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.
Quiet house, happy kids…
3 days ago