Introverts Among Us

I almost skipped the chapter in Raising your Spirited Child about extroversion and introversion. I am such a classic extrovert, constantly talking, riding an amazing high after a party or gathering, narrating every step of my life… out loud. I ALWAYS want to be chatting, discussing, rehashing, talking it over. I am an extrovert, to a T.

I assumed my daughter was too–she is always the life of a gathering, insisting that all eyes and ears be on her–but as I read through the chapter, and took into consideration some conversations my husband and I have been having about how best to avoid her meltdowns, I realized that she isn’t an extrovert at all, she’s actually an outgoing introvert. Which is to say, she is the life of the party, and wants all the attention when people are together, but she needs to excuse herself constantly to recenter and requires an entire day at home alone to recharge after a big gathering.

This was a huge breakthrough for me, to realize that while she enjoys being out and about, she REALLY needs downtime at home afterward. No wonder I always find her reading alone at the end of the school day. No wonder she needs the rest of Saturday to “recover” from spending Friday night at her grandparents’ house (where she adores being)–because even a night with people she loves more than anything saps her energy.

My husband is also an introvert. I guess I knew this, but I didn’t really KNOW it. This is such a huge revelation for me, and helps me understand both my daughter’s and my husband’s needs so much better. I should probably read a book about what it’s like to live in our über-social culture as someone who needs time alone, because I find it almost impossible to relate to that experience myself. If anyone can recommend any articles or books on the subject I’d be much obliged. The better I understand my daughter and my husband’s needs, the better I’ll be able to meet them.

Hmmm. I wonder where my son will fall on the introversion/extroversion spectrum. I have to admit, the idea that I could be outnumbered 3-to-1 on this is kind of terrifying. What happens if I’m the only one who wants to spend all weekend out and about? What happens if what energizes me, saps everyone in my family of their much needed strength? And what helps them recharge leaves me feeling depleted?

I’m sure we’ll figure it out, but I will admit, I am hoping my boy wants to spend Saturday meeting with friends and exploring the city, just like his mommy…

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Where does the rest of your family fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum? 

I Don’t Know How

I’ve been really down this past week, stuck in a low, low funk. I thought it was my period, which took it’s sweet time showing up, and made me an awful bitch for five days, and while I do think it was partly that, I’m realizing there is more too it.

There has been a lot weighing on me recently, and I’ve been a little perplexed as to why it all feels so… heavy, so burdensome. After a mini-breakdown and some tears cried on my husband’s shoulder, I think I’ve finally figured it out.

I’m dealing with some personal challenges right now, and each of them, in its own distinctive way, leaves me with an overwhelming feeling of “I don’t know how to handle this.” When I don’t know how to do something, or I feel change lies in the hands of someone else, I start to panic. I start to worry that maybe it can’t be done. That the thing that needs “fixing” can’t be fixed, and I’ll just have to keep living this way, forever.

Physically, I am still plagued with lady business issues, and I’m starting to think they’ll never go away. The idea of painful, or at least uncomfortable, sex for the rest of my life makes me incredibly depressed. And I don’t feel like I can talk to my husband about it because it makes him just as upset. I’ve done a ton of research online, I’ve seen or talked to three specialists, and I’m no closer to getting this resolved than I was a year ago. I’m supposed to go see a final specialist in March but the appointment has already been cancelled and rescheduled twice so who knows when I’ll actually get in. I have to admit, I’m not in much of a hurry to see her, because if she can’t help me there is no one who can, and I don’t have a lot of faith that she’s going to have some answer that no one else was able to come up with.

I went to the family orientation meeting at the Child and Adolescent Psychology department at Kaiser. It was fine… and depressing and upsetting and absolutely horrible. Filling out the form, answer the questions, circling the words and numbers, seeing it all there in black and white… It was a lot. I cried. My tears left warped circles on the intake paperwork.

The person I saw was very nice. Talking to him was therapeutic–I was simultaneously sure that nothing serious is wrong with my daughter and also certain that I needed help to manage her intense emotions and chronic, low-grade anxiety. I love my daughter so much, and I want to do what’s best for her, but I just don’t know how to be the endless well of patiences she needs.

I’m reading (for maybe a second time? I don’t think I finished it before) Raising Your Spirited Child and listening to Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents. I’m getting great ideas from both, but I’ll be honest, I’m sick of reading parenting books. I’m tired of not knowing how to handle things myself. I’m overwhelmed by how hard all of this is. What happened to mother’s intuition? What happened to knowing your child best? I guess I do know her best, but that doesn’t mean I know how best to handle her unique challenges. It just feels shitty to not know how to make it better for her, for me, for both of us.

