“Thanks for taking care of everything, I know it’s been so busy lately,” I said to my husband.
“I don’t take care of everything,” he joked “Just, like, 99% of it.”
I laughed in agreement because it was sort of true.
Yet today, his joke landed on my heart with a sting, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
Was I really doing nothing?
My husband hadn’t intended the joke as mean or resentful — in fact, it was similar to many jokes I’d made before.
But the joke did imply that my husband did everything and that I, by contrast, was doing nothing — or at least, next to nothing. One percent to his 99%.
Objectively, my husband does an amazing job of keeping our household running. He does the dishes nightly, handles the laundry, gets the kids ready for school each day. He checks our banks accounts regularly and tracks expenses. A lot falls squarely on his shoulders.
I felt like I was barely keeping up. I drew constant comparisons between my contributions to family life with my husband’s. Weighing each of our efforts to make sure things were fair. Specifically, that I was upholding my end of things.
And this joke seemingly confirmed a terrible suspicion of mine: that I wasn’t doing enough for my family. In fact, I believed I was doing next to nothing.
I couldn’t give myself credit
This belief made sense to me. It matched up with the sense of failure I felt on a daily basis.
One day, in the middle of my funk, I stood in my kitchen and looked around. I’d worked intently all day, made significant progress and put in a solid effort at my job. Yet I’d ended it still drifting behind what felt like an immense workload.
Now, dishes were piled in the sink. My kids sat at the table and ate microwaved chicken nuggets, a last-ditch substitution for the healthy meal I’d planned. Under their dangling feet the floor was covered in crumbs, shriveled-up baby carrots, gray splotches of spills left to dry instead of mopped up.
Then there were our finances. I hadn’t looked at our bank account balances in weeks — it ratcheted up my financial stress too much to see that long, seemingly incriminating list of expenses. My husband had taken on the task of keeping an eye on our accounts and making sure bills were paid on time. And that was yet one more thing that he did, and seemingly effortlessly, while I floundered.
I was struck by despair. Bone-tired, burnt out, I was drowning in all the expectations placed on me.
I was trying so hard and yet felt I had nothing to show for it.
If I was showing up and doing my part, where were the results? How could I still feel like I was in freefall, one bad week or day away from complete dysfunction?
My unrealistic expectations set me up for failure
My therapist saw things differently. I called it “just functioning.” She said it was striving for constant, peak performance — even perfectionism. My expectations of myself were too high, she said. I disagreed.
I felt I had to push myself. My daily to-do lists were a mile long, and if I didn’t execute on the entire list, I’d feel as if I’d failed at all of my goals.
Success was a goalpost I continually pushed outside of my own reach. I was failing because it was the only thing I’d set myself up to do.
I was chasing the shadow of the overachieving superhuman I wanted to be, constantly sprinting to try to catch up to her.
Even when managing money my instinct was to set the standard too high.
When setting a budget, for example, I’d ruthlessly cut to the bone. Netflix — I shouldn’t even have time to watch it. Gone.
For a few
Oh, and we should never eat out again, what a waste of money when I can cook, and also let’s cut our grocery fund in half while we’re at it.
It wasn’t realistic, and it wasn’t sustainable.
Defining my standard of “good enough”
In the meantime, I couldn’t see the ground I had covered or the successes I had found. Even if I did, they felt unearned, as if I’d stumbled into them by accident rather than achieved them by my efforts. And I also wasn’t seeing how worn out I’d become.
My therapist challenged me to an exercise. I was to write down the different roles in my life — employee, wife, mother, friend — and then define what was “good enough” for each one. To find my baseline of the truly necessary actions and standards I needed to meet to be okay.
I did it. And shockingly, I was already doing everything on the list.
I was already good enough.
Seeing how much I was doing
Since then, I’m getting better at seeing the divide between what was necessary and doable, and what is, in fact, an unrealistic expectation.
I’m not a failure for feeding my kids chicken nuggets instead of a homemade meal; they are fed and that’s what matters. When I feel guilty for being a working mom who spends the majority of daylight away from my kids, I remind myself how I make the most out of bedtime to reconnect with them.
My husband does so much to support me, but I now notice the ways I support him, too. How I almost automatically check in with him, ask him how he’s doing, making sure that we have important discussions whether it’s about logistics or our relationship.
When it comes to our finances, I also do a lot. It’s because of my efforts that we sit down together to discuss our short- and long-term goals and chart a financial path to get us there. I revisit things monthly and quarterly, reviewing our expenses and making adjustments. I make sure we stick to goals like increasing retirement contributions and building up an emergency fund.
It was during this period of opening my eyes to my own efforts and starting to see more of what I was already doing, that my husband made his joke. “I don’t take care of everything. Just, like, 99% of it.”
After a few days of sitting with the comment, I brought it up. I mentioned that I’d realized I struggled with giving myself credit for the work I did, how much I contributed to keeping our household running.
My husband felt awful about his offhand comment, but I didn’t want him to feel guilty. Instead, I invited him to support me in my new goal: giving myself more credit where it was due.
Let’s give ourselves more credit for financial wins
As a finance writer, I see how we get stuck in similar patterns with our finances: we set unrealistic expectations, label anything that falls short as a failure, and might even wonder why we bother and stop trying.
Financial progress takes a lot of time, effort, and patience already. But when we erase our progress by being so hard on ourselves and refusing to see the ways our efforts are making a difference, it makes progress feel impossible.
You might not be at the peak you’re climbing toward yet, but don’t delude yourself that you’re still stuck at the foot of the trail, either.
Instead, take a minute to get some perspective and celebrate your financial progress.
Ask, What’s succeeding? Where am I learning and growing? How am I doing better than before?
Wherever you find a money win, take triumphant moment give yourself some deserved recognition.
And when it feels like the hits keep coming, and you keep trying, and still you are so far from where you want to be — look back at how far you’ve come.
Not at your bank account balances, or your debt, or your net worth. Look at the days you have invested showing up and sticking it through.
We don’t often think about surviving as a victory, as a triumph, but it is.
And when you choose to see and respect how much you have been up against, the obstacles still in our way, and how you are showing up? That’s powerful. That’s invaluable.
You are not failing. You are winning. You are resilient.
You are doing so much better than you are giving yourself credit for. So am I.