Oh, Great… New Guilt (flavored with Gratitude)

(the following haiku must be spoken in your best wrestling announcer voice…)

It’s a G word fight!!
Guilt v. gratitude… cage match!
The victor? Stay tuned…
………………………………………………….

I work full-time and my husband stays at home with the kids (one in school full days, one in half days). He manages the household – laundry, cooking, grocery, a little cleaning, home and car repair. I bring home the bacon, manage the finances, do some yard work and also clean house when I’m sufficiently motivated (e.g. when company is coming).

This set up has been working for us for about 7 years. In those seven years, I’ve become thoroughly experienced in a variety of guilt:

– how much I like my job
– 7am conference calls that mean I don’t see the kids in the morning
– 8pm conference calls that mean I tuck the kids in at bedtime
– That between 7am and 8pm conference calls, I don’t give Frank as much attention as he deserves and I want
– How I don’t contribute very much to the non-financial aspects of this family
– That I can’t recall the last time I made it to a dentist appointment for the kids
– That the kids more or less like him as much as me now
– That he doesn’t get much time with people over 4 feet tall
– That when I get home from work sometimes all I want to do is hide under the bed and not talk to anyone or do anything, which means he never gets a break.
– Working out since I’m already not seeing the kids much

Well, friends, I have something new to feel guilty about, and it is an interesting role reversal guilt: Frank has gotten a job.

We’ve always known this would happen. Long ago we decided that once our youngest started full-time school, Frank would return to work. We need the income to support some choices we’ve made (namely private school). And it would be nice to take a vacation to someplace other than my parents’ house. And our savings account is quite dusty… You get the idea.

But now the time has come. He job hunted, found his engineering skills still very marketable, and has a great new job starting in a month. The kids know that he is going back to work. Here is just a sampling of what I’ve heard them say over the last few weeks:

–         But who is going to take care of us (because clearly we are now going to just leave them home alone…)
–         But I’ll miss daddy
–         But daddy has always been the mom
–         But I don’t want him to go back to work

So now on top of all the other guilt that I’m experienced in, I now get to add the “I don’t make enough money to fully support us and now the kids are sad because dad has to work” guilt. Wow, that’s a fun one. Now, no one is making me feel this way. Frank hasn’t overtly said: hey, would you please make more money?  But would he rather not have to get a job that makes $XYZ and instead do something that makes some ill-defined amount of money and is super flexible? Sure he would.  And the funny thing is, I would too. These last few weeks, as we’ve managed kid and adult sickness, job interviews, extra yard work, new spring activities for the kids, doctor appointments, etc etc., it has become very clear to me how much I’ve come to rely on his flexibility and the work he does around the house.

I’m also feeling a wee bit guilty about the nugget of resentment I’m realizing I have because him going back to work is going to mean more “work” for me, too. (that has to be the most bizarre sentence structure ever) I’ve truly benefited from him handling the daily stuff and now I’ll have to handle some of it too.  Laundry, picking up around the house, grocery shopping, post office visits, and on and on.  (Again, I’ve always “known” how much he handles at an intellectual level, but the last two weeks I’ve felt it “real time”.)  The concept of taking what little discretionary time I have in the evenings and dividing it up across more chores is not a thought I enjoy lingering on.

Part of me keeps snarking at myself: you have a great job that you love, your kids are healthy, your husband is a saint; boo hoo hoo, you have to work around the house some more so you can have your private school/vacation cake and eat it too; cry me a river.  I get that. I respect that. All good points.

That’s why I’m pleased the majority of me has been realizing how much gratitude I feel for Frank.  He graciously, and with almost no debate, pulled himself from the workforce to do right by the kids and our life during the last 7 years.  He doesn’t complain unreasonably. When I’m beat and want to hide under the bed when I get home, he diverts the kids’ attention so I can do just that. He reminds me that we are a team… I have my role and he has his, and together is how it all gets done. And now that he is the one having to change it up (again!) he’s been totally cool.

So I think it is time to end the G word versus G word battle raging in my head these last few weeks, and remind myself what my friend Lynette told me many years ago – guilt is a useless emotion. (I’ve also really enjoyed reading Becky and Susan’s posts over at Working Moms Against Guilt about their recent transitions – very inspiring; so nice to know I’m not alone.) Instead, I will keep gratitude high in my awareness and enjoy watching this family explore new routines and responsibilities (the kids have no idea that they are going to get tapped to do more around here… announcing that should be fun…). We’ll figure it out.