And then there is the money stuff, always the money stuff, constantly in the background. I still have $2,000 left on my credit card and it starts accruing interest next month. I ran my phone through the washing machine a couple weeks ago and getting a new one killed any chance I had of putting anything toward my debt this month. I’m still not using credit cards and ended up overdrafting a few times with my debit card before I realized I was out of money (I was mentally keep track of where I was with my spending but obviously failing miserably at that). I went to the bank yesterday to change $80 worth of quarters into bills and to cash two $20 American Express Traveler’s Checks from 2006 that I found when we cleaned out all the paperwork last month. I have $120 to get me to the end of the month, including gas and groceries. I’ve already spent $45 of it (on groceries) and I have two dinners with friends planned for next week too, so….

That has been my biggest challenge on the money front so far this year. My compulsive shopping probably is almost entirely under control, but I promised myself I’d focus on friendship in 2015 and I’ve actually done a REALLY good job of keeping that promise to myself (more on this soon, I can’t believe I haven’t written about it yet). The only problem is that being with friends is EXPENSIVE. It’s not that I don’t think one can go out without spending a lot of money–friendship and savings don’t have to be mutually exclusive–but I have been meeting with women I don’t yet know very well, and we’ve been meeting after work, so dinner and/or drinks makes a lot of sense. It’s a lot harder to do frugal things with women I’m not close with. It’s also harder to spend less at night, when my kids are asleep (so we can’t meet at my house) and it’s dark out (so we have to be inside).

I know I can make cheaper choices when I am out; I can eat a little before I go to dinner and then just eat a salad or order an appetizer. I can stick to Diet Coke or just get one drink. I have definitely been indulging a bit, because it feels so good to just let go and enjoy myself, but clearly I can’t manage that AND stay within my budget.

Of course, I could always stop doing so much with friends. That is another way to save money. I guess I’m just not sure what the right answer is. Do I stop, or scale back my efforts to make new friends and deepen friendships until I’ve paid off my debt, even though I’ve identified a lack of friends as a very big and very real problem in my life? Or do I resign myself to paying interest on my debt for a few more months and nurture these burgeoning friendships that I feel so lucky to have in my life? I’m not sure what to do.

And in the end, that is what characterizes each of these situations–I don’t know how to do these things. I don’t know what the answers are. These are big issues in my life and I don’t know how to make them better–there may not even be ways to make them better–and I HATE feeling out of my depth in so many areas. I loathe feeling like I don’t know how to make things better, when they are making me miserable.

I know none of these are actually big issues. My physical stuff is not that bad and it only really affects one area of my life. The challenges I face parenting my daughter are real, but they are also absolutely manageable. She hasn’t been diagnosed with anything that requires me to rework my expectations about who she will be and what she can achieve. And the money troubles are of my own making, and very first-world at that. I recognize that these aren’t big problems, and really I just need to suck it up.

I suppose that is why I wrote this post. To remind myself that things aren’t that bad, and that it’s okay if I don’t know how to do these things yet. I can learn, even if it takes a long time and I mess up along the way. I will get better. Things will get better. And someday, maybe even soon, it won’t all feel so overwhelming.

How are you doing these days? Is there anything that feels overwhelming in your life?

Toddlerdom, Take Two

My son is 16 months old today, and he’s officially entered toddlerhood.

He is finally walking (ahem, toddling) everywhere, but that isn’t why I know we’ve arrived.

In the past two days he’s spit at me when I asked him to stop doing something, hit me when I took something dangerous away, and had a total meltdown when one of his crackers snapped in half.

Yep, I’ve got a toddler on my hands.

I have to admit, I’m kind of panicking about it. My daughter is already hard enough, and I thought I had a bit more time before he started driving me batty…

My Own Personal SAHM v WOHM Debate (A Conclusion)

I feel like I should wrap this series* up in sparkly paper and curly ribbons, but honestly, I don’t know how (and I’ve always been more of a Dollar Store gift bag wrapper anyway). The SAHM/WOHM debate is so complicated. And so glaringly simple.

The simple of it: We all work hard. We all make choices that we believe are best for our family. We all struggle. We all triumph. We all are doing are best, trying to make it work, and hoping that (we, and) our kids  are okay at the end of it all.

The complicated of it: Each mother’s choice to stay at home, work from home or manage some combination of the two is uniquely intricate and arduous. Even for those of us who don’t have a choice, we agonize over whether we’re doing the right thing for ourselves and our families. When a path that is best for us in some ways is also more challenging for us in others, it becomes impossible to make the “right choice.” We are constantly wondering if there might be some other, better, way to make it work. The reality is, there probably isn’t.

