Friday, March 08, 2013

The chaos of little kids

[Found this in my drafts folder from a couple of weeks ago... today was yet another giant snowstorm, which meant last night I was up until 2 a.m. working because I knew I wouldn't get much done today, and then today I was attempting to answer phone calls and send out drafts while not completely neglecting K who was home from school, and then giving up when X got sent home, and spending two hours shoveling, and finally logging back in at 9 p.m. to continue working... you know, the usual routine. In fact, the only reason I remembered this post was here is that I kept thinking today that I 100% understand why people choose to quit high-powered careers and stay home with their kids. To stay sane.]

My life often feels chaotic. There are certain basic things that I need to do:

1. Care for myself - get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly.
2. Care for my children (and to the extent I'm outsourcing that, make sure they are being well cared for).
3. Spend some quality time with my husband.
4. Get my work done.
5. Keep the household running (including maintenance, paying bills, grocery shopping, etc.)

Seems reasonable, right? I don't think there's anything non-essential on this list. And I have pretty minimal standards for most of these things. If I miss a non-critical deadline, the kids eat chicken nuggets from the freezer, I skip a workout or two, I leave the floor littered with puzzle pieces for a week, and JW and I realize it's been a couple of days since we've had an actual conversation, no big deal. So I feel frustrated and stressed when I'm consistently missing any of these things, even with my low standards.

I am finally accepting that, while my kids are small, it's going to be very difficult -- probably impossible -- to have even these essential things on a regular basis. I think it's condescending when people tell me that having kids is a full-time job, like when people assure SAHMs that what they're doing is the most important kind of work. But it's true. Little kids literally need someone physically with them at all times, 24x7. They demand a lot of attention when they're awake. They get hurt and sick a lot. They spill and break stuff. They need help in the middle of the night. While my kids are young, I need to give in to the chaos and give up the idea that even these basics are consistently achievable.

I was talking to a new associate at the firm who said that she didn't really get why work-life balance was such a big issue, and didn't mind working so hard. I don't think you can fully grasp it if you've never had small children. Maybe if you have an aging parent or chronically ill pets who can't be left alone, the demands are similar. I never used to understand how educated, accomplished women could entirely opt out of the workplace to raise their kids, but now I do. If I removed work from my list of essentials, our lives would suddenly become manageable. And look at the other items on my list -- caring for myself, my family, my marriage, and my home. I often prioritize work over all of these things, but that doesn't reflect their importance to me. (Which is a big part of how I ended up in therapy.) I completely understand now how someone can conclude that if they can get along without the salary, work is not worth it.

On exercise, a friend said, "Did you ever notice that the older moms are smokin' hot? It's because they have time to exercise regularly! Once your kids are 7, you can have the boob job and hit the gym." I didn't know the boob job was a normal thing (in her upscale town, apparently it is and everyone swaps surgeon recommendations), but the rest of it makes sense. So... I just have to get through the next 5 years.


  1. Even for the new associate, you would think that having time to go out with friends, read something non-work related, go on a vacation or just do things outside of the office, would be enough to "get" the whole work/life balance thing.

  2. I suspect the new associate will have a better understanding in about... six months?

  3. What first year associate would SAY that to you, especially after you'd gone part time?! Unbelievable. Either she's a robot or she's trying to impress everyone. Really, who would choose to work until midnight every night versus get regular sleep?

    Even staying home and not "working" (because it is made abundantly clear to me that most people think writing is not working), I think I'm not enough. If I park Pea in front of the TV to get some time to write, I feel guilty. Oh, so guilty. I should have been doing worksheets/supervising piano practice/taking her on an outing. Never mind that writing is what keeps me sane enough to do the rest of parenting/housekeeping/life.

    I came to the conclusion the real secret of work/life balance is that there isn't any in our society, or at least, it never feels like it. Yes, I have a lot more time to do the things that matter and I am a LOT less stressed than when I was practicing; while I'm getting better about forgiving myself, I still think I'm not doing enough to justify "just" being at home.

    Would I trade this gig for an income? To get us out of penury, in a heartbeat (because all of a sudden, we could afford private school). What really pisses me off are the people who say things like, "Oh, it's so nice you can do that, because I can't. I have to work." Right. Because I love being poor SO MUCH.

    (Ack. Way to go on about me in your comment section -- but just as I'd been reading the book on self-compassion, I'll just forgive myself that bit of egotism.) :)

    1. I felt a little guilty at the end of my maternity leave, because I was enjoying it and felt relaxed, but I didn't strictly need to be the one taking care of my kid, and I could be working and earning money for our family.

      We don't HAVE to be constantly giving 100% to somebody else. We can keep some for ourselves and not feel guilty.

  4. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all get a healthy dose of the perspectives of others? I'm so sick of childless friends making comments about people with kids and their work ethic. Childless folks, come on! You are not the only one lifting an oar in the workplace. Stop being so self-righteous and go get a hobby. Sigh... :) (And I see several colleagues with teens and college-aged kids really struggling with their aging parents. NOT looking forward to that dynamic at all!!)

  5. Funny that all of you focused on the comments of the first-year associate who went straight through from law school to college and has been a lawyer for all of one month! I chalk that comment up to naivete, not malice. I really don't think it's possible to understand the demands if you don't even know anybody who has little kids.

  6. I kind of want to read this book, reviewed on another blog I read.

    Check out the quotes at the bottom - is that not just exactly what we're saying?? It's all structured for us to fail. Ugh.

    1. Yes to everything in that review. I hadn't heard of that book -- it definitely seems to echo what we're all always thinking about.