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My 7 1/2 Minute Lesson

For how much longer
will his little hand seek mine,
earnestly, in love?
”””””””””””””””””””””’
At work today there was a celebration – a “thank you” for everyone for their hard work. One feature was free chair massages, and I happened into the room where they were set up just as a cancellation came in. Bonus! I got my massage straight away.

It was a very good one. She instantly found the knot in my shoulder-blade that keeps lighting off every time I lift my arm. She had a firm but gentle touch. I could hardly believe I was at work.

And then I started to worry… how long had she been at this…were my 15 minutes up yet… wait, was that a “wrap up” move… she’s working on my hands, that must mean she is almost done…damn, I wish this could go longer… 15 minutes is so short…I wonder if I can have another appointment…

And that’s how I ruined the chair massage. I spent half the time in my head asking myself all these questions and worrying about the next moment. I wasn’t enjoying the massage itself or how relaxed I was able to get. I was thinking and thinking and thinking.

In a flash of insight, I realized a terrible parallel and asked myself a question I didn’t want to answer: How much of my life do I spend not in the moment, enjoying the sensations, but “in the worry”, anticipating what’s next? The answer? A lot. And I’m not ruining chair massages with this worry, I’m missing the small, intimate moments with those I cherish most. I have worked a lot harder the last 3-4 months to be more present with my husband and kids. To not work through my “to do” list mentally while with them. To actually just hang out and watch TV and not also feel compelled to dust or straighten up at the same time.  To not ask about what’s next while in the middle of what’s now. It has been hard.  I’m not used to that level of intensity and focus (or, for that matter, self forgiveness for things not completed). I am the product of our times, addicted to moving from one thing to the next, not penetrating (with attention or action) any one thing very long. Or worse, I’m a guilt-ridden working mom trying to do a little of everything to seem like I’m able to handle it all.

But my 15 minutes in the chair helped me understand the tragedy of this. Here I was at a physical level, feeling the difference between a massage where I was present and one where I was worried — and the difference was astounding.  I grew sad that I never fully recognized how diminished my mental, emotional and/or spiritual engagement was in other situations where I was sacrificing my present focus.

I know I’ve been doing better, being more present, and yet I still have capacity for more.   I’ve decided I’m done ruining the metaphorical chair massages of every day life.

Am I being replaced?

Sitting here jealous
of homework and puppy walks.
I don’t wanna work.

”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

The change has been quite subtle… My daughter would run to Dad as much as me when she hurt herself and needed comfort. And then the kids would call me Dad (granted, they would call him Mom).  But a few weeks ago was the hardest blow… my stay-at-home-dad-husband did a very mom thing. He was thoughtful. As in “full of thought”. He thought ahead, planned and did something for one of the kids that officially granted him entry into mom-hood.

I was devastated.

I’m ok being called Dad. Hell, I go through a rolodex of names when I talk to my kids too. But I always saw myself as occupying unique space as “The Mom”. I thought ahead enough to buy the birthday gift before day of the party.  I realized that my girl was sad and needed comfort before the tears arrived.  I was sensitive, I was interpreting what was important and I was acting to avoid a problem. And dammit if he didn’t do just that.

If I were honest with myself, I’d admit that I was hoping this would happen. It can be exhausting being the only one who thought this way and I often bemoan (in my own petty little head) that he “just doesn’t get it”. But I’d be lying if I didn’t take some martyr like satisfaction from thinking no one could do this job but me; that no matter what, I am mom and therefore better. And slowly now I’ve had to get used to sharing the spot light.

When we both worked, no matter what, I was still the chief parent.  We only had the one kid then, and she preferred me; I made a lot of the rules; I made a lot of the kid decisions (yes, some exaggeration, but not a lot…I’m not a wench, it just mostly works out that way when you’re the mom, right?).  And then, he became chief parent, he was in charge most of the time – and I tumbled in stature.  It was very hard for me to get used to.  Still, I lived off the fact that both kids would prefer to hang out with me rather than with dad if given the choice.  And I was sure I still had a unique skill set that the Y chromosome was incapable of duplicating.

Snf snf. I was wrong. I’ll get over it.  Statistically speaking he was bound to do something like that at some point, and it hasn’t happened again since then so there’s still hope. But there’s no going back.  Right now, and likely for a while, this is the right choice for our family, all things considered. My life is blessed and I’m more settled right now then I’ve been in a while, much in part to how wonderfully this set up is working.  It’s just that the view is different from this position and I’m not sure I’ll ever be totally ok with that…

Making Choices – My 5 Roles

Embrace the choices:
They map your way forward and
Soothe the looks backward.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

I learned something a few years ago from an executive at my company that has helped me with my work/life balance. He (yes, it was a he) hypothesized that each of us can reasonably have 5 roles in life that we are committed to. A role is something like wife or mother or tennis player or gardener.  If we decide to take on more than 5 roles, and want to fully commit to those roles (meaning we want to do them well), then he claimed something or someone will suffer.