Despite the simple, and complicated, nature of this dialogue, I think it’s an important one to have. When we talk about the challenges and benefits of working from home, or staying at home, validate each other’s experiences and open each other’s eyes to new and different possibilities. A SAHM who is fearful about rejoining the workforce might realize there are ways to manage the difficulties of working outside the home, and the mom who wants to be with her kids might discover new ways to make it financially (and emotionally) feasible. The mom who finds staying at home a grueling, even onerous, experience might feel better knowing that moms who aren’t at home feel just as frustrated with their kids (and life) at the end of a long, exhausting day. And the mom who fears she’s failing both at work and at home might feel a little better about herself knowing moms at home worry they’re messing things up as well.

Parenting is hard work. I have struggled a lot with the maternal ambivalence** that seems to define my own experience. It’s not that I don’t love my kids–I absolutely adore them–it’s the mundane, repetitive tasks required to raise them that send me oscillating wildly between elation and disdain. I cherish the moments of laughter and silliness when wrasslin’ with my daughter and revere the quiet, tender snuggles shared with my son, but I loathe all things related to feeding them and cringe before, during and after every transition. I spend so many parenting minutes looking forward to that glorious moment when I can finally be alone, and then fill the alone minutes thinking about my children, gazing wistfully at their pictures.

Sharing our experiences as stay-at-home and work-from-home moms, expressing how our maternal ambivalence might color those experiences, these are vital endeavors. We need to be having these conversations. We need to be speaking our own unique truths.

Because no matter how unique each of our experiences is, every single one is relevant and every single one is an important addition. The more stories we hear, the more we are able to understand and normalize our own experience, while hopefully putting it in perspective.

So thank you for participating in this little discussion. I know I learned a lot, my complicated feelings were normalized and I gained perspectives I didn’t realize I lacked. I am more accepting of my own “choices,” while maintaining the utmost respect for women who make very different choices for themselves. If anything, this conversation has reminded me that there is no ideal answer, there is no “easier” or “harder,” there is just shifting shades of every color imaginable, coming together in the brilliant and muddled cacophony we call motherhood. I hope others have similarly benefitted from this conversation, and that you’ll continue it with other parents you know.

What do you want to add to the this discussion? Do you think this is an important conversation to have?

*For the first three installments see the introduction and inventories one and two.

**For some really interesting thoughts (and lots of great links) on maternal ambivalence, see Stephanie Sprenger’s recent post. I am so appreciate of the conversation she is starting.

My Own Personal SAHM v WOHM Debate (An Inventory, Part 2)

So yesterday I wrote about the challenges of being a WOHM (for me), but I’ve already declared that I believe I’m happier not being a SAHM, so now I’m going to write out all the things I appreciate about working outside the home.

– It provides financial stability for our family. My job has a lot of drawbacks, but one of the benefits is that it is VERY secure. It would be very hard for me to lose my job, and knowing that we have my salary as almost a guarantee brings us a lot of piece of mind (especially since my husband’s job is new(ish) and somewhat political in nature and we’re unsure of what kind of stability it offers).

– It provides financially security and independence for me. I’ve read some horror stories about SAHMs struggling to provide for themselves and their kids after death or divorce, especially when they need to re-enter the workforce after extended absences. I have never been someone who assumed her marriage would withstand the general wear and tear of parenting (and the daily grind is so much more damaging that I ever could have imagined), so my own personal financial stability is important to me. I also feel piece of mind knowing that I’m contributing to my own retirement and that I’ll be able to take care of myself in the future, regardless of what happens to my marriage or my husband.

I also appreciate making my own money. It’s nice to know that I contribute to our family’s finances and to be able to point to a tangible way in which I support our family as a whole.

– It creates a more balanced parenting dynamic in our marriage. My husband takes mornings. I take afternoons and bedtimes. We try to both be home for dinner, and we work hard to cover each other so we can each pursue our own interests and show up after-hours when our jobs require it. My husband is in charge of the kitchen and I do everything else around the house. In no way are things split evenly, nor would I declare it perfect, but I KNOW things are a lot more even with me working full time than they would be with me staying at home.

{Having said that, I deal with a lot of resentment that I’m still relegated to being the “default parent” and that I still do all of the “invisible work” and that I don’t get any credit for either. I think I feel MORE resentment about that because I work outside the home, than I would if I were a SAHM.}

– It allows me to avoid the stress and uncertainty of re-entering the workforce. I don’t do uncertainty well and I think the uncertainty of how and when I’d return to the workforce would be a big issue for me. I’ve seen women struggle with this and I know how hard it can be. I appreciate being able to avoid the topic entirely by continuing to work.

