I just read a post over at GNM parents about a mom being a workaholic and dad scheduling time for the kids and Mom to interact, and have quality time, so to speak, together. It made me think that sometimes, work is so much easier than home for many parents.
At work, you get to be an adult. You get to make grown-up decisions. You may or may not have a job you love, or be your own boss, but you probably get to interact with other adults during the day. No one throws up on you, unless you work in a hospital. No one asks you to wipe their butt, literally. And no matter how successful you are outside of the home, when you come home, you are expected to service the other individuals in the house and meet their needs.
I joke that at home, I am only as good as my last peanut better and jelly sandwich. These kids would drive professional chefs to their knees. “No, I said I wanted parallelograms, today, not circles, Mom!” “I’m not going to eat that!” “Can I just do a tongue taste?” “You know I don’t like that.” Why a child who ate pesto gleefully off a baby spoon at 6 months now won’t get near anything green is beyond me. I am a laundress, a short order cook, a chauffer, a professional organizer, a logistics coordinator, a telephone operator, a technology specialist, and a number of other hats that I never have to deal with when I am working a regular, paid job. Work is a breeze compared to the ad hoc challenges of parenting.
But I love being a mostly at home parent. I do a little work outside the home, I podcast, and I do get to talk to adults, which keeps me sane. I do love helping kids with projects, being the one who can heal them with a hug and kiss. I love watching them grow, and teaching them the fun stuff like how to blow bubbles and ride a bike. I love watching them explore the world.
One of the jobs I have had involved providing on site services for people with disabilities at the Super Bowl every year. This required me to be out of town for at least 12 days at the same time, year after year. I began to refer to it as grown-up camp. This was my time each year to interact with adults, and have people call me by name. I was no longer known simply as James’s Mom, but by my own name! I had a sense of self again. And this is incredibly important.
The difference between work and home is that work is less complicated, and the expectations are clear. At home, the goal line is constantly moving; the reviews of your performance as a parent won’t really be known for years. Sure, you might think a kid’s latest report card reflects well on you, but that’s at best a 5 point quiz in your career as a parent. The long term results, just like long term research and development projects for companies, matter more than any short term return on investment. What matters is whether or not your child is happy and well adjusted. Whether they get to be balanced, centered adults, self-confident and self-assured. And this means constantly re-adjusting your parenting for an ever-changing child, in an ever-changing world.
Parenting is all about adaptation and evolution. You have to be willing to adapt and change to new circumstances and problems you have never faced before, and this is so different than the sameness most people face day to day at a regular, paying job.
It’s no wonder dads (and moms) sometimes like to stay at work late. Work is easier than re-inserting yourself in a family where there seem to be no rules. It’s messy. It’s complicated. And there are expectations that REALLY count. If you hand in a project at work a little late, there may be some repercussions. However, if you miss a kid’s dance recital, school play, or father’s day picnic, those disappointment, those hurt feelings will haunt you forever. Disappointing people at work is transient- disappointing people you love is much harder, and infinitely more painful. And if you are “busy with work”, you have an excuse that seems so understandable. You get off the hook.
The work home balance, and juggling the two, is hard for everyone. I feel fortunate to be able to choose to juggle, rather than having to do it, but there are times I still feel like a beginner clown, unable to keep all the balls in the air, no matter what choices I try to make.