Friday, September 17, 2010

When the Spinning Plates Begin to Topple

I work at a job that I love.  After a disappointing undergraduate experience that I barely passed, I finally found my passion in my late 20s and decided to go for it.  This meant another 3 years of graduate school, teaching part-time at 3 or 4 different community colleges for a few more years as a "freeway flyer," and finally landing a tenured position teaching (as opposed to "publishing") at an institution of higher learning a full 11 years after I finished my undergraduate degree.

I remember sitting in my office in my first semester and the president of the college, a good 'ol boys' good 'ol boy, came in to see me, and, in the course of our conversation, he said, "You know, this is the best job in the world.  And even more so for a woman (as an aside, what you need to know about this guy is that he later was removed from a Chancellorship for sexual harassment and indiscretions. Not really the most tactful with the ladies).  There's a lot of flexibility when you have your children."  Well, of course I was offended.  "What?" I thought.  "Do you have any idea what I went through to land this job?  There were 120 applicants for my job.  If you think for one minute I'm going to throw it away for a life of wiping snotty noses, you've got another thing coming, buddy."  Besides, I was single--no sign of a husband or children on the horizon, so I was good, I thought. 

But I did get married, and I did have children.  And he was right.  I took off for 6 months after the babies were born.  I taught at night so I could be home with them during the day.  I taught online, logging in at night and on weekends and in snippets of time between feedings and diaper changes.  I do work outside the home now, so I use the after-school program a few days a week.  I can mold my schedule so that I can stay at work late a couple of days and still be available to drive the kids around to their throngs of extra curricular activities.

This is dreamy, is it not?  It's the ideal situation that so many working moms crave--a chance to be fulfilled and stimulated intellectually while still being able to be the nurturing, available caregiver.  I presumably have the best of both worlds.  If that's the case, then why do I feel like I'm floundering in both of these areas for which I have a huge responsibility?  The balance I'm so craving seems far outside my reach right now.

I recently read a report on the myth of multitasking. The report states that people don't technically use their brains doing more than one thing at a time, but rather, their brains are actually shifting in rapid-fire succession between things. I feel like this is what I'm doing all the time.  I mean, even in the course of writing this post, I've had to get up to let the dog out and pause to give my son some homeopathic drops for the cough that is keeping him up and in my face. Not only am I physically torn away from the moment, but my brain is rapidly moving back and forth like a schizophrenic metronome.  I am, therefore, failing a little bit at everything I do.  I don't want to be perfect, but I would like to feel a little more peace.

Recently I found myself wanting to retire from my job--not quit, not get another job--retire.  Obviously a momentary lapse in reasoning and logic, right?  I was longing for more time to read and write for my own personal fulfillment, and retirement seemed the only reasonable way that this could happen?  Clearly I've got to make some changes.  What those need to be, I don't know.

But I do know this.  I have an obligation to both my job and my family.  I have to keep the job (without it, the family would not have health insurance) and I have to raise the kids. I have a responsibility to be present and wholly focused on each one when I'm engaged with it.  I need to make space in my life for those little moments that absolutely make time race.

How can I do this?  Am I just chasing the mythological life of the Supermom?  Will my brain explode as I try to tweet about my kids' morning routine while preparing for my class while driving in the car?  Something's gotta give. 

How do you balance personal fulfillment with parenting? 


Anonymous said...

Poignant and toucing well done my friend. xo Judith

Suzanne Grani said...

I SO get you!
I have my own business so that I can make my own hours and be available for my kids. And, for the most part, it HAS worked and been great. But, sometimes, clients get demanding and I have to put my kids off. In the afternoon, when I'm frantically trying to complete something on a deadline, the worst is to hear Hannah say "can I read a story to you?" and I have to convince her that while I'd love that, it's not a good time and can't we please do it later..... ugh, I so hate that!

Aging Mommy said...

I noticed that you've been absent from the blogging world lately. I don't work and only have one child to look after but since I started my blog life seems overfilled. I want to spend less time on that and more time with my family, as well as making time for writing and photography. I can well imagine with all you do that it is hard, no make that impossible, to do everything all of the time.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Clearly what we all need is a few more hours in the day. Just a few more....

But we would fill those new extra hours with things, wouldn't we? And then we'd have even more to balance, even more to toggle between and call it "multitasking".

Thoughtful post, m'dear. Let us know what resolution you find.

MomAgain@40 said...

Hi, we all struggle with the same thing! Maybe we should just be more lenient on ourselves and not try to be "super" all the time?
Let us know when you find the answer! :D

Lucy said...

Oh, sister. You're speaking to the masses. I'm constantly multi-tasking. Nursing, playing, writing, working, cleaning, etc. Trying to build a business and write a novel and raise a family is too much for me, which I've discovered after burning out and falling into depression. Now, I have no expectations for anything and I feel so much lighter. If no one but my daughter ever reads my writing, that's ok. If my tea company doesn't make me rich, that's ok too. As long as we have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies and hopefully a vacation every once in a while, I think I'm going to be ok... Good luck with finding the elusive balance. I wish I had more advice for you.

Swistle said...

I don't think there's any way to do it. I think the only way to manage is to SHIFT the balances so that the things that are currently more important get more, and the ones that are less important get less. And I think it's tempting for women to think, "Oh, so this means kids and family and job are most important, and getting to read and blog get sidelined"---but what I mean by "most important" is the things you're most longing to spend time on.

Amy said...

Oh yeah. I know the feeling and I am not even trying to balance the full time job right now.

Java said...

I can definitely relate...I just started working full-time and I'm having a hard time being away from the family. I feel like I live at work and when I come home I'm so tired and just want to sit down and get on the computer and do nothing else! lol...I would love to be able to work from home but I have no idea how to find something like that!
Good luck to you and know that you are not alone!

Organic Motherhood with Cool Whip said...

I heard about that study about multitasking too and I totally believe it is true, but I can't imagine how I could ever survive if I didn't multitask. It seems like no matter what I am doing, I am doing at least 2 or 3 things at once. Otherwise I would never get anything done. I'm happy to hear that you have a career that you love so much. What is it that you teach? I have always dreamed of being a professor. I did get to teach creative writing to undergrads while I was in grad school getting my MFA, which I loved. But a professorship in creative writing is something I can't imagine I'd ever get. You have to publish out the wazoo and be famous to boot.

Anyway, I totally relate to your struggles though between work and home life, because I am going through that same thing right now. But I have to say that it really is wonderful to have a job that you love. This is not easy to come by. My husband works and brings home 99% of the money we make, but he does not love his job. I wish that I could make enough money that he could be home more. Because he would love that.

Don't despair, the balancing act is never easy. And I can only imagine that as the insightful and caring person you are, you are doing a much better job at it than you even realize. xoxoxoxo