15 November 2012

Dribs. Drabs.

I wrote a long post yesterday. It started out like this:

I am anxious.

The post was largely about the upcoming Thanksgiving trip the twins and I are taking to see John's parents, brother, and sister in Michigan. These trips always make me anxious, but it's difficult for me to write about my complicated feelings around John's family and our interactions in a way that is honest but also honors them. I love them and care about them and value that they are a part of our lives. It's also true that it's a complex, complicated relationship we have, and that part of it is anxiety-inducing to me. I'm trying to focus on the good things that always come from those trips, most notably the joy that Maddie and Riley bring to John's family. It's palpable.

I'm going to leave that at that.

The trip, however, is not the only thing making me anxious. I am generally anxious about all kinds of things. It feels awful.

Most of the time, I pretend that I am fine. I do not make the time to acknowledge that I might be anything other than OK. And really, most of the time I am fine and my life is full to bursting with people I love and things I enjoy; it's too much of a good thing for the most part.

Lately, though, it's just too much. This is cyclical. I'll hum along for a while, then get off track and feel totally overwhelmed, then things will get righted and I'll be OK. I've noticed, though, that after seven years of having full responsibility for various permutations of dying spouse, children, work, and home, the periods of feeling overwhelmed become longer and deeper each time.

I've gotten way better over the years and finding ways to share the burden of responsibility I carry: I pay someone to clean my house, my family helps with the kids, we have an amazing network of supportive friends, having an au pair is life-changing.

And yet. I confess that I still feel overwhelmed. As Maddie and Riley get older, I feel increasingly disconnected from their lives, which is the most disturbing aspect of all of this. I want more presence in their lives in a way I've never wanted that before; that started in kindergarten. I want to pick them up. I want to chaperone school field trips. I want to take them to swim lessons.

Plenty of parents want this, though, so I feel like whiner when I complain about it. I've chosen a certain lifestyle for us that is based upon the fact that I have a job. Could I make a drastic change? Sure. Maybe I should consider it. For now, the idea of considering it feels overwhelming and time consuming. Gah.

I am in a fantastic, delightful relationship, which for the most part is a positive. It makes me a better, more centered person and parent, and I feel happy when we are together. But it takes time, too, sometimes time that I could be with the kids, or time when I could be doing things around my house or doing work or seeing other friends or reading or . . . well, anything. And I don't regret any of that time, but it's time.

Time, time, time. There's never enough of it to do the things you want to do, but lately I feel so crushed by there not even being enough to do the things I need to do. I am not telling anyone anything new here. What I wonder is this: Does everyone else feel like I do, that the solutions available are not truly helpful? It reminds me of simple tips to financial freedom! The oft-repeated advice about how if you put your $5/day latte money into a savings account, soon you'll have a huge nest egg! I KNOW. I'm already doing those kinds of things, both financially and time-wise. I outsource stuff. I've lowered my standards, I have a slow-cooker, we have cereal for dinner sometimes, I ask for help and accept it when it's offered, I exercise. I'm doing all that stuff and I'm still drowning, and I still don't see my kids enough.

I'm in a bit of a state. It will pass. Maybe being away will help. Maybe some of you have tips? Real tips? Not latte money tips? Tales of radical change? Tales of small change that felt radical? Virtual hugs?


Anonymous said...

Virtual hugs to the nth!

Lots of love, too,


Grace said...

Sigh, I *totally* get it. The never-ending self-doubt disguised as guilt. Being pulled in several different directions related to things that are all important to me: work (projects that I am excited about), Miles (his being in school longer than I'm at work on some days), love (let's not go there), etc. I'm only 17 months out from Ethan's death, and the passage of time has both surprised and alarmed me. How did so much time elapse?! How have I managed to raise a kid, keep my job, and not go crazy? (Not to say that I haven't actually GONE crazy.) I've ignored my anxiety by keeping myself "busy" --> busy in quotes because I think I don't want to really THINK about how hard it is.

Thanks for being you, Stacey. I value our friendship. xo

Mama Mama Quite Contrary said...

I don't have a job. I spend most waking hours with my children. I have a husband. AND...AND...AND.... I feel overwhelmed constantly. So Stacey, my dear, I can relate and I feel like you are million times more put together than I am. It's often hard to pinpoint what exactly we can change to make a difference in our lives but I know for myself that it is probably just my constitution to be anxious. I recognize this (after years of therapy) so now the work lies in accepting it.