– It provides an identity outside my family. I really appreciate having an identity that belongs only to me, that has nothing to do with my husband or my kids. At my job I can feel competent and accomplished (though I wish I felt that way more); it’s hard for me to feel that way at home. And while teachers aren’t afforded much respect by society in general (“Those who can’t do, teach.”), I am lucky enough to work in a district where my colleagues and administrators consider me a professional, and some of my students and parents share that point of view. Even when I feel like no one respects or appreciates how much effort and skill teaching requires, I appreciate having an identity that is completely separate from my role as wife and mother.

– It provides feelings of fulfillment. This one is complicated, because I struggle with so many aspects of my job, but I believe, ultimately, that I am fulfilled in some ways by what I do. Teaching does play to many of my strengths, and most of the time I feel like I’m a good teacher. Feeling accomplished at work can help mitigate the damage of feeling like a failure at home. I have a hard time articulating this one, because I can never get a handle on how I feel about my job, but I do believe I take something important away from work that I would miss dearly if I were only at home.

 – I avoid mealtimes. I hate feeding my kids. I LOATHE it. I hate making them food, I hate watching them not eat that food, I hate negotiating with them to please eat just a couple bites of that food, I hate cleaning up after they don’t eat that food. I hate every. aspect. of. feeding. my. kids. It’s absolutely the thing I dislike most about parenting, and to avoid two meals a day with my little ones is a gift that I cherish every weekday. Truly. I can’t stress this enough. Whenever I’m clenching my jaw to maintain my composure while my daughter complains that she doesn’t actually like one of the five things she’ll usually eat, I remind myself that I didn’t have to endure breakfast or lunch, so surely I can at least survive dinner.

Also, my kids eat way more things when I’m not around, so that is another plus!

– My kids learn from others what I can’t teach/give them. My daughter attends a Spanish immersion preschool/daycare where the teachers are all native speakers. While I consider myself fluent, I am not native speaker and I love that my daughter gets exposure to native Spanish all day. Her teachers also have specific strengths that I lack, and I know my daughter learns a lot there that she wouldn’t learn at home.

My in-laws watch my son and they obviously love him with their whole hearts. He probably gets more undivided attention and enthusiastic, involved playtime with them that he ever would with his easily distracted, ADD-afflicted mother. Seriously, I truly believe my son is better off with my inlaws during the day than he would be with me.

I also believe my kids do more productive things with their time away from me than they would with me. They also watch WAY less TV (only one movie per week) than they would if they were home. They probably eat better too.

I get to leave the house. I suffer cabin fever something fierce when I’m stuck at home. I’m sure I’d take my kids lots of places if I were a SAHM, but I’d still spend a huge portion of each day at home. This would drive me insane. I love getting out of the house each day. I even enjoy my commute: 30 minutes of quiet time when I can listen to whatever audiobook or music I want. My job doesn’t afford me much time to myself, but I do appreciate getting out of the house and away from my kids every day.

I cherish my time with my kids more. My kids drive me crazy. They know how to push my buttons and send me straight over the edge. After a whole day with them I start to go a little batty. Having limited time with them makes it easier for me to deal with their intensity, and I cherish that time more for how little of it there is. Having such limited time with them can make it extra stressful when I need to sacrifice that time for work or something else, but mostly I appreciate how sweet it is to see them again after I’ve been away.

– It affords us the life we want to live. One sentiment in the SAHM arsenal that always bothers me is “we make sacrifices to make it work.” It’s hard not to feel like this implies that I am NOT willing to make sacrifices to be at home with my kids, at that my income provides us with luxuries that the families of SAHMs go without. It’s true that my income allows us to live a life we couldn’t otherwise afford, but what we have prioritized is urban living in a city that we consider home (my husband grew up here and I’ve been here half my life), with our parents near by.

We want to live in San Francisco for deeply personal reasons and we value the close proximity to both sets of grandparents, who are HUGE presences in our kids’ lives. Could we move to another state so I could afford to stay at home? Maybe. I don’t know what my husband would do there, as his job is closely tied to where we live, but I bet we could make it work. Of course that would be at the expense of both of our personal and professional satisfaction.

So yes, I work at home so we can afford a certain lifestyle, but that lifestyle doesn’t include cable, or family vacations or fancy dinners out or even a second car. That lifestyle is about living in a culturally and linguistically diverse city that has so much to offer our children. For me, that trade off is absolutely worth it.


