Mutually Exclusive

A lot of the articles I read about parenting insist on two imperative objectives: (1) parents taking care of themselves, so they will have the internal resources needed to take care of their kids and (2) nurturing a deep connection with your child via affection and quality time.

I’ve always felt these two objectives were in direct contrast with each other for me, but I was never quite sure why. Now that I’m realizing that my daughter and I actually have different temperaments, I’m starting to worry that the two are mutually exclusive.

My daughter needs time, at home, alone (with just her family) to energize. I am away at work for a massive portion of each day, which means that being home with my daughter for that one-on-one bonding time is incredibly important. She needs that time both to foster a deep connection with me AND to refill her cup after a LONG day of being with other people at school.

I need to be out, with other people (adults) to refill my cup. By the time I come home from work I have depleted my own energy supplies and feel starved for adult contact. If I want to get together with someone it’s going to happen right when my daughter needs me to be home, meeting her needs.

Our needs are in direct contrast with each other. At least during the work week, our happiness is mutually exclusive.

In the past two months I’ve done a lot of work to meet new women and foster new friendships. I’ve also reached out to women I haven’t seen in a while and rekindled relationships I felt were worthwhile. This has required a lot of time away from the house, either on weekday evenings or weekend days. I have seen how hard it is for my daughter to deal with my absences during these times. As I’ve become happier and felt more fulfilled, my daughter has struggled.

I have pulled back, saying yes to fewer social activities so I can be home with my sweet girl. I think that has helped, and maybe, eventually, we can find a balance. But right now it’s hard not to feel frustrated. Why does it have to be this hard? Why does the one thing I need have to be in direct conflict with the one thing she needs?

I’ve often wondered why some women (ahem, me) seem to struggle so much more with the transition to parenthood than other women do. Some women fit the role of “mother” so naturally, it doesn’t seem to conflict with any preconceived notions of who they are and what they need. They feel, for the most part, fulfilled by their role and the way it plays out in their daily existence. But some women (ahem, me) are shocked by how difficult the transition. Who I am and what I need seems to clash endlessly with what is required of me by motherhood. I find it mentally and emotionally exhausting.

I thought being a mother would meet all my needs. I thought experiencing motherhood was my ultimate need, something I could not live without. And now that I am a mother, I realize that being the parent my child needs and meeting my own needs, are (at least, currently) mutually exclusive.

I guess it helps to have a better understanding of why I struggle so mightily parenting my daughter. Hopefully now that I understand that the things I used to consider mere preferences are actually legitimate needs, I can better accommodate both of us. Still, I know this will be a continual struggle. In the end, her needs will inevitably trump my own, because she is the child and I am the parent. Parents provide for their children, not the other way around.

This wouldn’t be so hard if my daughter and I weren’t so similar in one frustrating way–we are both high needs individuals. I always knew this about her, and I guess I knew it about myself, but I’m really beginning to KNOW it, in that “solidified truth I must learn to accept” kind of way. My needs are high, and clearly they are not easily met. I am an intense person, I expend a lot of energy, which is probably why I always feel so starved for more. I’ve written many times that my daughter’s cup is like a sieve, the faster I fill it, the emptier it seems. We both require a lot of what we need to fire on all four cylinders. Again, I think this is ultimately a good thing to recognize about myself, but right now it just feels like a burden.

Maybe this will get better with time. Maybe there will come a day when being with her doesn’t deplete me, but fills me up. Maybe one day I’ll arrive at the experience of parenthood I always imagined for myself. In the meantime, I suppose it helps to have identified our particular challenges, and treat us both gently as we learn to accommodate our contrasting needs.

I just wish it didn’t have to be so hard.

How do your needs contrast with the needs place on you by your life? How do you manage?


  1. As usual, its like you’re in my head! I was just thinking about this! I need the following: quiet time, personal space and regular (but not as frequent as you) adult interaction. My kids need: my constant attention(both), constant talking to me(both), and constant touching (L). Clearly those do not go together. I also need to go to bed early, while my husband needs time with me when he has his energy spike—late at night.
    I don’t think I’m a terribly high needs person overall, but I’ve noticed that both of my kids are “spirited” “high needs” “a handful” or whatever they call it. Its really really exhausting. I was just reading comments on another blog about toddlers that sleep from 7p-8a every night, happily play alone (without sticking their hands in the wheels) while mom is on the elliptical, or that play quietly while mom gets baby down and realize that the reason some people seem like fantastic mothers may be that they have EASY CHILDREN.

    1. Wow, those kids sound… a lot different from my kids. I appreciate hearing that other people also believe it’s easier for some moms because their kids are easier. Some of the kids in my daughter’s class seem so easy going. I’ve seen them deal with issues during drop off or during a birthday party and I’m slacked jawed at how simple it is for them to move on from disappointment. My daughter is very persistent. And moving on takes A LOT of tantruming. It’s so exhausting. We can’t watch TV much because turning it off is an issue. We can’t do a lot of things much because transitioning away from them is so hard. Everything is a struggle.

