Friday, December 14, 2012

Doing it all?

As I write this, it is 9:07 on Thursday morning. I was catching up on my blogs while feverishly trying to finish my son's Christmas stocking. I read the PAIL monthly theme and decided I had to respond because doing it all with a growing baby is what I struggle with all the time.

So let's take stock of what is on my plate right now. I am still at home this morning because Seven has trouble sleeping at daycare. He woke up a bit early this morning (and twice during the night-I think he teething because he is not sleeping well and is a drooling machine) and so was ready for his morning nap very early. This has happened the past two days as well-he desperately wanted a nap even though I needed to leave for work. Unfortunately, the past two days I had meetings where others were expecting me and so, with a heavy heart, I ignored his requests for sleep and packed him off for daycare anyway. I have no meetings today and, with the fortunate situation where no one checks when I come in, I decided to let him sleep.

I am crocheting him a stocking because, well, my husband insisted. Despite my love of crafts, I was planning on buying him a stocking. But E said I had to make one. And of course I had to make him a Rudolph hat. And bake cookies with him (or rather, with him crawling around my feet). And buy presents and decorate the house and mail cards and all the other Christmas related activities. So here I am, December 13th, and still only about a third of the way done with his stocking. We are celebrating with one set of grandparents this weekend, so I anticipate a late night coming up to finish it before then. And let's not mention the giant stuffed Santa I started in June that is not going to get completed and the cute Christmas jumper I bought at a consignment sale but need to move the buttons down so it will fit.

If I didn't have to take off tomorrow for Seven's 9 month doctor's appointment, I might consider staying home all day. But two days out of the office (actually three since my meetings yesterday were all off campus) is a bit much for one week. Although I could really complete the work I need to do anywhere. You see, I am a college instructor and, this being finals season, my main deadline is grading 29 papers that showed up in my in-box this morning. So, yeah, another late night for me there. At least my trip across the country for next week was cancelled. Well, not cancelled, but postponed to January when I will have two other work trips. Ugh.

Doing it all. Is that what I'm doing? Sometimes it feels like I am half-doing it all. Not doing half of everything, but doing everything but only half way. I try to give Seven my undivided attention when I am at home and he is awake, but there are often issues that are occupying the back of my mind while reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear.

Of course, I really shouldn't be complaining. I realize how extremely fortunate I am to have a bunch of supports which allow me this sense of doing it all. I have a professional job with a lot of flexibility. Every time we fail to make it out the door at my target time, I wonder how people in other types of jobs manage this. I hit the jackpot and have Seven in an employer subsidized daycare facility that is a two minute walk from my office. I can visit him every day during lunch. We can afford to hire someone to clean our house, taking a few chores off our backs.

But still, it's an on-going task to manage it all. I'm only 9 months in and don't have it figured out. There are things that don't get done or don't get done to my standards. Here is the little secret I've figured out about achieving the right balance - it's impossible. There is no ideal balance that we can maintain and no surefire trick that is going to help us find it. Instead, balance is an ongoing task. We do a little bit in one area on one day and then compensate in another area the next day. There is no end-state of perfect balance, but a constant process of self-correction when we are leaning too much in any direction. There are a few "tricks" I've picked up, such as outsourcing my least favorite activity of cleaning the bathrooms, planning the meals and major events for the week each weekend, and making sure my husband does his share of the work (which he does-another way I am fortunate) but these are, at best, marginal improvements. Sure, I've learned to love the crockpot, but when I see all my friends on Pinterest highlighting time-saving and family organizational tips, I know that if there was a silver bullet, surely we would all know it by now.

Unfortunately, that response always leaves one feeling a little deflated. But I think we have to be honest about what is held up as the ideal and what is realistic. That, to me, is the secret to managing the stress that comes with a young child. Being realistic about whether what we are striving for is realistic outside of movies or extreme cases. There are some true cases where someone seems to do it all, but we have to be realistic about whether that is an outlier. For example, Einstein is a real person who was a great scientist. But that doesn't mean that every physicist who doesn't invent something akin to the theory of relativity is a failure. It just means that Einstein was a unique case.

I have constant worries about whether I am doing what is right for Seven. I know I would not be a good SAHM, but am I still managing to give him everything he needs? And I focus mostly on his emotional and developmental needs, because certainly he has all his physical needs taken care of. But is he appropriately attached to me? (to be honest-I partly care about that for selfish reasons yet I am also aware that attachment is critical to emotional and social development). Would he be a better eater if I wasn't trying to juggle all these things and could make sure we were home during meal time? Am I reading to him enough? Do I provide enough stimulation for his learning?

These questions have no real answer and I think we have to stop asking ourselves "enough" questions. There is always more that could be done and so "enough" is never really achieved. I don't know how to stop asking myself these questions, though. What is needed is a shift in mindset, not a specific strategy of stress or time management.

Still, if it's a strategy that you want, I have two I can provide. With the caveat of course that these are not silver bullets. First, my main stress-reducing (or rather, guilt-reducing) strategy is to tell the daycare not to tell me when Seven hits a big milestone. I want to know what he does during the day and that he is attempting to wave bye-bye, but please don't tell me when he actually does. This eliminates a lot of my guilt and stress of missing his "firsts" because I get to experience all his major milestones. Now maybe he stood by himself at daycare last week, but the other day when he did it for me at home, it was so much fun to celebrate with him.