I have to admit, after writing yesterday’s list I was a little nervous I wouldn’t be able to articulate all the reasons I appreciate being a WOHM. I worried today’s list would fail to convince you all that I’m happier working than staying at home. I’m not concerned about that anymore. I think it’s clear that I would choose to work outside the home, if I did have a choice. I think I would choose to work outside the home even if we did move away from this insanely expensive city that we can barely afford on two salaries. I love my children, but I just can’t be with them every minute of every day. I often wonder if part time work (maybe three days a week?) would be the best of both worlds, but I suspect it could easily become the worst of both worlds too. So for now, it helps to remind myself that this is what I would want, if I had a choice.

In the end, what this exercise usually ends up doing is making me question my choice of profession. I think I would enjoy being a WOHM a lot more if my job didn’t make it so demanding in so many ways that are similar to mothering. But that is for another post.

What do you appreciate about your current set up?

My Own Personal SAHM v WOHM Debate (An Inventory, Part 1)

What started as a simple post ended up being a bigger, two multi-part series. The introduction is a public discussion of the SAHM v WOHM, a look into why we can never seem to put enough fuel on that fire and why we continue participating in the conversation even when it pits us against people we consider friends. (I have, and will be, responding to all comments on these posts.)

In the end, publicly, I think it’s all about recognition and validation. But for some women it can be a really difficult personal conversation. If a woman has the choice between staying home with her children or working outside the home, deciding what to do can be incredibly difficult. I know women who have anguished over the decision and I recognize how hard it must be.

For a long time I felt a lot of jealousy toward women who had the choice, especially when I determined they didn’t adequately acknowledge their own privilege in even having a choice to make. (Wait, you didn’t get the memo declaring my ability to judge others in that way? It must have been an internal memo.) Then I decided to do an honest inventory of my life as a WOHM and to attempt to honestly imagine what it would be like as a SAHM. I had some experience staying at home, during my six month maternity leave and my three two-month summer breaks with my daughter, but I knew that becoming a SAHM entailed a lot more than what I experienced during my limited periods at home. Reading posts from SAHMs helped me identify other struggles I might not have considered, so that I was able to create what I believe is a pretty accurate understanding of what being a SAHM mom would be like for me.

In the end I think being a SAHM would be easier for me, in that it would be logistically simpler. but I absolutely believe that I am happier as a WOHM than I would be as a SAHM.

The following is an inventory of the ways being a WOHM challenges me.

– It’s logistically complicated. It’s hard on our family to have two working parents, with two different schedules to reconcile, two sets of obligations, and two sets of moving parts (sometimes those parts move in completely opposite directions). Making sure the kids “are covered” can take a lot of finagling.

It’s inconvenient. With so little time at home, and absolutely no flexibility at my job, it’s really hard to get things done outside the house. Shopping is a chore, making doctor’s appointments is a challenge, getting the oil changed requires scrutinizing my schedule for weeks in advance, and getting someone to come fix my leaking washing machine is almost impossible (I’ve been attempting this for over two months). Scheduling anything that has to happen during the work day is really, really difficult (and I recognize that this is much harder for me than it is for other working moms because my job offers no flexibility and being away requires a huge amount of additional prep beforehand and afterward).

– It’s hard on my kids and family. It’s harder on everyone that I’m not at home. Mornings are harder for my husband. Evenings are harder for me. My kids are in the care of others for long periods of time, which is emotionally draining for them. My husband has to make choices that might limit his possibilities at work because he has to be home with the kids. It would definitely be easier for our family if I were home, and I don’t doubt my kids would be happier for it.

– It leaves very little wiggle room. A lot of things have to happen, simultaneously, for our household to run smoothly. If one moving piece comes to a halt (either parent, caregivers, or kids) the whole machine can burst into flames. The whole family being sick a couple weeks ago was a prime example of this. First our daughter came home from school sick on Monday so my husband stayed home with her Tuesday. Tuesday night I got sick, and had to stay home as well. My inlaws, it turned out, were also sick. To make matters worse, both my kids ended up being sick too. So not only did I have to take care of my sick kids while I was sick, but I had to manually input 20 of my student’s phone numbers to mass-text them saying I wouldn’t be there for zero period. Then I had to write sub plans (that could be used without me preparing my room) in between visits to the porcelain god. And when my husband came home from work sick Wednesday afternoon, I had to drive back to work at 5am Thursday morning to get my classroom ready for yet another day of sub plans. All this, on top of cleaning up diarrhea diapers and throw-up clothes and sheets, while throwing up myself.

