Thursday, August 14, 2014

Cognitive Dissonance

I think the reason the Mommy Wars touches a nerve for me is that I am so conflicted about my own feelings.  I think that Ben and I should be caring for our kids in our home-- I truly believe that this is the best model of care for my small children.  But holy hell do I sort of strongly dislike the actual daily work of this care when my partner is not around.

My core belief that the "SAH" part of parenting is important and my professional aspirations butt up against each other, too. For example, I really do think that my babies should be with me--like physically close to my body--for the first 12 months of their lives.  This has caused no small bit of havoc in my professional life and teaching schedule, but it has also led to a lot of growth opportunities.  I am doing some really cool shit with online course development, for example.  I don't regret a single meeting I attended with a baby in a sling, despite the impressions I may have made with people at every level in the university.  I actually am proud of the impression I made even if it doesn't make me the first in line for a promotion.  My children are the opposite of invisible, that's for sure.

So, OK, there's my belief that I need to keep my babies close to me and my amazing sense of accomplishment that Cooper and Dorothy never drank a single bottle because that's how with me they were-- and we breast fed in some pretty cool places, and you know what?  IT WAS FINE.  Especially because babies under 6 months are NO TROUBLE and so portable and generally cute and quiet additions to meetings and office hours.  I had a lot of help to make this happen with my full time job, obvs.  Like, for example, a course release Dorothy's first fall to develop an online class  (because a baby in a lecture hall strapped to the lecturer is much, much less professional than a baby in a wrap behind a desk).  Also a husband who enjoys an academic schedule.  And parents who were happy to come to town and watch a 5-month-old in a college classroom down the hall while I led a week of staff meetings last August.  (Cooper was born in September, so his juggle was easier-- I just took a semester's leave from teaching and used FMLA time during my August training which turned out to be unnecessary, but WHO KNEW-- he was SUPPOSED to be early, not a week late.  I was a grad student when I had Harry and Jack and making carny wages, so I cared a bit less about work and more about them and my writing, and we had an amazing nanny to watch them while I taught 2 mornings a week and then when she moved and they were 2 and 4, they went to a kick-ass preschool 3 days a week.)

I digress.  On the one hand, I really do think a daycare model is not best for us, and Ben and I are really committed to taking care of the kids in our home and sending them to part-day preschool and then elementary school.  We have both made professional sacrifices for this to happen, but the benefits outweigh the consequences by a million.  On the other hand, OH MY GOD IT IS SO HARD BEING  HOME WITH EVERYONE AT ONCE ALL BY MYSELF.

I wanted Harry and Jack to have the kind of halcyon summers I had as a kid-- bike rides and unstructured play with each other and neighborhood kids all day except for when we went to the pool.  Being BORED and having to figure out how to fill the quiet nap time afternoon hours.  Going to library and falling in love with new books to fill the gaps between playtime.  Staying outside all day and getting filthy. Being able to explore their neighborhood by themselves as long as they came home and checked in every now and then. So they were the only kids we know not in camps, and they have had the exact kind of fun I really wanted for them.  But OH MY GOD IT IS SO HARD BEING  HOME WITH EVERYONE AT ONCE ALL BY MYSELF I wish they had a camp or two, KWIM?

The only reason, though, that I am happy spending so much time supervising small kids is that my husband is doing it, too, usually at the same time I am. And the way we divide stuff, I usually do more housework and he usually does more childcare because he is really good at working with the kids in the room, and I SUCK at it.  In the school year, we divide our work time evenly (2.5 hours a piece) but for the most part, we are both home when the big kids get home or shortly thereafter.  And during the day, the big kids ARE NOT HOME, which makes everything so much easier to juggle.  The needs of 2 babies are easy to meet.  The needs of 2 big kids are easy to meet.  The needs of all 4 at once?  GAH.  If we have a few hours of all 4 kids between 3 and 6:00?  That's so much easier than a whole damn day.

Full disclosure:  I have only had 2 of those days all summer.  BUT 2 IS ENOUGH.

I told the kids yesterday that even prisoners are allowed to eat and use the bathroom.  They did not care.

While I do believe (and I say this as a PhD and a professional myself) that it is valuable for children to be cared for in their homes by their parents, I also AM NOT GOOD AT DOING IT FULL TIME.  If Ben had a corporate job and an 8-7 kind of schedule, I would be a SAHM because that's more in line with my core beliefs than another model of care, but I would probably have a nanny and a part-day camp for the children all summer and a Lexapro prescription because? DAMN IT.

