Working Motherhood

“So, you’re staying home with your baby?” the dental hygienist asked me.

Nope. I work full-time, but three days a week I work from home while also watching the baby. Two days a week he’s in daycare. It’s the kind of hybrid arrangement that everyone I know cobbles together.

For me, it works out, sorta. I can grade papers while breast-feeding. I can tell editors that I’ll get those article revisions in as soon as my baby sleeps through the night — and they’ve been very understanding. I give up sleep (since it’s easiest to work in the evenings after the kids go to bed), and I miss out on social time with my colleagues,  but I get to enjoy both teaching and parenthood, most of the time. I’ve learned to live with three almost-finished research projects hanging over my head, waiting for me to have a free moment to finish them.

“Don’t try to do it all,” the dental hygienist told me. “No one is going to tell you that you don’t have to do it all. No one but you.” That advice has been echoing in my head ever since she said it.

Actually, Ben sometimes does tell me to go for a bike-ride by myself and leave him the laundry to fold. He knows what it looks like when I hit the wall of too-much-ness. Because it’s so hard for me to say no to doing it all. So hard to leave the dishes or laundry or grocery-shopping, so hard to focus on work when there’s also a child to be focused on, so hard to just remember the daily tasks of living.

Yesterday, we had to get out the door by 8:30 am with strawberries for Soph’s school’s Valentine’s-day party, 21 homemade Valentine’s cards to share, a lunch for her of course, frozen pumped breast-milk for Ev, a warm sweater for him too (because his twice-a-week daycare can get chilly), graded papers for my students, the powerpoint I had finished making at 6 a.m. for that day’s lecture, snack-foods for me for the day’s work, and of course a breast-pump.  I’m a pretty organized person. I have a PhD. And yet I am regularly flummoxed by the demands of motherhood.

Because my work has more flexible hours than Ben’s, I end up doing a disproportionate share of childcare & housecare. It’s not Ben’s fault: it is structural societal expectations, it is the fact that his work hours aren’t family-friendly, it is the ruts of ingrained gender stereotypes that are surprisingly hard to get out of, it is the fact that I don’t know any heterosexual marriage — not one — where egalitarian parenting actually works out over the long term. And it is so hard to say no to the expectation of being superwoman.

In the past week, three different people have said to me, “I don’t know how you do it.” Honestly, I don’t know either. But I do know that every single working mother does this too.

A friend of a friend just blogged Occupy Working Motherhood. I wish I knew how to Occupy it, to change it. I sign the petitions on momsrising. I practice the spiritual arts of asking for help, saying no, striving for balance. I rely on a community, always. I try to raise my own & others’ consciousness. And yet: how do I make sure that Everett and Sophie don’t also struggle with these problems, in their own families, in the next generation?


5 responses to “Working Motherhood

  1. e961

    Your dental hygienist is correct. And you are amazing. I don’t know how you do it all. All will change, I promise.

  2. Marla

    Hi Elaine,

    I was acquainted with one family with kids (grown now) and 2 working parents who reported sharing housework as equally as can probably be managed, though I’m sure this wouldn’t work all the time or for every family: one day a week (they chose Saturday), they all cleaned house together until it was clean. They said they became very efficient, and were often done by noon and treated themselves to a family outing. I taught one of the children, and he was a great kid.

    Aunt Marla

    • elewinnek

      Did they also equally share cooking, dishes, lunch-packing, petcare, daily childcare, and all the other daily tasks that can’t be left til Saturday?

  3. Amy

    maybe i’m crazy, but i am firm in the belief that life is like writing: if it’s not hard, you’re not doing it right. there should be a little tension, a little tough-ness in the balancing act…. otherwise it means you’re not accomplishing much. ok, i just reread that and i definitely AM crazy. but that’s the closest way to have it all, in my estimation. cobbling is the way to go! even if it means you get stuck in the back seat at work, your laundry never gets folded and you never (almost never) get to catch up on your favorite blogs.

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