JEN’S ZEN ~ Shadow Work

By: Jen Wainwright


Many moons ago, I worked in a restaurant with a manager who … noticed.

If you were stocking salads, or prepping silverware or doing some little, behind-the-scenes job, he’d yell out across the back of the restaurant, “I see your work! I’m seein’ what your doin’! I see your work!”

These days, no one…notices.

No one calls out across my home, “I see your work, Mom! I’m seein’ what your doin’, Mom!”

I’ve come to call it Shadow Work, and I know you’re busy doing Shadow Work, too, because you’re a Parent, tackling the millions of details we juggle that never get acknowledged. But if we suddenly stopped doing them – ooh, our worlds would no longer work. Shadow Work.

It’s the shoes we move from in front of the door so no one trips. The bills we finagle so our children can go to this event or do that activity, the curfews we set because we care (and the attitudes we buffer for doing so).

It’s the two-step dishwashing dance – clean, use, clean, use – and the dentist appointments we create. The birthday parties we attend, and the presents we purchase and pretty to get them there. The playdates, the sleepovers. The bathroom counter wiped down continuously, the refrigerators stocked and the coupons we clip to ensure it. Unseen. Unnoticed. Shadow Work.

And sometimes, Shadow Work even looks like this: A friend of mine spotted her son looking forlorn and tired, standing by his father. She said to me, “Oh, why doesn’t he just pick him up? He just wants his daddy.” Mid-conversation, she got up and bee-lined to her husband and son. I knew what she was going to do before she even got up. (So do you.) Gently, she nudged her husband and made sure her son got what he needed in that moment … to be held and comforted by his daddy. Behind the scenes. Shadow Work.

We spend our lives overseeing these matters and tackling these details, largely unseen. And it hit me one day that this thankless, merciless, unnoticed, behind-the-scenes work of parenting deserves a title. It deserves to be recognized, even if only by oneself.

So listen closely, Parents. For the days you forget all that you actually do or fail to recognize the importance of the Shadow Work you oversee in your own life…

I see your work. I’m seein’ what your doin’. I see your work.


— Because the damn dishes are never done. Laundry is a cruel joke. And because children are beautiful lessons in patience and counting. 10, 9, 8, 7 Breathe …


Jen is a freelance writer, parent to three, and she’s been a stepparent for over 15 years. She is well-equipped to discuss and write about the great, and the not-so-great, details of all-things-parenting. Along with spending quality time with her family, Jen enjoys music, chocolate, camping and relaxing. And laughing!