27 January 2011

Mornings, and the Dilemma of the Working Single Parent

One way in which I am exactly the same as the majority of the world is that I find it hard to get out the door in the morning.

I don't want to get up as early as I really should to give us all enough time to get ready. Once I do get up, time seems to just slip away, and suddenly I should have left five minutes ago but I'm still shoveling cereal in my mouth and haven't brushed my hair. Maddie and Riley have been particularly loathe to see me go lately, so there are always a thousand requests for things they just remembered or want me to see or one last snuggle or such and such and such.

I've adjusted my attitude about the whole thing quite a bit. I'm working on getting up the fifteen minutes earlier that will really make a difference. I'm done telling everyone to hurry; it doesn't help and it just creates anxiety. I'm glad that I'm the only one who has to get out the door for now; the kids don't start their half-day preschool until 12:15, so they don't need to be dressed and shiny until I'm gone. So generally, while hectic, mornings are better than they used to be.

Today, though, was one of those mornings when things just didn't go well. I got up later than I should have, then I spent the morning managing cranky Riley's reaction to the indignity of being served cereal and fresh mango. It is so utterly exhausting to remain calm and rational in the face of a reaction more suited to the end of the world than to seeing a box of Cheerios on the table. Yeesh.

Which brings me to what this post is really about, which is working, and kids, and this strange secret life Maddie and Riley have for the majority of their waking hours.

When Maddie and Riley were babies, and I toted them off to daycare, I can honestly say that I never felt a twinge of regret. They were boundlessly loved at daycare, they thrived in that setting, and they enjoying attending. I enjoyed working, well, I mean, most of the time. Who wouldn't rather be independently wealthy and be able to structure one's time the way one wants and have help where help is needed and such? But given the constraints of reality, working was a good choice for me and our family, and daycare more than fit the bill.

Now the kids are getting older and things are getting more complicated on all levels. The first level is logistics. School schedules and traditional work schedules don't match up all that well. Like at all. Z, the wonder au pair!, has been a perfect solution for now. Over the long haul, I'm not sure the situation is financially feasible, but for now, we're good. An easy future option is the before school and after school care provided at M&R's school, but then there are summers, and it's all just very complicated. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Then there is the logistical subset of activities. OMG, the activities! I tend to err on the side of low involvement in the kid activities. I'd like for M&R to learn piano and/or another instrument, and if they want to do a sport, I think that's peachy. But how? How will this work? I get off work at 5 p.m.! How am I going to get them to lessons and practices? I don't understand how this works for those of us who work a traditional 9 to 5 job!

So the logistics overwhelm me on one level, but other people have figured it out and so will I and there's always more coffee and maybe I could flex my time (ha ha ha! Anyone who works where I work just about keeled over they are laughing so hard at how well that idea would go over.) But whatever, we'll figure out the logistics.

Here's the harder thing. It's now, now that Maddie and Riley are older and have become these small people who say the most amazing things and have the zaniest thoughts and are developing independent interests and friends and such, now is when I want to be home with them. I want to volunteer in their classroom. I want to take them to their activities. I want to be at all the games and the performances. I want to go on field trips. Their lives are in many ways a mystery to me. Z tells me about what they do during the day, and so do Maddie and Riley, but they are four, and their narration is incomplete and hearing about it is a poor substitute for being a part of it.

This feeling is, of course, not unique. It's just taken me a lot longer to get there than it takes some people. I'm feeling downtrodden by the fact that during the week, my life with Maddie and Riley is nothing but logistics. From when we get up until I head out the door, is a mix of brushing teeth and making breakfast and eating breakfast and finding clothes, and who knows what all, but it's only 1.5 hours and little of it is fun time. From when I get home at 5:30 until bedtime at 7:30, it's once again a lot of logistics: there is dinner to eat, there might be a bath to take, there are pajamas to put on and teeth to brush and stories to read. On a good night, we get twenty minutes or so to play. Bedtime is not really negotiable since both kids are usually asking to go to bed by 7. But I hate that I have to say no more than yes when Maddie asks me if we can play dollies, or when Riley asks if we can do a puzzle. We're often counting the days until we can do something fun together, and even then, on the weekend, we still have to deal with a fair amount of Stuff That Keeps Life Moving.