I’ve been experimenting with this concept for a few years now and I think he is right.  Once I started thinking in these terms, I quit beating myself up for not “doing/having it all,” a self doubt-a-thon that I think many working moms engage in.  Instead, I decided that “having it all” was as simple as focusing on these 5 roles such that I was doing them well. Not perfectly, not full on all the time, but in a consistent way, with focus.  If I am able to do that, then I count myself successful, consider myself living the dream, and cut myself some slack on the things I’m not doing.  How powerful would it be if we could all see 5 reasonably well-executed roles as cause for celebration.

That isn’t to say that this is easy. Take a look at my current list of 5 roles.

  1. Wife (this is purposefully first, because it is too easy to make it last; I still struggle to give him as much time as I’d like)
  2. Mother (there may be a time when I won’t need to have this on the list, but not for a long time…)
  3. Employee (another “not really a choice” choice for our family, but still, have to acknowledge it is a role and it takes time)
  4. Healthy person (writing it down gives me permission to choose a work-out over coming home early)
  5. Writer/Blogger (new this year, yeah! Finally made it to the top 5)

These may seem obvious choices, to you, but to help dimensionalize how hard it is to pick the top 5, let’s list some of the things that didn’t make my list.

Daughter. Gasp! Really!?!? How can I do that? First, it doesn’t mean I don’t call my parents. It just means than I don’t focus time and attention on cultivating that role. Time and attention would probably mean more trips South to see them; a regularly scheduled phone call; more emails; home-made videos of the kids, etc. But I haven’t made this choice. So we talk about every 2 weeks while I’m driving home from work or on a random weekend when I get a moment. There may come a time in the future when their health drives “daughter” right back on the list, but I’ll clearly know it can’t be an incremental role, something will have to go.

Housekeeper.  If you ever visit me you will find dust. And likely a floor that needs to be swept assuming you can find it under the toys. If you are lucky enough to see upstairs, then you’ll see unmade beds and likely a dirty sock on the floor. Get over it. It isn’t a priority – I don’t put money or more than minimal time against this role. We don’t live in squalor (don’t worry, the kitchen and bathrooms are quite clean, the clothes are washed – even I have standards), and I do clean the house on a regular-ish basis, but I’m sure there are those out there who would frown if they visited.

House rehabber. This was a role last year (when writer wasn’t on the list). That’s because last year was our first full year in this amazing 86-year-old house which requires a lot of time and attention (not to mention money). Last year we focused on the house. This year, we don’t need to as much.

Sister.  Just like my daughter role, I don’t make this a priority.

Friend. There is an amazing women’s group that I get together with once a month. But I don’t have “girl friend” time the rest of the month for the most part.  Facebook keeps us connected, but I don’t foster the relationships like I see other people do.  I work with people I consider friends, and I like the moms of kids at school, so the itch gets scratched in those ways, but that’s it.  Sometimes I miss this…

Are there drawbacks to these choices? Sure there are. If it were painless, then it probably wouldn’t really be a choice.   But what keeps me committed to this concept is this:  when I think about how (even more) stretched I’d be if I also tried to put effort against more than 5, I realize none would be done well, and that is something I’m not willing to sacrifice.

Do I do some things outside of my roles? Of course, but I recognize that they will get less investment and thus lower returns. Or, I rethink my definition of it. For instance,  I’m a girl scout troop leader. Is that a new role or a “mother” role? I did it at my daughter’s request, so frankly I think of it as something special we do together – mother role, check.   I also keep a garden in the summer – is that another role? If you saw my garden you would agree it was NOT a focus area for me. Instead, I get the kids involved (harvesting carrots this year was a riot) or I treat it as exercise (healthy person role).  Again, you might see this as cheating, but I approach it holistically and it makes it easier. This doesn’t need to be any harder than it already is.

Lastly, you might ask “where are you on the list”? Healthy person – that is broadly defined to cover all the things I do to take care of my mental and physical health. Sleep in when I can, no work in the evenings when possible, Pilates class, etc.  Make sure you have you on your list too.

Have you seen mom? (or, how Bermuda saves my sanity)

Hey mom… Hey mom… Hey
(…witness protection program…)
mom… Hey mom… HEY MOM!
——————————————–

The weekend didn’t start well.  I believe my 5 year old said “mom” easily 30 times before breakfast was on the table Saturday. Even my hubby noticed: “Dude, give the woman a break,” he said. It was somewhat downhill from there.