Gina said...

Sigh. Thank you for writing this. You're not the only one who feels this way.

When I can focus on the moment at hand I'm not anxious but I've always had a hard time staying in the present and as soon as I start to think about the future I get anxious. My anxiety manifests itself in the occasional angry outburst and in lots of insomnia. I hate it, but I really am anxious about these things (and some of them really are a big deal - looming layoffs at work for example).

I too struggle with feeling like there is never enough time. My oldest is in kindergarten now and I think part of my issue of late is that I thought that life would somehow get easier once he was in school. It's not really easier - sure he doesn't wake up 10 times a night anymore like he did when he was a baby but dealing with drop-offs/pick-ups/after school/homework/minimum days/school holidays/class projects and what seems like teenage behavior on his part (SO RUDE!) it not easy. So I think I am mourning the ease that I thought was coming - but clearly isn't here yet.

A couple of concrete things I do to feel better is 1) to not be overly strict about bedtime. If I am missing my kids at the end of along work day we all pile into bed together and I read to them for an extra long time. Sometimes with snacks. and 2) I have three kids so usually take 6 days off (I use vacation of "sick" leave) of work each year (2 days per kid). I use those days to have a one-on-one day with each kid. It is so restorative to get to spend that focused time with them. I usually pick a day around their birthday and then another day 6 months or so later. My oldest and I just had one of our days last week and it was so good for both of us. It's just one day but I think his behavior has actually been better all this last week because of it.

Amanda said...

No advice, really, just understanding. It got so bad for me that I quit my job and moved to a small town just in the nick of time for my daughter to start kindergarten. It's helping. And I am endlessly grateful and humbled by the fact that I have a partner who can bring home a paycheck while I check in with myself, and my kid, and our life. It's hard. Courage.

Jan said...

The only thing I can think of for your situation is to combine tasks. I don't mean multi-tasking (trying to do more than one thing at a time), but trying to make one task serve two purposes.

For example, at my house, grocery shopping is Time With Mommy. I have to grocery shop, and it would probably be quicker without the kids, but if we do it together, that's an hour I get to spend with them. We plan meals together, my 8 yo practices her writing and spelling by making our list, my 6 yo practices his reading by being in charge of it once we get to the store. They both are learning about how to be smart shoppers. I kiss and hug on the baby in the cart.

Is there any way you could arrange your work schedule so that you could be involved at school, even a little? You can help in the classroom one day a month and be so much more connected than if you are never there. Don't choose field trips, because that's not the real stuff. Come in on Tuesday afternoons for an hour instead.

If you can work at home even one day a week (or switch to a 4-tens schedule is even more awesome), it saves commute time and it means you're just around the corner from school and can take your lunch hour to volunteer.

I've just tried to make the things I do be things that increase my connectedness with my kids as much as I can. It still stinks, a lot, but it's better than it could be. I just have to take comfort in that.

(You responded with a "me too" on the post I wrote on Ask Moxie about this, so you know where I am.)

Alanna said...

This isn't radical, but I try to be intensely present in the time I spend with my kids. And I think as kids get older, some of that "not enough" feeling comes from the fact that they're getting older and you cannot be a seamless part of their lives the way you once were. You could spend 24 hours a day with them, but they are becoming their own people and your relationship has to change. I try to think back and remember how I felt when I was my older son's age. It helps a little.

SarahB said...

I feel like life is a never-ending balancing act with one kid and a husband...so, yes. But I think if you're feeling dehabilitated by the overwhelm, that means you need more grace for yourself. Whether that's a journal or therapy or exercise or taking a sick day to just be...

The suggestion to work from home one day a week is a good one. And scheduling random days off for yourself or with one of the kids or with your significant other too.

Lindsey said...

This post really resonates with me. I've been struggling with feeling overwhelmed by life lately with two kids who are busy with sports and being self employed with a full time job.

Sometimes I think I make it worse than it is in my own head and I create chaos when there doesn't need to be. I've just starting trying to be kinder to myself and I'm attempting to teach myself some zen habits. I'm documenting it in a blog because I do find that writing helps me clear my head, and I have not done it in a very long time.

We'll see how it all goes.

Megan said...