I want more time for us to enjoy each other and for me to be engaged in their lives. I don't know how to reconcile that with working, and the fact that I enjoy my job as well. Plus we need health insurance and we need to pay our bills. Even if we went Drastic and I quit my job and we scaled WAY back: sold the car, rented a much smaller house, set limits on food and entertainment spending, I'm not sure we could do it. And even if we could, that seems like too much of a swing in the other direction. Where's the balance?

Or is "balance" just a word that means an unattainable goal of having it all? Because we can't do that, have it all. Lately, though, it just feels like I'm missing the most important part.


Heather said...

I am deeply content in our current daycare setting but I too am starting to see a fun person that I'd like to hang out with in my son.

If for no other reason than to finally understand why he is SO SURE the computer needs a diaper.

Anonymous said...

delurking to say that you are not the only one who feels like weekdays are a bust and just all about logistics and feeling horrible about it. not to scare you or anything but wait until they start the numbered grade levels -homework in the mix. i oftentimes lament that there is too much homework and not enough time for the kid to just be and play after school.

Snickollet said...


I already hate homework. Sigh.


david.rosenberg said...

We totally feel this ourselves. Kind of can't believe I came to work today and am not taking the kids sledding.

BUT... if it makes you feel better, we rarely send L or N to school shiny and sometimes not even dressed (unless you count last night's PJs). So there's always the option of "lowering our standards" which saves a little time too.

Anonymous said...

Just a comment about before and after school care and what to do in the summers: our district's program is run by the YMCA, and they also offer summer camps that last the entire work day (7am-6pm). That might be an option for you, so don't dispair. My son doesn't start school until 2012 but I was so worried about it that I have already researched it! :-) Our program is also open for a full day on days that school is not in session (teacher inservice, over winter break), but you have to pay extra for that.

Good luck!

kathleen999 said...

Weekdays for us are all about the schedule. I work every day and do freelance at night. So every day is very full. But I work an early shift so I can pick up the boys from the bus at 3pm and then we start homework. After homework, if they finish quickly we get to watch Phineas and Ferb. If not, straight to making dinner. Then straight on to the bedtime routine and then they are in bed for the night by 7ish. Then I often go back to work, or do laundry, or whatever else I need to do. So weekdays = not as much fun as I would like. Spring and summer are better because we can stop off at the playground for a while sometimes.

Oh, on Friday, the school has Fun Friday and they have all their reward activities then. And there is no homework, so we have Fun Friday at home too and go to the playground if there is time, and the boys tell me where they want to take me for a snack when I get them from the bus.

So weekends are really the fun time, although I always have plenty to do then too. I think the trick is to see everything as enjoyable if you can. Make errands fun in some way, watch your favorite programs while doing laundry. You have to insert the fun any way you can. Which I confess is not as often as I would like.

Anonymous said...

Yep, similar problems here! I manage by scheduling my 4 year old's "extracurricular" activities on the weekends, although that means we only get to do stuff like the zoo or the museum on weekends where there are breaks from classes.

The way I try to think about it is that we (humans, I mean), usually feel "the grass is greener on the other side of the fence." I miss my kids (and my husband, btw!) during the day precisely BECAUSE I don't get to see them all the time. If I was with them all 24-7, would I be as thrilled about weekends as I am now?

How much vacation time do you get in your job? Can you take a day or so off per month to just spend hanging out with your kids?

That's all I got--mainly, just wanted to say: I'm with ya! :-)

Amy said...

I completely relate to everything you just wrote.
I am taking a day off of work next week so my son can have a friend come over after school on his bus. I am taking a day off for this otherwise he'd never be able to have a friend over after school and he wants to because he's been to their house on their bus.

Little things suck sometimes!

Christie said...

On the flip side, spending all day shuffling your kid from one activity to the next and having everything all flexible and "fun" is exhausting. I resent the pressure I feel (from myself, peers, society) to always be doing something enriching for my child, when what I'd really like is a moment to myself. Perhaps with another adult around so I could have a conversation that isn't limited in range and scope by the mind of the three-year-old toddler/preschooler I'm having it with. I'd also like the satisfaction of knowing I was doing a good job, which is something I used to get when working but don't get now as a stay-at-home mom. I always feel I'm in the needs improvement zone of parenting, that looking back over days and weeks I always find missed opportunities.