These kinds of situations are much more stressful for me because of my job, but I also recognize that my job is especially inflexible when it comes to being late or not being there at all. I can’t just show up 10 minutes after I’m supposed to; there will be 25-32 students standing outside waiting for me to show up (not to mention the disciplinary actions that would follow). And if I can’t be there at all, I have to write detailed explanations of what all five classes need to do in my absence, and have all the resources required for them to do those things, ready and waiting in my room. Plus, there is the added stress of using sick days, which isn’t a big deal until I run out and start not getting paid for the days I’m not at work, which can affect our ability to pay our bills at the end of the month.

– It’s incredibly isolating. Most WOHM list daily adult interaction as one thing they appreciate most about not being home, but as a middle school teacher my job is super isolating. With my current set up, seeing other adults just doesn’t happen–I don’t see my colleagues at work (I don’t even eat lunch on campus) and I can’t make play dates with the parents of my daughter’s friends after work (it’s way too late by then). That leaves only the weekends to see other people, and they fill up fast with the boring, monotonous chores that can’t get done during the work week (shopping, laundry, etc.) Sometimes I think I made a horrible mistake becoming a teacher because it has created this incredibly isolating existence that as an extrovert I find tortuous.

– It’s hard to manage the household. It’s really hard to keep the house clean, get the laundry done, make and clean up after dinner and just generally do things around the house when I only have a few hours at home every day. If were a SAHM and my older kid were in preschool (at 4.5yo I’m assuming she would be) and my younger kid were napping (at 15 months old he still naps), I’d have an hour or two to get things done around the house every day. I know when I am home in the summer I always feel way more on top of managing the household than I do when I’m teaching.

Having said that, I absolutely appreciate the lowered expectations placed on me because I am NOT at home. I think a feeling of absolute failure in the cooking/cleaning/home management would really wear on my self-esteem if I were a SAHM.

 – It’s stressful. Having a job means managing a whole separate set of obligations and expectations every day. Not only do I have to consider my husband and my kids, but I have to consider my students, my administration, my colleagues and my students’ parents. At the ends of the night I am frequently grading papers, responding to (indignant) parent emails, preparing lesson plans for the next day or filling out IEP or 504 paperwork. Most of the times my nightmares are related to work stress and sometimes the combination of stress at home and stress at school can be completely overwhelming. Being at work all day I never feel like I’m measuring up as a parent and spending most of the evening with my kids I’m always falling behind as a teacher. I spend most of my life feeling like I’m failing everybody, and that is incredibly stressful. And demoralizing.

– It’s exhausting. I have to wake up at 5am to be at work at 6am so I have some time to prepare for my first class at 7am. My kids usually wake up around 7am, so I’m losing about 2 hours of sleep a night, on average, being a WOHM. My job is also very exhausting–standing in front of a bunch of middle school students for 5+ hours with only one ten minute break to go to the bathroom, does not offer me a chance to recharge. And while I don’t have to deal with the behavioral management of my own children, I do have to deal with the behavioral management of other people’s children. And teach them stuff too. When I am home in the summer I am much better rested and have a lot more energy.

– Managing maternal guilt. This one is closely tied to the stress, but I feel guilt deserves it’s own bullet point because I feel a considerable amount of guilt for not being there for my kids and I wonder constantly if my absence is harming them in some way. There are a lot of messages out there about how important it is for mothers to be home with their children and how we’re damaging them by putting them in someone else’s care. Add that to the regret of missing important milestones and the guilt can be crushing.

These are my biggest reasons challenges with being a WOHM. It’s kind of a daunting list, and yet I stand by my assertion that I’m happier with this arrangement than I would be as a SAHM. I guess tomorrow’s inventory has a lot of explaining to do.

What are the biggest challenges to your current set up?

My Own Personal WOHM v SAHM Debate (An Introduction)

I’ve been thinking about writing a post about my experience as a WOHM and how I think it compares to what my experience as a SAHM would be (in my specific set of circumstances), but I’ve always held off because I worried I’d say something that would upset someone and start some kind of flame war on my page (I know I could manage it–I’ve done so before). But I’m hoping that if I stick to my own personal experience (which is unique enough that it’s probably only tangentially relevant to others), I can manage it without ruffling too many feathers.

Why write the post at all? you might wonder. Especially if your situation is not relevant to others? That is a good question (and an even better caveat), one I’ve asked myself a lot. Mostly I want to do this for myself, because every month or so I start to consider my life and its circumstances and I wonder if I would be happier “doing something else,” as they say, and of course an easy “doing something else” scenario to consider is being a SAHM, because I know a lot of women who do that and, as a teacher, I’ve had enough time at home with my kids that I can kind-of imagine (but definitely not understand completely) what it would be like (for me).

