Thursday, March 10, 2011

Home Alone

This past week, the public schools around here have been on spring break, which meant that my teacher husband was able to take the kids for a long weekend to visit his mother in Nebraska. The school where I work, however, doesn't have break for a few more weeks, so I couldn't go along. Which meant, of course, that...

I was alone in my house for four days with no children.

And it was glorious.

It turns out that miraculous things happen when I am home alone. Things that I cleaned on Saturday were still clean on Tuesday. I read a whole novel. I ate entire meals without getting up to get anyone more milk, different salad dressing, or a towel to wipe up that now-spilled milk. In fact, I ate most of my meals on the coffee table in the family room, in front of some girl-movie, with a beer, because there was nobody to be a good example for. Instead of running through the store like a maniac, trying to finish shopping before Eva pees her pants or I'm late for Daniel's preschool pickup, I strolled leisurely through the aisles, browsing. Browsing!

The other interesting thing is that I was able to devote several uninterrupted hours to grading, reviewing this week's lectures, and revising a midterm exam for one of my classes. In order to do this, I did not have to ignore anyone, stay up late, or otherwise stress myself out. This, then, was the real value of the week: having no obligation to my family, I had time to do all the things that need done for our house and my job without sacrificing my own mental health.

See, in the past few years I have developed a theory that goes something like this:
-I have three main jobs.
1. giving attention and care to my husband and our kids
2. overseeing the cooking, cleaning, and budget for our household
3. teaching psychology
-At any time I am only reasonably able to juggle two of those jobs well. The third one must be neglected. I can try to alternate which of the three is the neglected area, so as to make it look like I am actually attending to three things at once, but the truth is that I am always either ignoring my kids, ignoring the laundry, or trying not to think about all the grading I need to do.
-If, at any time, I attempt to sneak in something crazy like exercise, having friendships, volunteering, or just taking a break, the number of areas being neglected that day will probably jump from one to two.

When I quit counseling full-time in order to stay home with the kids, I thought part-time teaching would be the perfect mommy-job. The number of hours spent away from home is small compared to the time spent preparing and grading, and I thought being able to do the majority of my work from home would be the perfect solution. The thing is, though, that working from home is not what it's cracked up to be. A friend recently introduced me to the blog Rage Against the Minivan, where there is a post that perfectly sums up the way I feel about the whole thing:
Working from home means that I am constantly distracted.   My job requires focus and attention (as most jobs do), and just when I start getting into my groove, a fight needs breaking up or a sippy cup needs refilling.  I feel grumpy and irritated with my kids when I have work to do.  I feel resentful towards my husband because he gets to go to an office and do his job in peace, without four small children at his feet.  I feel overwhelmed by my deadlines, because I never know when I will be able to catch a quiet and uninterrupted moment to write.  Every day I assume I will be able to complete a few tasks, and every day life with four children takes precedence.  I end up doing the bulk of my work at night after the kids have gone to sleep, which means I have no “downtime” for myself, and also means I stay up way too late.
In all honesty, I often think my kids would be better off at a daycare setting than at home with a mom who is sitting at the computer, distracted and annoyed by their needs.  I think I would be a better mom if I was free to do my job uninterrupted, and then pick them up and have meaningful time with them.  In the struggle for quality over quantity, being a work-at-home mom has meant a lot of time with my kids, but very little quality time.   It has also meant that my job is done in small, distracted bursts, and I live with the constant feeling that I am letting everyone around me down.   In this scenario, my work suffers and my kids suffer.

Additionally, I think there is this sense where I (and maybe other people as well?) expect myself to be able to accomplish all the things that stay-at-home-moms do AND all the things that working mothers do as well. But the fact is that teaching conflicts with both of the women's Bible studies I'd like to attend, the 2-year-old story time at the library for Eva, and some prime morning slots that would be great for playdates or trips to the park. On the mornings I'm not working Eva and I do housework and grocery shopping. At work, I am not able to attend faculty development workshops or to spend any time before or after class getting to know my colleagues, because it's too difficult to arrange extra babysitting for the kids. In the end I feel like I'm failing as a mother and as a teacher, all at the same time.

All semester I've been reminding myself that Eva will go to morning preschool in the fall (and Daniel to full-day kindergarten), and that I need to pick up another class or two, or maybe see a few clients in private practice, to fill those "empty" few hours on Monday and Wednesday mornings. The few days I spent home alone this week showed me that maybe it wouldn't be so horrible if nothing opens up, and I decide to use that time to do all three of my current jobs better. Maybe I could drive the speed limit, show up on time for things, do one task at a time, and just generally be less of a cranky-pants all day. Now THAT would be something!


  1. I'm happy for you that you got to have an extended weekend to yourself!

    Good point about working from home. I used to think that seemed like a great setup for people, but now that I actually have kids I can see how difficult it would be.

  2. I so agree about the working from home thing. Teaching is a double-edged sword, too, because it requires time away from home, and it also requires a few hours of "homework."

    Today, I realized I was feeling guilty about the fact that I have a sub job. I feel guilty when Andrew has to devote extra time in his morning to helping get the kids out the door and into whatever child care setting we've arranged. I also feel guilty when I devote time to professional development, my education, or building relationships/networking, etc. But do I want ANDREW to feel guilty when he devotes time to those things? No. In fact, I encourage it.

    I think the hardest thing about being a working mom of any kind is that pull to accomplish everything at home in addition to achieving all of our goals in the professional setting.

    I know you're like me in that you're super hard on yourself. People will say to give ourselves a break or to just relax, but that seems near impossible at times!

  3. Your four days sound like they were lovely!

    But--oh, guilt and crabbiness--I hear you! I don't work that many hours a week--a normal week is 6 1/2 hours of teaching out of my living room plus 6 hours for an orchestra gig (3 hours of which is driving). But it feels like A LOT. I saw my own mom struggling with staying at home with us while also doing her best to be professional part-time, and for a long time I wanted nothing to do with it. It seemed like way too crazy a way to live. But here I am, and on good days I even enjoy it! I feel blessed to be able to do all these things I love--that is, when I'm not feeling like a complete and utter failure.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. thanks erika, you are not alone!