It all sort of reminds me how you want a particular type of hair (straight vs curly, long vs short) until you obtain it and then you find you want it back the way it was. We're never completely satisfied with the way things are so we have to look for and cherish those moments that make us feel a certain way. And hold onto those when things are less than how we want them to be.

Aimee said...

I think balance is a myth that we all believe is true, but no one can achieve because it's impossible.

Sure, you'll have days here and there that seem to be perfect and balanced. But for the most part, life is chaos, and you have to love and make memories in the middle of it.

I've been a working mother and am now a stay/work at home mom. When I was working, I wanted nothing more than to have the freedom to volunteer at the school, to come and go as I please.

Now, as a SAHM, I miss being productive. I loved working and I still miss it, 3 1/2 years later. While I enjoy being able to volunteer at my daughters' schools, I've found that things can get overwhelming by being so available. All of the sudden, you're asked to be the church nursery director, the PTO treasurer and the Girl Scout Troop Leader... because you don't work. ("Because you don't work" is a phrase triggers another entirely different discussion, so I'll leave it at that for now.)

Maybe spending a weekend afternoon with just one twin would help their need for snuggling and one-on-one time. If you have to run errands, let one go, then the next time, the other can go.

I'm sorry it feels like it's a bit overwhelming now. But just think about how much you've done and how much you've been through... juggling so much, and yet, your kids are great and they are well-adjusted. You must be doing lots of things right.

Shosh said...

i hear ya! i am in a little bit of a different situation but i feel the same way in many ways. i am a married mom of 4 ranging in age from newborn to 8 years old. i work part time, but on the weekends and evenings so i can be home with my younger kids during the day. this allows me to play with my babies, serve hot lunch at the elementary school, go on field trips, etc...
however things are still crazy hectic and i feel like i never get to do the fun stuff with the older kids! they go to school from 8-4 and by the time they get home its dinner/homework/bath/bed plus i have the little ones underfoot! Sometimes i just want to quit life! i feel like are always moving moving moving and doing doing doing but there is very little quality down time. sometimes i just want to homeschool my kids....but i think i would go crazy! life is hectic - thats just how it is.
btw my children do sports/activities but only on sundays. i dont allow them during the week - waaaay too hectic.

Rachel said...

I think no matter whether you work or stay home with the kids, you feel like you are missing out on something. As for activities, you can either have a child-care provider drop them off, or you can schedule stuff on the weekend. There are also some after-school programs where kids can choose different activities (like Taekwondo or ballet or what have you.)

Nanarocksween said...

Lots of thoughtful comments on this post. My daughters (who are around your age) both feel overwhelmed most of the time. There is nothing easy when it comes to parenting - whether you're a stay-at-home mom or a working mom. What "Anonymous" said about the numbered grade levels is oh so true. Add homework to sports and time with friends, and whoosh, there goes your week. My younger daughter has two sons (8 and 5) who are both in sports. The game practices and actual games take up most every night of the week and a few hours on Saturday. Luckily, she is a teacher, and her husband owns his own business, so they can actually get their kids to all the activities. Honestly, if my daughters weren't teachers, I don't know how they would survive! I was a stay-at-home mom, so I did the "mom who brings home-made treats to school," was the Brownie and Girl Scout leader, etc., etc. Neither choice is "perfect." Sometimes I thought I'd go crazy having only children to talk to all day, everyday.
Like you said, working parents figure these logistics out and somehow make it work, so you will too. But, no, it's never easy. You have to grab the small bits of unscheduled time that you can and make the most of them, knowing that you're doing the best you can.

Mariella said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mariella said...

As others have said, this is a common lament. I was a single parent for much of my son's early childhood, and it was hard managing our everyday schedule. At least 2 parents can offset their work starting times to better manage before and after school logistics. As well as having the luxury of being able to split it with someone.

My son spent way too much of his young life in daycare. I was a single parent, I had to work, and had a two hour commute.

Now that I am remarried,life is still hectic, but my husband drops our daughters at school, and flex time allows me to leave early when I need to for activities and doctor's appointments. And my college aged son is available to chauffeur them around when he is home on break :)

Lyndsay said...