  2. I think you’re spot on when you say this is possibly harder for you than some others b/c of the difference in your temperaments. Also, scheduling is hard. Like you, I’m gone for most of the day; 8-6 is typical for me… but I’m lucky in that my friends either (a) come to our house for drinks after work, or (b) we go out around 8pm when Stella has already been put to bed, so I get my “me” time and she is none the wiser. 😉 Do your new friends ever do later gatherings so they can go out after kids are in bed? Maybe that would help things?

    On a related note, this weekend I’m driving 6 hrs to Denver with Stella to spend the weekend with my sister. We rented an apt through AirBnB (which was actually cheaper than a hotel room!) so that we can go out for dinner together (the 3 of us) and then come back and put her to bed and stay up drinking and talking and watching Survivor together. 🙂 In the past I’d have been SO sad to not be out bar hopping when I’m staying in LoDo for goodness sakes, but like you, I’m trying really hard to find that balance. It’s hard, especially when the balance is continually shifting. I’m glad you’re working on making more time to fill YOUR cup though…

    1. Scheduling is so, so hard. I’m realizing that a lot of my friends are moms, or they live on the other side of the city. With other moms they have to be home if their husband is not, or their kid takes forever to go to sleep (it seems most preschoolers aren’t actually asleep until 10pm!) and if it’s a friend who is not a mom, it takes forever to get to my side of the city on public transport, or parking is too annoying to attempt it. So meeting at our house is kind of out. (Also, my husband would HATE that because he needs our small house to be empty so he can recharge). So I need to go out, but that is expensive, and then I’m not there. Also, my daughter isn’t done with her bedtime routine until 8:30 and she almost never falls asleep before 10pm or 10:30pm. It’s exhausting!

  3. May I make a bold observation? The way some people fill their cup at work is through adult contact. Something that sounds like is sorely lacking in your work environment because of the set up. Maybe, in light of what you’ve recently learne about your daughter, it’s time for a career change. I know, much easier said than done, but you haven’t sounded like you’re overly happy about work so it may be time.

    With Obama’s recent focus on expanding the community college system, there’s been a need for instructors. Most positions are filled by those with little to no teaching experience (graduate school tends not to focus on training to teach), so you would have that as an advantage. Plus there’s a need at a lot of levels. Something to think about.

    1. I appreciate your bold observation. I have been thinking about changing my job for a long time, and have been meaning to write about it here. I feel trapped in my profession by a lot of things, mainly retirement restrictions with STRS and Social Security. I have been thinking about moving up to high school, and I didn’t realize why that seemed like a better fit for me but I’m realizing I might have been looking for older students I felt I could connect with better. I would absolutely love to work in the community college, but I’ve heard it’s really hard to break into that system. People work in community college positions until they die, quite literally. I also think I’d need experience teaching at the high school level first, because it’s a big jump from middle school students to adults. Now that my daughter will be in kindergarten and I know if I can find a job wherever or somewhere down south by where I work now (I will take her to a school in my district if the school we get in SF is just too hard to get to). All that to say I’ll be posting about this soon because it’s been on my mind a lot.

  4. Another observation: nowhere do you mention your husband spending one on one time with your daughter. I don’t know everything about your dynamic, but I hand off my extroverts to their dad when I just can’t take it anymore. (I’ve often said that I don’t do “cruise director mom.” I HATE being the entertainer for them.)

    1. My husbands spends 2+ hours of time with my daughter in the morning, and I don’t see her at all then. The only time I have to see her is in the late afternoon/early evenings. On the weekends my husband is around a lot (more than me, actually) and they have a great time together, but she doesn’t seem to NEED him like she needs me. I hope that will change over time, it definitely has gotten a lot better as she’s gotten older. Having said that, my husband still struggles with her in the morning, because she wants me. I feel like, at 4.5yo, this shouldn’t be so much of an issue anymore, but it continues to be.

  5. I think you are right that it goes down to temperament as well as developmental phases. I have also found the transition to parenthood very difficult. I am a stay at home mom, but will probably be going back to work part-time soon. My son is 15 months. I truly believe that if my son were a better napper, this whole transition would have been easier. The times in his life where has napped well have been significantly easier for me. He’s actually pretty easy in many ways, but not having consistent breaks during the day kills me. Even when he was a newborn, he didn’t nap too much. I kept on hearing about moms who met other moms for coffee with their babies sleeping in the strollers. He would wake up the second the stroller stopped moving. It’s funny — I have read your posts and have been so jealous that your son sleeps so much more than mine! I have also found that I enjoy different developmental stages more. I seem to like early toddlerhood more than babyhood — I guess I just like hearing him learn to talk. Maybe I’m not a baby person?

    1. My son is an amazing napper, and I don’t take it for granted because my daughter didn’t take a nap longer than 30 minutes until she was 18 months and finally started taking a pretty consistent afternoon (it was still only about an hour, but at least it was consistent). So I know how you feel. That is so, so hard. And it drove me crazy when I was home with my daughter for the first six months and then during summer breaks. I would have gone crazy if I’d been home with her full time until she started napping.

