The Bill Has Come Due

{More on loneliness to come next week. Thank you all for your insightful comments on those posts.}

It feels sometimes like the stakes are higher since I had kids. Physics teaches us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, but since becoming a parent I’ve found that the reactions seem grossly out of proportion.

This weekend I visited an old friend in Atlanta. It was an amazing trip and I was so glad to be there. I got 48 hours to recharge, both physically and emotionally. I slept more in those 48 hours than during a typical work week. I got to hang out with other adults, engage in thoughtful conversations, eat in amazing restaurants, shop in actual adult stores and even read quietly in bed. It was just what I needed to fill my cup and restore my faith in myself as a friend.

Then I came home and had to deal with the fallout of being away. My husband was harried and stressed from his first 48 hour jaunt solo-parenting (fair enough) my kids were over emotional messes (fair enough) and my house looked like a tornado hit it (fair enough–and it should be noted that it didn’t look that great before I left). I’ve spent the whole week trying to give my husband the time and space he needs to recharge while triaging my kids’ panicked abandonment issues. My daughter has been having an especially hard time, being extra-whiny and demanding more than it is physically possible for me to give.

I spent my 30 minute commute today singing my sobbing daughter songs and assuring her that I’d be with her every minute of the weekend. It was the second time I had to do that this week. Even my son–who has previously seemed unaffected by my absence–has had a hard time falling asleep, requiring extra snuggles before he’ll finally lie down and drift off. My husband has barely spoken to me and there is a strange film of anger and resentment coating all our interactions.

Basically I filled my cup, only to have it emptied at two or three times the normal rate and I’m worried I’ll actually be worse off after paying for the consequences of my absence than I was before I left.

I spent the first half of the week grappling with some pretty intense mommy guilt and wondering if I needed to end my commitments to personal endeavors like the magazine or my creative non-fiction class so that I can give more time to my kids and partner. I already work 40 hours a week, maybe there just isn’t enough time left over to devote to myself, at least not now, while my kids are young.

Since the mommy guilt subsided, I’ve been left with the heavy realization that I just can’t do the things that are most important to me personally. It just is not possible to juggle work, my marriage, my kids and my own interests. Something has to give. I already spent less time than most with friends, but even my monthly magazine meeting and managing the two columns seems to be more than my family can absorb. I’m already getting less than six hours of sleep a night (usually five) and I can’t seem to nap on the rare afternoons when I’m so exhausted that I’m willing to sacrifice my lunch hour to do so. I’m drinking coffee every morning–something I’ve never done before–and eating horribly. My house is more of a disaster area than even I can stand and my marriage endures days, sometimes weeks, of almost complete neglect. I guess my point is, I have been attempting to include writing in my life, and commit a certain amount of time to myself, and it’s making me miserable. So I guess I’m miserable either way, committing the time to myself or just giving it to my family.

This is sounding more dire than I intended it to. My attitude about all this is one of quiet resignation. I know this time in my kids’ life won’t last forever, I know there will be more opportunities (in maybe five years?) for me to focus on myself. But right now, and in the foreseeable future, I just don’t see how I can manage it.

That means I will be sacrificing a good ten years (counting the past five) of my own personal growth to my family. During that time the majority of my own interests will be put on hold. That is a very significant amount of time, especially considering it’s in the “prime” of my life. We should really be having more conversations about this cost, because it’s substantial and it might have been easier to hand over this decade of my life if I had realized the bill was coming due.

I’m trying not to do the math and figure out how old I’ll be when I can commit to myself again. I’m trying not to think about how entrenched I’ll be in a 15 year teaching career and how hard it will be to make changes. I’m trying to tell myself that I can fill my cup reading a good books and writing here when I find the time. I’m trying to tell myself that I can do anything if it’s not forever.

But sometimes, I’m not so sure.

14 Comments

  1. “I can do anything if it’s not forever.”. I say something similar whenever I’m doing something I don’t like. “this is temporary, you can do this.”