I thank my lucky stars that I had the opportunity to drop my full time hours to 3 days/week a couple of years ago, and that we are financially able to manage this for a few years. Because I too found that life with my daughter was just logistics and rushing and chores and hurry hurry hurry.

Is is possible for Z to bathe the kids before you get home? Maybe even get their dinner started at 5 so that when you're home at 5:30 that part of their evening is done?

Anonymous said...

Something to consider...when we had a nanny in the summer, I moved the kids bedtime back to 9 pm, which meant they were still deeply asleep when I left in the morning, but since mornings weren't "quality" time, I wasn't too sorry to forgo that. I came to appreciate my quiet, still mornings, and left the house earlier so I could get to work earlier and come home earlier and we ended up with these long, leisurely four-hour evenings.

It was bliss and changed our entire weekday experience (prior to that, weekdays were just something to get to so we could get to the weekends and actually have some fun together).

Not sure that would work, if you really want to see your kids on both ends of the day, or if your work schedule can't flex, but it worked really well for us.


BiancaW said...

As you can see Snick, you are not alone in your worries. Even all the way across the oceans, this is a very REAL problem that working moms have to deal with. Obviously, there are differences here, given the academic year runs January to December, and our "summer" holiday is over Christmas, but the basics are the same.

The company that I work for, has recently introduced "core" working hours and a little bit of flexi time on either side of that. Core hours are 7:30 to 4:30, but if you arrive at 7 you can leave at 4. This is the option I have chosen, but only because my husband is able to take Bryce and Hannah to school. It means I get home just after 4 - I work VERY close to home, and have just a tad longer with the children than if I got home closer to 5. BUT STILL!! It is a very rare occasion that I get them fed, bathed, homework done, stories read and in bed by 7pm. It is MUCH closer to 8 - and by then I am flipping exhausted. And that’s when the prep for the next day starts – and Lord help me if I don’t do it – those mornings do not bear talking about!

As for extra curricular sports - it simply is not an option right now. If the school does not offer it on the premises – it simply can’t happen. I suppose of one them show a very REAL talent in something we will need to reassess that, but for the time being, at ages 6 and 3 – they are okay with the status quo.

And.....don't even get me started on the holidays. They get in excess of 35 working days holiday a year, while I get FIFTEEN! The maths doesn't really add up, does it?!

Mommy, Esq. said...

You have summed up what I feel so beautifully. I am finding it so hard to go back to work on Monday after 8 months home with my little people. I had no regrets leaving them when they were infants but I am so sad to not be a part of their secret lives now that they are people with language and feelings and creativity.

CV said...

I think your situation is complicated more than mine by the fact that they have each other, and now also Z, to share their attention.

Chez nous, I also feel the squeeze of the limited togetherness we can share on weekdays and the hectic schedules.. but in my case at least I pretty much have N's undivided attention (if I *want* it) during our few hours together. I hear all about her day, she processes her thoughts endlessly with me (as I'm trying to get her to go to sleep!), and I feel very much a part of her secret world. It wouldn't be the same if there were others in the house, adults or children.

Keep on keepin' on, friend. Life is intense, no?

liz smith said...

I feel the same. I am lucky enough to have a flex schedule but sometimes that "bites" too. This week I have had to be at work every night. That makes routine hard. I have older kids and a that helps but my husband doesn't really help since he works a lot too and isnt good at the keeping on schedule part of parenting.

Life is about mments so when you find those perfect moments, suck them into your memory. That is what you and the kids will remember.

Lessons and sports will somehow work at some point. It may mean picnic dinner a couple of nights a week but you will find what works and is important.

You are a great mom

Anonymous said...

When my girls were very young, I actually quit my job to become a licensed after-school day care provider. I had six kids in my home every weekday afternoon for about eight years. The part I liked best was that I could volunteer in their classrooms in the mornings, and that I was home with them every afternoon.

The part I didn't like was that I had little or no adult company, a lower income, and that I had other children in my home every afternoon. Some years the kids and their families were great; other years I ended up with problem children and their problem parents.

As soon as my younger daughter hit fifth grade I closed shop and went back to work, but only part time. I was lucky my husband had a decent income, so we could get by on my smaller paycheck, and I could attend after school sports events, drive the girls places, etc.

It's never perfect, though, trust me!

Leslie in Santa Cruz

scantee said...