Do you think your job would allow you to cut your schedule to a 90% work week? This would allow you to have one full day off every two weeks. It seems that extra day could be devoted partly to doing SAHM duties with Maddie & Riley (i.e. taking them to school & picking them up, taking them to swimming lessons, etc) and partly to catching up on the errand running you probably spend off-work hours doing during the week, which can then be time you shift to you, your kids, and your boyfriend (for lack of a better word) during the rest of the time.

Basically you'd have to be able to take a 10% paycut and have your employeer give you the flexibility to do this.

Also, it helps me to recognize that even wonderful activities involve stress. A wedding, for example, is a wonderful event, but it is stressful to plan and execute. Vacations are wonderful, but stressful, too. It's a different kind of stress, but it's still stress. For me, just recognizing that just because something is a GOOD thing and something to be thankful for doesn't mean it won't cause stress or anxiety. Try to remove any guilt you might feel about feeling stressed/anxious about good things. That alone helps me deal with anxiety related to good things. Hopefully what I'm saying makes some sense to you.

OTRgirl said...

My Mom went back to work when we were older so this isn't applicable now, but when we didn't have school, she'd have one of us meet her for lunch. I think it worked out that each of us got to have lunch alone with her 3 or four times a year. We could easily walk to her office.

I love the idea one of the commenters had about both you and one of the kids playing hooky and staying home together twice a year. That's wonderful.

It also makes sense that part of the loss is natural as they move into a school world and away from a home-based emotional center.

I wish the balancing act were easier.

Tertia said...

I can so relate. I am also feeling so anxious and out of control and 'not present'. And I have lots of help. Which makes me feel like a loser which makes me even more anxious.

No words of advice, just lots of empathy and understanding


Anonymous said...

I've read your blog on and off for a while and have a lot of admiration for you. Tell yourself you are an amazing woman, because you are, and that will help a bit. I'm a 56 yo woman with 3 grown kids. The years when the kids are young go so fast--as you know by now. The opportunity of these years will never present itself in the same way again. You said you could rearrange your life to not work. All I can tell you is that you will never regret whatever you pour into your kids' lives now. You'll have the rest of your life to reap the benefits, because there's no substitute for doing it right. I think you know deep inside what you want to do. All the best to you.


Anonymous said...

My kids are a bit older than yours (4th and 7th grade) and I too, have recently begun to wish I could be the stay at home mom and be there to pick them up from school and drive them to all their afternoon sporting activities. Oddly, this feeling is relatively new and was not really there in the daycare days. I am a Single Mom By Choice and the sole income provider, so this is not really possible, but I do find myself wishing I could work out a way to stop working. My job has changed a bit over the life of the kids, and is not as satisfying as it was in the past and I suspect that this has something to do with my current feelings. I do work from home one day a week, and although this must help somewhat, it has also served to show me a bit of what I am missing.

As far as dating goes, I did have a very serious relationship that lasted for 4 years and reached the point of blending families into one household. When the relationship fell apart, it was very hard on my kids, so I have more or less decided not to seek out a relationship while they are still young. At times, I miss the companionship of another adult, but do feel that it lets me focus on my children while they are still children. Not sure if this is the best thing for me, but it seems to be what works now.

Claudia said...

Snickollet, I agree with lots of what other people have said; it's always a struggle, no matter how your particular set-up is.

My radical idea: I live in Denmark, where there are on average 6 weeks of vacation a year, and very little freak-out about sick days, within reason. By law, you have a child's first sick day, as well (meaning you stay home with your sick child), maybe one a month? I'm not sure.
There's the option of living in a place like I do, where there is so little going on, that you can hardly overschedule yourself.
Of course I don't think it's all rainbows and bunnies living here, due to dull landscape, dull weather (Portland weather without the hot part of summer and the beauty of hills and forests and water and mountains), dull culture. But there are other countries with similar social care. My dream these days is to live outside Vancouver, B.C. Who knows if I'll look into pursuing it, but it combines what I miss and what I have.
There's also the radical idea of doing what you love, and blah blah blah will follow. I can't quite advise that as feasible, for while I am doing what I love (teaching), there just isn't enough work here. Had my husband not finally scored a good job that he likes last year, we'd have moved to another area in Denmark where both of us would have had more opportunities.

Best of luck, and I offer a hug and the platitude that you're not alone.