A Conversation With Tiffany Dufu, Author of Drop The Ball
“I am in tears and I am overwhelmed. I need help to get out of this place.”
Most moms experience despair at some point on the journey, however, few discuss it. It’s part of the unspoken pact we have with society. There’s so much to celebrate, that most conversations center on the joy. We don’t talk about feeling fractured or how a lack of self-care leaves us eerily distanced from our identities.
When Tiffany Dufu realized the burden to control all things household was unsustainable without living with a heavy dose of resentment, she knew for the sake of her family and her marriage something needed to change. In her book, Drop the Ball, she artfully tells the story of moving from overwhelm to a more focused, fulfilled life by doing two major things. One, she eliminated unrealistic expectations and gave herself permission to let some things go; and two, she enlisted her husband as an “all-in” partner. He transforms from offering sporadic help to embracing co-ownership of childcare and the family infrastructure.
After reading and reviewing her book, I knew I had to meet Tiffany! When we spoke, I shared results from the research, about how the invisible to-do list for moms is undermining peace, clarity, and potential for countless women. This is consistent with research shared in Drop the Ball, especially how chronic stress erodes health, mood, and career growth.
“How can moms find relief even before having an all-in partner at home?” I asked. Tiffany laughed and went on to describe how, even when facing the lowest lows, there’s a path forward. Here, some of her sage wisdom.
In low moments, it’s easy to feel tangled in defeat and embarrassed to admit you don’t have it all under control. But the secret is: no one does. Validation from a trusted friend or family member will immediately ease the struggle. “If you’re on the bathroom floor crying and in crisis, pick up the phone, call a close friend, and say ‘I am in tears and I am overwhelmed. I need help to get out of this place,’” Tiffany says. I nodded, having been that woman on the bathroom floor. More than once.
Consult Friendly Advisors
If you’re not in immediate pain, have a conversation with your circle of three or four people who love you and are invested in your happiness like close friends, a parent, a spouse, or even kids. Tiffany suggests saying, “I feel a sense of overwhelm. I want to be a good (mom, friend, wife, daughter) and I feel I’m not because I have all of these responsibilities. Please write down (or tell me) the list of things you need me to do to be a good Mom (or friend or wife).” Whoa. Really? “This is important because our expectations of ourselves are so much higher than what other people need,” she says. She gave the example of speaking with her husband about feeling guilty that most of their time together was dealing with the matters of household and kids. “He said to me, ‘You’re hot. You’re making more money each year and you’re happy with your work. We’re good.’ That’s what he needs from me.” Amazing! It’s a good reminder that input from loved ones can counter distorted internal dialogue.
Let Go of Other People’s Values
“If you have even more time for reflection, use it to figure out your highest and best use,” Tiffany says. “Separate the value, such as the care of your home and love for your family, from the act of washing dishes. Society assigns values to our tasks…often randomly! It’s important to assess this for ourselves.” Tiffany revisits this for herself constantly, as she is often challenged by societal expectations. For instance, her daughter’s piano teacher recently said to her, “’A lot of other parents come to the piano lessons and it would be good if you can, too.’ I had to explain (to the teacher) that at 4 p.m. I’m working to pay for the piano lessons and it it’s not good for me to be there.” Ultimately, we have to decide what really matters to our families and ourselves.
Drop Working Mom Guilt!
“In our society, only men are taught to associate breadwinning with caregiving,” Tiffany says. Surprising, when women are the primary, sole or co-breadwinners in nearly 2/3 of American households. She went on to explain, “…but that’s part of how I’m caring for my family. We have to create new job descriptions for ourselves!”
Moms who work beat themselves up if they miss any of their child’s milestones. “Women will tell me they’re getting onto an airplane to for work, living in fear that their one-year old will walk at that time when they miss it,” Tiffany says. “Yet, when asked, no one actually remembers who was there for their own first steps! Somehow that has become the ‘bar’ for good parenting.” I laughed with her, realizing how much pressure we put on ourselves for activity that doesn’t even register with our kids.
Escape Good Girl Syndrome
“We have all of these roles that we take on in life, our first was probably daughter, then perhaps student or sibling. If we’re ambitious, we want to place ‘good’ in front of all of those roles. We want to be a good daughter, friend, and student,” Tiffany says. Even with the large number of women she talks to, “…we all share a similar job description of what is considered ‘good’.”
Moving past the societal conditioning—fertile ground for Mom guilt—takes time and intention. “Re-creating your own job description to be a ‘good’ anything is a personal reckoning… it’s difficult to realize you’re not in the driver’s seat of your own life,” she says. An important reminder to reexamine the rules, do they really fit or have they become confining?
Find Your Purpose
Tiffany was inspired to write a memoir in part so that her story would resonate with and serve to help every woman out there. “Women often don’t like advice, even if they’ve asked for it,” she says. To share what women needed to hear she knew that she had to go further than just providing advice. “I had to open up with the details of my own ‘home control disease’ (HCD in the book) versus just saying women want to control everything in the home.”
Many thanks to Tiffany Dufu, I laughed so much during this interview! She reinforced with me something she shared in the book about what drives her. “I know why I’m here, I have a purpose.” She said she’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the advancement of women and girls. We’re quite fortunate to have someone of Tiffany’s caliber and talent as an advocate!