At one point you mentioned your interest in pursuing a teaching career. It wouldn't solve everything but it would give you summers with the kids.

You could also pursue a 75% or 80% position with your currently college. These are very common at the University I work at and allow people to keep their benefits while having an extra day off or shorter days. It sounds like you supervise people which makes it a bit harder but my own boss works on a 75% schedule so it certainly can be done.

I might be out of the norm on this but I don't plan on signing my kids up for ANY activities until they express a specific interest. A big part of that is that I came from a family that did not stress activities at all so that is what seems normal to me. The other part is that it just seems so stressful and pointless to have small kids in all these activities. When or if my kids do start to show interests my plan is to limit them to two (which still seems like a lot to me).

Susan said...

I was missing my daughter so much that I went to a 32-hour schedule (from 40 hours/week) and it's been great. I still qualify for health insurance at my company but now I get Fridays off to spend with my daughter and take her to Music Together and the park. I don't know if your job would allow it, but I recommend looking into it. Maybe you could ask to do it on a trial basis? Or perhaps you could do some of your work from home after they're asleep?

django's mommy said...

Lemme know if you find the answer. I'm starting to think Balance is like heaven- sure, it's there in theory, but can anyone actually get there??

I remember a scary conversation I had with my previous boss. She is very well known in the field, but is also married and has a son and stepdaughter. I asked her how she "did it all" and she confessed that she rarely, if ever, had a day where she felt like she was a great mom AND a great researcher. Most days she felt like she was doing great at one or the other, but not both. I try very hard to do "just enough" at work. I care deeply about what I do, but in my situation, I cannot afford to put forth the effort it would take to be a superstar. And I'm fine with that. Even with that, like you, I still feel like 90% of my time with N is logistics. So, yeah, lemme know if you figure that out. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Go ROWE! http://gorowe.com/know-rowe/what-is-rowe/

My company is beginning the ROWE migration and it's a total life-changer. Work when and where you want. Structure your own schedules. Focus on results, not hours. Want to go have lunch with your kids in the middle of the day? Do it. No more watching the clock or being in an office just for the sake of looking like you are "working" - with technology these days, many people can do their jobs anywhere. Companies benefit, employees benefit, people are healthier, happier, and more *real* work is getting done, instead of people resenting putting in hours, long commutes, and missing out on the other parts of their lives. It's worth a look - lots of great info on the gorowe website.

Anonymous said...

I think that if you keep the au pair once the kids go to kindergarten and she is not "working" during those school day hours, then she could do more during the pre school and post school activities. For ex., she gets them home from school and then takes them to the sport practice and you meet them there after work. Or she takes them to piano and then home afterwords. I'm not at all certain how the au pair situation works, but if the kids are in school all day I would assume that the au pair would be doing most of her "work" when they are home before and after school. If you give up the au pair then perhaps you could find an after school program that counts as their "sport". For ex., the local kids gym here has an after school program and the kids are bussed from school to the gym and they have various things to pick from (i.e. dance for girls/karate for boys,etc...). That would be an option that solved after school care AND them getting to do a physical activity. I am a SAHM, but I have 4 kids and a hubby that travels during the week. I have to limit it to one activity per child per season otherwise I would be living in the car and we wouldn't get home to do dinner and homework until god knows what time!

Val said...

I have no advice, but as always, I admire the thought and dedication you obviously put into parenting, and the line "It is so utterly exhausting to remain calm and rational in the face of a reaction more suited to the end of the world than to seeing a box of Cheerios on the table" makes me laugh. Anyone who spends time around children hears you loud and clear on that one. :) Good luck, snick.

Sandi said...

A lot of town sports activitied are run by working parents and practices are in the evening or on the weekends along with games.

Music lessons can be scheduled at your convenience.

I found that most of my kids activities are later in the evening or on weekends, so it works out.

Jennifer said...

When I worked, I negotiated a M-Th only work schedule, allowing me every Friday off. It was heavenly!!! A four-day week certainly pays less, but was worth it to me to know that every Friday - every Friday!!! - we could sleep in, go to story time at the library, meet friends at the park, get our appointments done, etc. Is this a possibility with your job? My job allowed it on a "trial basis" and it worked well. Of course, there was the occasional time I needed to go in for a meeting or something, but it was far and few between. Best of luck, the work/home life balance is a tough one.