I am sure I will write more posts about the guilt I feel as a working mom.  One guilt I feel is what I call “desire to flee guilt”. It doesn’t come very often, but when it does – bam! – I want to bolt the house screaming, jump into my car, and not return until I’m sure everyone in the house is asleep, preferably 3 days later.

I have never done this, but man oh man did I want to this weekend.

How is it the kids’ neediness peaks at the exact same time as my tolerance of neediness is at low tide? It is uncanny.  I believe it is further proof that God thinks he is way funnier than he really is.

What do I do? Usually stand on the back porch and take a few deep breaths, remind myself that I chose to have kids and then try to visualize a beach in Bermuda… ahhh. I am refreshed and ready to take on whatever comes my way. Well, at least for 20 minutes or so.  Because in 20 minutes, the kids and the damn dog will decide they all need to be in the bathroom at the same time I am using it.  They don’t like the smell of broccoli cooking but they voluntarily hang out in the bathroom with me when I’m there for an extended visit? What gives?

Breath in, breath out… South Hampton Beach…pink sand… scooters…

A little while later, my darlings will then each ask me something at the same time, from opposite ends of the house. Both will use a voice that conveys urgency and distress. Both will, after calling for me, proceed to yell at each other that they “were first”.  I pretend I don’t hear.

I wonder if we have any wine in the house. What time is it? Crap, not even lunch yet. They’d give me wine in Bermuda. I wonder how much flights are…

And then the tide will finally come in and the normal-ness of our kid dominated life will no longer aggravate me. I won’t mind hearing mom repeated so often that I start to believe my child has turrets.  It won’t bother me that in order for both kids and the damn dog to be in the bathroom with me at the same time someone has to sit on my lap.  Nooooo, I’ll be perfectly fine.

Delta flight number 656 departs at 11am…

Being intentional… or why I threw out my crappy mattress pads

Devil mattress pad
refusing to yield… brings me
to my knees, weeping

 

I am a working mom.    I sort of no longer believe in work-life balance… instead, I’m all about being intentional about what I’m doing — being choiceful about what gets my attention, my money and my time.  Across time, these choices make me happy.  So, here are a few things I’m choosing (and also refusing to feel guilty about).

Dirty shower curtains. Why do I spent time and chemicals to make these clean? They cost $4.99. I’m throwing it away when it gets cruddy looking and buying a new one.

Mattress pads that are a bitch to put on. A few months ago, I threw out every unrelenting mattress pad I owned. Life is too short to stroke out over mattress pads that are too small/have shrunk. I came to this decision during a middle of the night bed soaking during potty training. (There is a special kind of hell at 3am when you can’t get the god*&$@ mattress pad on the bed and your kid is slumped in the chair, now dry, whining, ready to go back to bed, and you realize your first conference call is in 4 hours…) So this is a slightly more expensive decision than the first one, but I don’t care. They are a pain in the ass and have to go.

A company-ready house. I have a new phrase to describe my house when we have visitors – “well lived in”. My stay at home husband keeps the kitchen spotless, the kids happy, the clothes clean, the pantry stocked, the yard mowed. He really isn’t into dusting; straightening happens irregularly… I can either be pissed about it,  do it myself, or get over it. I mostly pick door number three. Every once in a while I go a little ballistic and tear around the house picking up things: returning the coat hanger in the dining room to the laundry room; corralling the hot wheels into a single vessel; combing through the accumulation of crap on the front table (you know the stuff – no one knows where to put it so they put it here? I throw it away).  I think about how if I only spent 30 minutes a day at this, it would all stay under control. But I always find something else more compelling to do. Imagine that.

Not using every last ounce of shampoo/body wash/toothpaste. The effort required to extract the last 5 cents worth of stuff from a tube or bottle these days isn’t worth it. I’m all for being thrifty, but after three days of “bottle farts” – you know, when you leave it upside down and then squeeze it hard to get something out, and then stuff does come out — everywhere, messy, making a noise that would embarrass you in public… well, at this point I pitch the damn thing over the shower curtain in the direction of the garbage can and pull out a new one.  Frankly, after one day of bottle farts these days I give up. 

Chicken nuggets and Kraft Mac & Cheese. Enough said.

Paying extra for a good haircut and styling products. I seem incapable of controlling my weight, my kid’s behavior (at times), my acne… but I can get and keep a decent hair cut. So that’s where I spend some money. No matter what, the hair looks ok. It makes me happy.

So there they are: small choices that make my life easier and bring me peace, leaving me more time to focus on the important stuff.  What about you? What would you add to this list?

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