Monday, February 25, 2008

Mother Guilt (part 984 of 2,938,218)

As I have made clear in previous posts, I do not like staying at home with small children. I cannot handle hour after hour of rolling a ball, meandering at .00002 miles per hour down the sidewalk, or reading the same 5-page book for the eight thousandth time that afternoon. It makes me sad in my brain. I get sluggish, lazy, depressed. I have no patience with my children, I call Paul and yell and cry for no reason, I eat too much, I can't seem to figure out how to make it to the gym or take out the garbage. In other words, I kinda stop functioning. So it's no surprise that I do not like staying at home with small children all day every day. In a way, going back to work is simply the obvious choice, as I cannot tolerate the alternative. Plus, I love working. I love having a job that challenges me, gets my brain revved up, puts to use the 28 years of education I endured. I truly enjoy working.

Which may have you wondering, what's my point? If it's so obvious that I should be working and not staying at home, why am I bothering to write about it....again? After all, most mothers out there still work, I'm hardly out in left field.

My answer is, I'm writing about it again because it's not a simply either/or decision. What I dislike most about having children is that there are so few decisions that feel best for me and best for my children. Whether it's our choice of vacation spots, Paul's and my need to get away and be alone together for a few days, or even getting the optimal 30 minutes of exercise every day while still achieving the best-practice 8 hours of sleep every night, the decision that is best for me is so often not what's best for my children. And that is no more obvious than when I'm trying to think through work-home balance.

Now, I'm not saying that mothers working outside the home is bad for children. I don't think it is, especially not when we're talking long-term effects. But in the short-term, well, my kids want me home with them. Eliana wants me taking her to preschool and picking her up, she wants me to take my turn reading a story to her class in the middle of the day or chaperoning a field trip. Meron's wants are somewhat more straightforward: she wants to be touching me every minute during which she is awake. And I can do none of these to their satisfaction while I'm working full-time. Sure, I can drop Eliana off once a week or so, and I can probably manage to chaperone a field trip before the year is up, but it's not as much as the "other mothers" are able to do (all of Eliana's classmates save one other mother work at home). And I don't have a prayer when it comes to satisfying Meron's desire for all Mama all the time. So I usually go to work feeling like I'm failing my children, and go to bed feeling like they did not get enough time with me.

Working part-time is clearly the ideal solution. I have figured out that much, in case you were wondering if my brain was incapable of finding a happy medium. But quite honestly, that is easier said than done. It's a lot easier to do, for example, if you have a few years built up at a job, where you've made yourself indispensable enough that they're willing to let you pull back if it means you'll stick around. But I'm still very much in the early stages of my career. Even when I was planning to go into private practice, the person I was going to going into business with was pushing back on me a bit when I said I wanted to work only 20 hours per week. Not to mention that when you're working part-time in an office or business where most everyone is working full-time, the dynamics can get a bit weird. Not only that, but it becomes all too easy for your 20 hours a week to start looking more like 30 hours per week, plus another 10 that you end up doing from home, because everyone else is still working and so you find yourself getting asked to do something on your one day a week you have blocked off. So unless your part-time job involves working for yourself, it's not always as straightforward as negotiating a cut in hours.

And there's another reason I hesitate to go part-time: I want a career, not just a job. I want to commit myself to a career path and really invest myself in it, become really good at what I do. Working part-time makes that all the more difficult. I mean, really, how much meaningul work can you do in 20 hours? The answer, in case you're wondering, is not much. Or at least, not as much as I want to do.

So there you have it. Two parts of me that are quite large, quite noisy, and fighting for dominance: The part of me that wants to be with my children, wants to sacrifice my sanity a bit if it means they are happier, and the part of me that wants so badly to have a career to be proud of, a career that I can look back on and say, "I did that! Me and my brain and my hard work!!!"

Hopefully some day soon I will figure this all out. Until then, I guess just being aware that those two parts of me exist will have to suffice. In the end, I hope my children grow up to understand that no matter what they think of my choices, I love them very much. And i hope that for myself, I will look back on the choices I made and feel at least mostly good about them.

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