the things you don’t think of as costing actual money. Eating a sandwich has a cost, namely, the opportunity to eat everything else you didn’t eat instead of that sandwich. There are pros and cons for every decision, and because time is limited, for everything you do, there are many things you could have done that you now don’t have time to do because of what you did.

But we mothers seem to have forgotten this basic principle. “How on earth does she have time to make such nutritious meals?” we ask ourselves. “I can barely put a frozen pizza in the oven most nights.” Or, “How does she keep her house so clean? Mine is constantly in chaos.” Or, “Why can’t I seem to make beautiful dresses for my daughters and do their hair so perfectly for church like she does?”

The thing is, that woman you’re looking at who does something you wish you could do? She’s probably not doing something you’re doing. That’s how she finds the time. Maybe you have a job and she doesn’t. Maybe you spend a lot of time teaching your kids to read, or canning all your homegrown fruits and vegetables, or baking yummy treats for your family, or refinishing old furniture you got for super cheap at garage sales. She’s probably wondering how YOU find the time.

Or maybe it’s not even that grand. Maybe she finds the time to make delicious and nutritious dinners each night because she doesn’t care if her hair and makeup are done each day. If you care about looking put together, you have to own that it’s going to eat into your time for other things. And that’s okay, if looking put together matters to you more than those other things. You can give yourself permission to not do something that someone else did with the half hour or whatever that it took you to get ready in the morning.

As for me, I’ve made some choices. I choose to teach piano to help support my family (and because I love doing it). I choose to accept freelance editing jobs when they come along, even though they tend to stress me out, because they pay well. I choose to read to my children and to spend time teaching them stuff. I choose to play with my children a little each day. I choose to volunteer in Lego’s classroom three days a week. I choose to cook real meals most nights. I choose to go to church for three hours every Sunday and to spend some time during the week serving in the Church (playing piano for the choir, preparing to teach music to the children, etc.). I choose to garden and tend my yard during the spring and summer months. I choose to do very little work in the evenings (between 8 and 10 p.m.) when I can help it so I can recharge for the next day. These aren’t all the choices I make on a daily basis, but you get the idea.

By choosing these things, I make the choice not to do certain things. I choose not to put on makeup every day or do more with my hair than wash it and run a brush through it. I wish I looked more put together, but I’ve decided that other things matter more to me than this. I choose not to make my own bread. I choose not to sew very often. I choose not to get a full-time job, even though it would mean a much more comfortable living situation for my family, probably. I choose not to have a perfectly clean house all the time.

This last one I want to talk about a little. The thing is, I wish I did have a cleaner house. But the fact is, I’ve used up all my time on other things, so I usually have dishes in the sink at the end of the day, counters scattered with some clutter, and toys and kids’ clothes strewn throughout the house despite having picked it all up at least once during the day (with the kids’ help, of course). I’ve had to come to the realization that if I want a cleaner house, I have to give up something else. I can’t have it all.

Do I give up my quiet, work-free evenings? My volunteering? My playtime with the kids? When I put it in these terms, it becomes harder to decide. Maybe having a decent but not perfectly clean house is a cost I’m willing to pay to be able to do these other things.

Ultimately, if you weigh your options and think the choices you’re making are working for you, allow yourself to stop feeling guilty for not doing the other things you could be doing. And if the choices you’re making are NOT working for you, reconsider them. What could you swap out that might make you happier?

One Comment

    This is an excellent way to look at this problem… dilemma… issue? mothers have of comparing. And also a good way to start to look at priorities. I like your list of things you choose to spend your time on because I think that is a good exercise for a lot of us. Really, it is putting priorities in order, but doing it in different words that make more sense and seem more real and practical. It is a good way, I think, to realize what we are choosing to spend our time on without really meaning to. (like Facebook, etc.) instead of something we really “wish we had time to do.”

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