Sunday, April 12, 2015

parenthood and inadequacy

Unrelated photo, but, hey, isn't our kid cute?

I read (yet another) article this morning on dealing with guilt as a working mom. The primary lesson was that we all need to do what we all need to do to stay sane. As in, don't obsess about the laundry and burn yourself out. Watch TV in the evenings with a glass of wine and ride out the crazy because this, too, shall pass.

I get that completely. Adding kids to the mix tends to amplify the hamster wheel of life---making sure everybody is fed, rested, bathed, and has gone to the bathroom an appropriate number of times, in addition to the laundry, dishes, groceries, and gas in the car (and on and on) gets to be a relentless, never-ending cycle of exhaustion. It doesn't stop. There is no break, unless you make one for yourself and let it all go for a little while.

I have been struggling with all this since Claire was born. I took an eight-week (unpaid) maternity leave. That was by choice. My employer is wonderful and would have given me more time off had I asked for it, but I only work part time, and I figured by the time my baby was eight weeks old, I'd be ready for one day a week of compensation and adult conversation. I was right---getting out of the house, putting on professional clothes, and using my brain were all important to my mental health. And they still are.

I ultimately transitioned to two full days of work per week, which is both really great and really hard. My job is, for the most part, enjoyable. My coworkers are wonderful, the work itself is different every day, and our agency is extremely beneficial for the community. I love that it affords me the flexibility to spend time at home with Claire during this developmentally important time of her life.

On the other hand, I feel weirdly caught between two worlds. I'm not a stay-at-home parent, and I'm not a full-time working mom. I am both and neither, and it is challenging to feel good at any one thing while you're trying to balance it all. This is the plight of parents, I understand. I'm not alone in this feeling, and, in fact, the impossibility of the "work-life balance" seems to be the prevailing narrative in our culture right now. The truth is, it's hard to feel good at your job when you've been up half the night with a hungry baby. It's hard to feel like a good parent when the only time you get to spend with your kid is that one hour period in the evening between when you get home from work and she goes to bed (this is also the time when she is the fussiest, I'd say).

I love spending time with her. Watching her grow is the greatest joy of my life, and I spend many days feeling so fortunate to have this beautiful, bright child as part of our family. This makes me feel guilty when I say that sometimes our days at home together are mind-numbingly boring. We try to get out of the house as much as we can. We read books, sing songs, eat Cheerios, roll around on the floor, pet the cats, look out the window, etc. etc. I talk to her all day long, narrating our lives. This is all great! But there are hard days, when she is cranky because her teeth hurt, because she is tired, because she is hungry or wet, when she just wants to be held all the time, when she cries because I step out of the room. She's a baby. This is what babies do. She is my little companion and best friend, and she is almost always up for whatever adventure I take her on. For all that, I am grateful. By the time Tuesday morning rolls around, though, I'm ready for work. And by the time Wednesday afternoon arrives, I'm ready to snuggle my girl.

Even still, I try not to get lost in a sea of motherhood, forgetting who I am and all that stuff I used to do pre-baby. But I spend many days feeling like our house should be cleaner and better decorated, our dinners healthier, our scrapbooks up-to-date (or, um, existent), our laundry folded, our fridge well-stocked. If I'm the one at home, isn't it my responsibility to make sure all this is taken care of? Am I even allowed to take time for myself if this stuff isn't done?

I don't have anything close to an answer to all this. I don't know how many kids we'll have or where my career is headed. There is no master plan to work full time when our kid(s) is/are in school. We're just fumbling along and figuring it out as we go. I'm not sure what the right balance is or if we'll ever find it.

I find this attitude to be the most helpful. Our current arrangement isn't forever. We don't have to make childcare decisions that will last for the next five years, and we're allowed to change our minds. In the meantime, the "balance" can be both brutal and perfect, depending on the day or the hour. For now, I'm grateful we have options.

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