My second stress-reducing strategy is to be clear with yourself and with your spouse about the trade-offs you are making. I had a lot of guilt when I first returned to work, even though I knew I would not be a good SAHM. I still made sure I looked hard at our finances to see what the right decision would be. Both my husband and I make more than enough to each cover the cost of daycare. But if you are both working, do the math and see how much more your after-tax income is compared to the cost of daycare. There is no single threshold for determining whether it makes to stay at home or not as it varies by many factors, your own preferences being one of them. But actually calculating that number helped me prioritize and own the choices we are making. For example, once we knew what the difference was, we had a conversation about what we were doing with that money. Was it just to have a bigger house or fancier clothes? Those things are nice, but not that important. One thing we decided to do was invest in Seven's college fund. He may only be 9 months old and college is a ways away, but part of the trade-off we are making is that he will spend time away from us now so he can have a great start in his adult life and not have to worry about how to pay for college. You might make different decisions, but the key to be conscious of the decisions you are making and own them. Because when you own your choices, they cause much less stress.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. My daughter is 5 and I still feel like I am struggling to figure out how to balance everything. Your comment of feeling like you are doing everything helf way is exactly what I have described to my wife and my therapist recently. I still stress about whether I'm reading to her enough and stimulating her enough, being present, supporting her emotionally etc. The list is endless. Especially at this time of year when there are more demands on our time and the pressure to be a great parent is so intense, I stress and I worry and I push myself to my limit mentally, emotionally and at times physically. I love the reminder that there is no perfect solution, we have to just keep at it and try to find the peace within ourselves to accept that yes we are good enough and we are doing this well. I hope you find that peace and enjoy the holidays.
    Melissa in Durham

  2. BRAVO! This is one of my favorite posts of yours EVER and I just want to do a copy/paste and slap it straight onto my blog! THIS: "Sometimes it feels like I am half-doing it all. Not doing half of everything, but doing everything but only half way." is it exactly in a nutshell. For me, the biggest stress reducer has been learning to just be okay with the half-doing of it all because really, is there any other way!? Not that I have found, and while maybe other people CAN do it all, I cannot. Coming to a place of acceptance with that makes my heart happy.

    I will try really hard not to plagiarize this post, but I make no promises. ;)

  3. Great post! You've verbalised one of the main reasons I've gone back to work. Which is, by spending a little less time with James now means we can provided for him better in the future. And even though money isn't everything giving him the best education and opportunities when he's older is.

  4. "There is no end-state of perfect balance, but a constant process of self-correction when we are leaning too much in any direction. " -- I totally love this line.

    Also, I love your two stress reducing strategies. I feel like I should pin these on my fridge to remind myself of every day!

  5. Gemini Momma was like "Missy's post is the BOMB, y'all" and she is RIGHT. Doing it all half-way is EXACTLY how I feel, although maybe doing half of it, half-way is closer to the truth. It is amazing to me what I used to care about doing versus what never even enters my mind now. Letting go of the NEED to do it, and GUILT of not doing is far more challenging than just doing it, some days. But I don't WANNA!

    Also, this? "I think we have to stop asking ourselves "enough" questions" needs to be stitched on a pillow. STAT.

    Awesome post. :)

  6. I love this post. Where you talk about what is possible vs what is realistic...yes...
    And I worry so much about the fact our 9-month-old twins aren't attached to me...sometimes they cry for mommy but usually they are happy to go to anyone and they have had tons of exposure to Dad and both grandmas...I worry that that means I'm doing something wrong...our doctor told us last visit that the only time she hasn't seen babies shy away from others is with a teen mom who went back to school and let everyone else take care of her I going to be the only other exception on my doctor's list?...actually now I'm really worried about this...
    And also, asking what is the money for? I too am using my earnings for college funds and also we will use them to travel and expose our kids to stuff that way and also to take some stress out of our finances so things aren't so tight. Honestly, a big part of the reason I'm working is my husband really wants me to contribute a little...and that's a little hard, but I do try to focus on the advantages that money brings....and specific things vs just dumping it into a general fund
    Still, never easy decisions...

  7. YES! There is NO silver bullet!! I find that I'm more of an "all of half the things" person in that I try to do "work" and "Mom" to as close to 100% as I can (within our situation) while leaving house (cleaning lady) and cooking (sandwiches, frozen pizzas, an apple!) close to 0%, or maybe a tiny bit more... And I don't even have time to be on pinterest, so how could I find more things to do?!?!

    That being said it sounds like you are doing an amazing job! The fact that you are crocheting your son's stocking is AWESOME! As is, btw, the crock pot. ;)

  8. "...I know that if there was a silver bullet, surely we would all know it by now"--> Truth. So very true.

    What it comes down to, for me, when I am struggling with the self-comparison with those who seem to do it all is this: We're different. Our families' respective needs are different. Our individual needs are different. I see friends, too, who make elaborate dinners or who are constantly crafting up amazing trinkets for their kids, and I recognize that I can do this *some* of the time...but the rest of the time? I'd much rather be reading to my kid, or snuggling with him at night, or spending that time with my husband. Those are my worthy trade-offs, choices I happily and comfortably make. It'so important (understatement) to understand what brings you true contentment...

  9. Found your blog through threegeminis, and I love this post. I completely agree that you have to own the choices you make. It would be easy for me, as the primary wage earner in our household, to say that I "had to" go back to work after our sons were born, but the truth is, I chose to. Sure, it was a choice borne primarily of a desire to give my sons a solidly middle-to-upper-middle class upbringing and to maintain our pre-children standard of living, but it was a choice nonetheless.

    I have also learned that I am OK with half-doing most things, but not others. It can be difficult finding that balance when you are used to doing everything a certain way.

  10. Trying this again, as blogger apparently ate my first attempt at a comment. . . .

    Found my way here via threegeminis, and I love this post. I agree 100% that we need to own our choices. While it would be easy for me, as the primary wage earner in our household, to say that I "had to" go back to work full time after our sons were born, the fact is, I chose to do so. Granted it was a choice born of my desire to afford my sons a middle-to-upper-middle class upbringing and to maintain our pre-children standard of living, but it was a choice nonetheless.


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