    I think you can invest in yourself now. What has to happen is that your husband has to let you invest in yourself. He is being a big baby about last weekend. I’m not afraid to say it. Haven’t you had the kids for 48 hours yourself? We all need breaks, mothers included. I solo parent 3-5 days and nights a week, every other week right now. And yeah, I’m harried by the time Hottie comes home…. But I’m not angry. He took a fun to Kentucky for 3 nights when I was pregnant with Bryson, and I wasn’t angry. I encouraged it. I force him to stay an extra night or two (on top of a 3 day work engagement) if the city is one he loves. I don’t get angry. He needs his time. On the flip side, he keeps telling me to leave for a weekend. He surprised me with sailing lessons for 5 nights the week after he was gone for a week. He knew I needed the time.

    We all need to invest in ourselves and our spouses. That’s the truth. Your husband needs to learn this.

    Don’t you dare quit the magazine or your class.

    And your kids obviously needed you to go away. We ALL need breaks, even if we don’t know it. They’ll be better for it.

    1. The thing is, he was REALLY supportive of me going. He always is REALLY supportive of me doing things. But our kids are so intense, and it really is hard to be alone with them (and honestly, I haven’t been alone with them for 48 hours since my son started to crawl–it’s really hard to manage them both now that he is into everything all the time). He wants to be able to do it, but it takes its toll and by the time I get back, he is just done. He doesn’t want to be, but it’s the reality of the situation.

      1. But being a partner is about being supportive before, during, and after. I used to encourage Hottie to do things with friends, but would get pissed if he was gone longer than I thought he should be. That wasn’t fair of me. If I’m going to encourage him to go, I need to support him then in enjoying the thing he’s doing. He jokes that I used to say yes just so I could say I did, and then regretted saying yes later. He was right. I think your hubs is acting like I used to, “hey, I supported you going. I’m the good guy here.”. But he has to support all the way through the experience.

        All kids are intense. Bryson is 10 times more into things than Matthew ever was. He’s already had stitches, falls off of things, climbs everything. Matthew is a full-on moody 3 year old who hits, kicks, and screams at me. It’s draining… But it’s parenting. And like Jos says, you need to keep living. You deserve breaks. You NEED them.

  2. I 100% agree with Courtney. I get it – solo parenting is a whole new ballgame – but you do it all the time, and you get better at it each time you do it – so will your husband. This shouldn’t be an all or nothing deal – you shouldn’t have to give up everything for a decade because he isn’t stepping it up. You will be a better (happier! healthier!) mother, wife, friend, and person if you take that time to invest in yourself — your kids will get used to you being gone for a day or two here and there (or at least being gone for your writing classes for a couple of hours for goodness sakes) and your husband needs to step it up and support you in that so it’s not so much baggage on you when you return, just like you do for him.

    You shouldn’t have to resign yourself to your life. You’re in this life with a partner who should be doing everything in his power to help you both LIVE your lives to the fullest. Parenting shouldn’t be the death of living.

  3. Hi! Your new blog doesn’t always show up in my silly reader but I’m still reading when I remember to go looking for it…

    Anyway, just wanted to say that I know how it feels right now. I could really use some time for me and I’m not getting it at all right now. It’s hard to imagine how it’s going to happen. I also do a lot of solo parenting due to my husband’s work schedule and other commitments. It’s especially tough now that I have two kids. I know my husband is supportive of me doing things on my own in theory, but it rarely works out in practice. Reading your post reminds that I – no, we – need to work on finding a way to ensure that both parents get the personal time they need.

  4. It sounds to me like the kids and the husband should get more used to having you be away (and coming back) rather than less. My husband and I have both had to travel for work from time to time since they were only a few months old, and they’re used to it.

    If your husband can’t handle it, can he hire help while you’re gone? If you can’t live with a messy house, can you get money to hire someone else to clean it?

    Something that may help when one of us leaves– the rest of the family gets to eat out (or take-out) every night (pizza! chinese! burgers! sushi!) Since we usually only eat out once a week at most, this is a huge treat that dampens the hardship a little bit and keeps the home parent from having to cook. There’s also a lot more movie watching in the evenings.

  5. NicoleandMargie hit on the right key. Children and spouses need to keep discovering it is ok and you come back. Practice with the process.
    Your spouse supported your going. Have you talked to him about what would have made it easier for him while you were gone? Has he asked you to not spend time on You? I don’t think so. I think you are worn out and normal. And doing ‘all or nothing thinking as a result….which is really really normal.
    Give everyone a few more days and then ask (the two who really talk) what would make it easier for them the next time. And, what was most fun while you were gone. Focus their memories on what was fun and what they want repeated on the next ‘Mom is away” event. It will get easier and you will be happier. Be kind to yourself like you are to others.