      I have a feeling I’m not a “little kid” (by that I mean baby, toddler, preschooler) person. I think I will feel more in my element when my kids are school aged. If not, I’m in trouble. 😉

  6. Re CC: having worked as an adjunct at a Calif CC to make extra $ (at nite, before kids) I can attest to the fact that it is HARD to get a FT position. I considered switching careers and there are very few FT positions. Most CCs save money by having multiple adjuncts so they don’t have to pay benefits. I knew people who taught adjunct at like 3 diff CCs to make ends meet and got no benefits. Also you need a masters, not sure if you have that. If you did want to make that change I’d rec you do adjunct for a while to have that on your resume but of course that would cut into your time even more. And the competition can be tough since there are people who have taught adjunct for years so when that rare ft job opens they are looked at first. Not trying to discourage just giving info. I taught in science but I think it’s true for all disciplines prob worse for the humanities.

    As to adult time, can you do it after she goes to bed? My former moms book club used to meet at 8 which worked well for everyone.

    1. Thank you so much for your insight and experience on this. You are describing what I’ve heard before. I would never think to get a FT position at a CC, but I hoped that maybe some day I could get enough adjunct work to make ends meet (I don’t really get benefits through my school district either so I don’t need to worry about that change). The possibility of working at a CC is VERY far in the future for me, and I doubt it will actually happen. But a girl can dream… 😉

  7. There is hope. At this age, her language skills are changing and her ability to use language to talk about her needs is starting to expand. Yes, she talks in paragraphs already now but in the next language expansion phase she will learn to use language to express her emotions. It takes time but it does get easier when they learn this. For now, it is worth a LOT of work to teach her how to express her feelings in words rather than actions. To discuss the emotions of the day as well as favorite and worst experiences of the day. (How did you feel? When did you feel x? How did z feel when x happened in the story?) Language language language. Given your facility at writing with words I suspect she will be adept at learning this, over time. Means also you talking about how you feel and her dad doing the same……..

    1. We talk about emotions A LOT. She clearly just went through a cognitive jump because she seems much more capable of identifying her emotions and talking about them. I hope, as that keeps getting better with time, some of these issues becomes less intense. Already she seems more willing to be sad or angry. I say that it’s okay to be angry or sad a lot and she used to yell at me that it wasn’t okay, but now she will say, yeah, it’s okay, but I don’t like it. That is a HUGE break through. Of course it’s not happening consistently, but the fact that it sometimes does is promising.

  8. My cup is refilled through exercise. When I first started back into the world of working out it was a struggle to find balance, I went from feeling bad for spending any amount of time solely focused on that, to taking too many classes away from home, requiring G to spend an hour (total time) in the car, and 45 minutes at the place watching a video and playing by herself. When it was me and her all day every day, it was too much, and when she started school? Not even an option. So I now take class twice a week, leaving her with her dad or her granny if possible, and I work out at home the rest of the days, including her whenever possible. For example, plopping her 38 pound self in the 8 pound back pack and hiking up our ridiculously steep half mile driveway. We really enjoy our time together, she sees mommy doing what makes her happy, Mommy is doing what makes her happy, and she sees how very important exercise is in life. Something that was never addressed in my childhood. I struggled with not enough, then too much, but I feel like I’m finally finding my balance.

  9. We set up a deal where each adult gets one night a week as “do whatever you want” time. I tend to do something social about half the time (book club or a volunteering meeting or something). I’d say I sit right at the introvert/extrovert border so I am happy with the variety. When I have the girls alone, often if I am fed up and need quiet time, I send the Kid to her lego play area to play alone. She will happily leave me alone for hours playing with them with occasional visits to show me some creation. Little Monster is just about to play independently for a half hour at a time, but sometimes I put on a movie for her and then hide in the next room to read or quietly use the computer. If I need social time, I try to plan to take them to a program at the library and invite another parent I know to join us (or go to the library in the city and meet some parent there at the fabulous play area).

    1. You guys are so good at setting up deals like this. It seems like you are generally on the same page, or willing to be. I just don’t feel like my husband and I have that same kind of understanding.

      Having said that, my husband is great about letting me go do whatever I want, as long as it works out with the overarching schedule (and he will cancel his commitments if mine are really important). It’s just that when I come home I feel like I have to “pay for” my time away because my husband is in tired and stressed and in a bad mood and my daughter is upset that I was gone. A lot of times I think, this isn’t even worth it, because I use up all the extra energy I got being out with other people, on assuaging my upset family when I get back.

  10. I think it will get better. A friend of mine whose kids are a good bit older than mine told me than when they turned 5 and 6, she woke up one day feeling like herself again. I noticed the same thing, with my oldest at 6 and the younger one at 4.5. And it felt like a sudden transition. Suddenly they started playing together and just didn’t need me in the same intense way as before. They still need me, and they still prefer me over dad most of the time, but it’s not the same degree of intensity. It will get better.

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