Of course me being a SAHM is totally and completely impossible for my family for a lot of reasons, which might lead one to assume the exercise is futile (which it is), but actually, I think the impossibility of being a SAHM is exactly why I consider it, because it’s easy to covet something you know you can’t have, and because it’s easy to inaccurately image the impossible scenario, for no other reason than it’s impossible. But mostly I do this because in the end, I generally abandon these little mental exercises when I arrive at the same conclusion my mother does, that I am happier as a WOHM than I would be as a SAHM. It’s really helpful for me to remember that, because not having a choice can make one feel trapped enough that they resent their circumstances without ever realizing that they would choose those circumstances if they did have a choice. It’s almost as if the lacking of a choice forbids a person to recognize they would make it anyway. Or maybe only I do that.

I think a lot about the SAHM v WOHM debate and why those fires rages so fiercely and uncontrollably. I think in the end it comes down to a deep need to be seen. For our efforts to be recognized and our struggles validated. I’m not quite sure why we need others (who are so far from us and so irrelevant to our own lives) to judge us and our daily pursuits as worthy, but it seems deeply ingrained in the human disposition. I know I do it. Recognition and validation are two things I would basically prostitute myself for, I’m so desperate for them.

I think this pursuit for recognition and validation is especially important for mothers because motherhood is, for the most part, misrepresented by our society. The general message presented is that motherhood is this amazing apex in the human existence and we should all be elated and endlessly grateful to join the ranks of those who respond to the moniker “mommy.”

Which would be all fine and good, except that parenthood is fucking hard. And women are generally relegated to the position of primary caregiver, and it’s an intensely demanding and mostly thankless job 99% of the time. And of course there is the history of women’s subjugation and the general attitude that women are less than men and the parallel belief that the ways women have historically contributed to society (cooking, cleaning, ahem, raising children) aren’t very compelling or important or require much skill (beliefs which are reflected today in how little we pay the people who do these jobs for us). Basically women have been told for the entirety of humanity that they are less than, that their contributions are less than, and that their abilities are less than. So it’s no wonder that now, in the age when women are supposed to be free of these societal limitations (bwahahaha!) and able to achieve everything they’ve ever wanted (bwahahaha!), we are desperate for someone to recognize all that we accomplish honestly and without prejudice.

And now that I’ve written 750 words before I even started my actual post, I’ll have to stop and add a “Part 1” to the title because clearly I have a lot to say on this issue. Tomorrow I will try to present the dialogue I have with myself when I come back to the (non)possibility of being a SAHM and what it would look like for me. In the meantime…

What are your thoughts on the SAHM v WOHM debate? Why do you think it gets so heated?

Ambivalence in Parenting

Two of my good friends are pregnant.

I’m having a hard time with it, but not in the way I expected. Mostly I’m not sure how I feel about it. I guess I’m having a hard time determining how I feel and why I feel that way. I can’t quite make sense of what is going on in my head and heart.

First and foremost I am thrilled for them. Truly. They want to have children and they are having children. That is awesome and I am so happy for them.

But there are other feelings swirling underneath that celebration, and I’m not quite sure what those feelings are.

I think there is jealousy, but I’m confused because when I probe that feeling I conjure aspects of their family building experience that I don’t usually covet. It’s not that they didn’t struggle to get pregnant (in one case she actually kind of did), but that they took their time deciding if they even wanted children, they waited until the time felt right, they weren’t rushed into it by fears of infertility (that ended up being founded) or a crazed (and completely unexplored) desperation to become a mother. They both took their time arriving at the doorstep to parenthood, and in their mid-thirties, it didn’t take too much knocking before they were let in.

I didn’t even realize this was something I envied in other people. The slow, uncertain shuffle toward something that eventually became a deliberate march in the direction of a desired future. The certainty of attaining that future. That certainty not being unfounded.

Below even that is an ambivalence toward parenthood that I’m loath to explore. I’m not loving being a mother these days. It’s brutal. Grueling. Relentless. There are moments of brightness, but they are frequently overshadowed: pinpricks of light swallowed by the yawning darkness.

Parenthood was my ultimate prize. It was supposed to complete me. It was supposed to infuse my life with happiness and delight.

I was so overcome by my blind desire. I had no idea what I was getting into. I had no idea what the reality would look like.

And I suppose that is why I’m jealous, of the time they took to decide. I know neither of them were sure they wanted kids. They thought long and hard, watched as others went before them, got an idea of what it entailed. And then they made as well-educated a decision as one can when the uncertainties are as boundless as in having kids.