    1. This is good, to ask what would have made it easier. When Hottie signed me up for sailing, I still prepped dinner each night just because I wanted to… But he loved that. When we make soups, we freeze a lot for “solo parent nights” so that no one has to cook. Beyond that, he manages just fine.

  6. I can speak for my experience as a kid when I say it’s in your best interest to get your partner well trained in child care now. My mom was home with us until somewhere when I was in middle school and then got a part-time job. Up to that point my dad had done zero childcare, close to zero laundry, and had no idea how to do any of it. When they both worked, exactly what you described happened. My dad was very resentful, we were hungry and had no clean clothes unless my mom washed them (which since she was ironing his work shirts every morning meant it was pretty rare we got prioritized), and the job ended pretty quickly. If he had been trained early in our lives to do basic care sorts of things, he would have felt capable and might have attempted some care instead of rampaging and resenting. In my relationship now, we are clearly doing a lot of solo parenting and taking turns sometimes with solo parenting. It’s important to both of us that we get some solo time away from kids and that we don’t put ourselves on hold because it can be hard to get back on track if you stop doing things for yourself. I try to be good about helping prepare for my absence when I’m home (the freezer will be very full when I depart in January for the best part of 3 months) and also about not judging what was needed to cope while I’m away (every dish dirty? it happens and I’m not going to be indignant about it). With practice I think it is easier to figure out how to manage two kids by yourself and to get into a solo parenting mini-routine. Also 4 year olds are the pits when it comes to separation anxiety and that will get better as she practices. Sing that Daniel Tiger song about grown-ups coming back. Keep setting boundaries for your space when you’re home with the kids (we send the Kid out to play often but encouraging solo play could also work) and keep taking time to develop yourself.

  7. Agree with everyone here. You deserve to invest in yourself. Not doing so will have huge consequences for everyone. There just has to be a way to get things in more balance. I don’t know what that way is, but something’s gotta give. Rooting for you. Amazed as always at your ability to put all of this into such coherent, meaningful words.

  8. I think there are two things going on here: 1) Can your family handle you taking time for yourself. For that one I agree with pretty much everything others have said above…its the conundrum of needing to do the job to get experience (but needing experience to get the job). Give them the job, and they will eventually get experienced & rise to the challenge. Also it does get easier as they get older. But there is also 2) Can YOU handle all the demands you have placed on yourself? And that might have a different answer. I was struck by how little you say you are sleeping. Not to get on my sleep soapbox but sleep is critically important and chronic lack of sleep can lead to loads of health issues, including emotional imbalance and poor focus/attention/vigilance. You need to take care of yourself first—and add the other “me time” around it. It may be worth it to give up sleep once in a while for something that will refill your cup, but you can’t do it every day. I don’t think you need to completely give up every hobby/goal you have, but you need to really prioritize during this busy time of life. Maybe I’m lucky that I don’t have many hobbies nor social opportunities right now. Its easier to just surrender to the work-kids-work-kids life and not be itching all the time to work on something else. My husband is like you, he has so many other things he wants to do, there aren’t enough hours in the day and he skimps on sleep & is really exhausted.
    Sorry if that sounded preachy. Honestly, I think you are doing an amazing job with a really tough situation but that feeling that the wheels are about to come of the bus is an indicator that you’ve got too much going on and something will have to give.

  9. Finding balance is hard. I don’t want to dress you down or anything, because obviously I don’t know what your situation is really like beyond reading your blog. Hope you feel better after blowing off steam, and good luck with the next trip away! (because you should take another one eventually)

  10. Finding the right balance with such young kids is really, really hard. Balance at our house is pretty much non-existent. I have very, very little time for my own hobbies and I hardly ever get out without the kids. I agree with the other commenters though that the more we try to get out the easier it will be on everyone, and we’ve really got to prioritize at this time what is the most important and self care is so important. I don’t think there’s a right answer for all – just what works for you and your family. Right now everything for me is on the back burner, which I don’t feel may be right, but with my husband’s job (he sometimes works all hours at a moment’s notice), I just don’t see how else I can swing it. It truly sucks to get that great weekend away and then have to pay for it tenfold. UGH.

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