I’ve done a lot of work on myself in the past couple of years, as I’ve tried to sort through the debris that feelings of apathy toward parenting littered throughout my life. I have some theories as to why I so desperately wanted to become a mother (the guarantee of being loved and having someone to love in return) and identifying those motives have helped me re-evaluate my expectations of parenthood and allowed me heal.

I don’t regret rushing into TTC, because who knows if we could have achieve our family any later in life, but I wish I’d gone into this life-changing endeavor with my eyes wide open instead of stubbornly sealed shut. I wish I could have quieted my fears long enough to recognize that the path I choose would present its own challenges, unavoidable and significant. I wish I’d acknowledged how good I had it back then, even amidst the uncertainty.

Parenthood is amazing, but it’s also really fucking hard. I thought it would complete me, but a lot of the time it feels like it gets in the way of who I am and who I want to be. It feels like sacrilege to say that, and I’m sure much of what I’m feeling now is born of the frustration of our current challenges, but it’s how in this stage of my parenting journey. And it’s hard to come from that place and talk honestly with my friends about this massive transition they are about to undertake. Most of the time I don’t know what to say.

Have you ever struggled with your feelings about parenthood? What do you say to close friends who are soon join its ranks?

Tentative First Steps

Thank you all for your support on my last post. I was absolutely overwhelmed by your kind and wise words. It never ceases to amaze me how cherished I feel when you all reach out from the ether to hold me up and impart your wisdom. I am humbled. And eternally grateful.

I emailed my pediatrician on Monday–determined after reading all your comments–and she wrote me back almost immediately with the number I needed.

I called the next morning. When the recording welcomed me to the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry phone line my heart sank. I am calling the psychiatry department. For my four year old daughter. Suddenly her whole life flashed before my eyes: Was this just the first of countless mental health professionals she will be forced to consort with? Have I passed some irreparably defective gene onto my unsuspecting little girl?

I see so much of myself in my first born, especially in her emotional meltdowns. I am sure the main reason the empathetic approach has felt productive for me is because I can so easily put myself in her shoes and understand her hurt. I can touch that bottomless pool of loneliness and despair, I know how it waits silently, just below the surface, even though it has no explainable reason for being, even though there are no obvious springs feeding it. I get it when my daughter erupts, for seemingly no reason, into uncontrollable sobs, because that shoulder heaving emotion is ever present in my own emotional landscape, floating in and out of my periphery, waiting for me to turn my head just so.

What terrible mental health legacy have I passed on to my innocent little girl?

I wasn’t sure I was going to call, even after my pediatrician sent me the number. Maybe her outbursts will get better, I reasoned. They usually do, eventually. This is just a rough patch. Surely she’ll be her sweet self soon.

But then I picked her up from school and every moment was a struggle. At one point she was lying across the steps, face red from fury and despair, so angry at me that we don’t play with our neighbors, who she could hear outside. She has never exhibited any interest in knowing our neighbors! What was this tantrum even about?

And looking at her there, so upset over absolutely nothing, my heart broke for her and for the agony she felt. That is when I realized that getting help isn’t about me not being able to handle the hitting, it is about helping her navigating these tidal waves of emotion that threaten to sweep her out to sea.

I need to do this, for my little girl.

I finally got through to the doctor today. I’m schedule for the parent orientation next Thursday at 1pm. There I will learn of the various resources they have to offer. I will be matched with a psychiatrist who will give me tools to deal with my daughter’s “big emotions” as we call them in our house. Eventually she will probably go in to, but not for a little while.

Calling that number was the nadir of my parenting experience. It took all I had to silence (or at least turn down the volume) on the inner voices that insulted my parenting and condemned my emotional shortcomings. I know this is the right thing to do, that it’s a positive step in the right direction, but damn if I’m not devastated that I have to take this step.

Great Deal

This post popped up in my reader this morning and I wanted to say something about it here because Clutterfree with Kids is one of the books that started me on the path to minimalism. I didn’t realize at the time what a special book this was, because most books on minimalism don’t touch on the unique challenges of embracing a minimalist lifestyle with children. In fact, children aren’t acknowledged in most of the books I read, and there were many times when I wondered how to implement a certain idea when so much of what I was trying to get rid of didn’t actually belong to me.

Right now Clutterfree with Kids is celebrating its one year anniversary and the Kindle edition is only $2.99 for two days. It’s a great deal and a great way to explore the possibility of minimalism in your life. I highly recommend picking up this book if you’re even the least bit interested in getting your clutter under control.