The thing is I know lots of women and men who stay home with their small children and like it and are good at it, and I am jealous of them because they are better people than I am, more patient for sure.

I feel bad that I do not love the shit out of caring for my children in my home when I also believe that it's what I should be doing.  And I feel these things at the same time in equal measure.

So, there you have it.  Cognitive dissonance.

Ben went grocery shopping and got crazy shit we never eat like name-brand cereal with GMOs, salami (GOD I LOVE SALAMI and I wish it wasn't going to kill me-- I would eat it all the time), Doritos, and bologna (EW SO GROSS-- Jack loves it).  Harry and Jack used all of this forbidden bounty when they packed themselves picnic lunches yesterday.

 It's Shark Week, you know.  Or Sarkweek.  Whatev.

 I have really relaxed with these 3rd and 4th babies.  NOT EVEN IN THE CROSSWALK

Lazy Beatrix had to be cajoled the whole way, and she was still the last one to arrive.

 God I love this dog.  This what she did after the kids went to bed.  This is ALL she did after the kids went to bed.  (She is not allowed on the couches and was pretty stoked to get to lie on the ottoman).


  1. The ability to split kid time 50/50 with Ben is key here. I am on my own from 8-6 no matter what. If I want a career of any kind (and I do) that means daycare. We've looked for options that would give Ryan more flexibility. It's not about career sacrifices in his case, it's about earning enough to support six people plus saving for college and retirement. As you might imagine, this situation is very frustrating to me as his really inflexible job means I must have a VERY flexible job, or no job at all. And while no job at all would be workable in the short term, the break would mean stepping out of my career for good. Our system is broken.

    This semester we are doing a Montessori school for the little kids five days a week, which is basically daycare, but given our particular geographical configuration and time limitations, it is this or no job for me. I am happy to get home at 3 pm with all the little ducks back in the house, but yes--staying home with all four is KILLER. This summer was SO SO HARD.

    I guess what struck a chord for me in your post was the way you've arranged things in support of your belief that being at home is best for your kids. I feel the same way--being at home with siblings and lots of unstructured time is ideal--but in my case, we had to balance that with my need to stay in the career I value and worked hard to earn. So the day is split into two chunks--school and home--for all of us. It may not be ideal, but it's the best way we've found so far to balance the needs of everyone in the family.

  2. Erin Copple Smith11:35 AM

    I loved reading this, Sarah, because it was so honest and real. (Well, full disclosure: I loved reading it once I forced myself to see it for what it was, an honest recounting of a struggle, not a critique of my own choices! DETAILS.)

    I was explaining to a friend a few weeks ago that becoming a mom is so much more psychologically difficult than I expected, for exactly these reasons. You can KNOW you're doing the best you can and still feel terrible about it--and that is a really impossible way to live. As you know, I love my job, and I do NOT love being a SAHM 8-10 hours a day. I just can't do it, it actually makes me a crappier mom. Putting C in daycare these last two weeks is honestly one of the hardest things I've been through, but I have been a MUCH better mom because I'm not caring for him all day every day. How do we reconcile these competing strong feelings?! It's impossible.

  3. Yep. To everything. We've always tried to have one of us be home more than not when we could. It was harder when we were both in undergrad and then when I had to work full time while he went to law school, but I chose to work at the day care Elisabeth was going to (so I could see her all day long) instead of pursuing a public school teaching position. I think that sacrificing is the key here, and it's hard and it sucks, but when you look at the big picture, those sacrifices lead to awesome results. There's a lot of pressure to never have to sacrifice something when it comes to having families and that's just not realistic. There's always sacrifices made when you're a part of a family.

    Plus, part of what sucks is that kids are up in your face nowadays way more than before. Getting a reprieve from swapping kids with friends, neighbors, family members is not as common and letting them run free in the neighborhood is just not as much of a reality either. That's why part time nursery schools are still the bomb diggity. Dude, with Julia going to public school for first grade, I am hunting down somewhere for V to go for a few mornings a week so I don't drop her off at the fire station.

  4. Just because you want to do something --no need to do something, does not negate the hardness of it.
    Let's say you are a lawyer and you need to work these crazy hours for 5 years so you can have the job you really always wanted. It is ok to hate those hours and that job and wish it were not the way to get your goal--it doesn't make your goal a bad one. You could even love those 5 years and love the work you are doing, but still acknowledge the difficulty.

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  6. There is no way in hell that I could have been a SAHM. It is too hard. I have mad respect for people who like it, but that is not me. I raised four stepchildren from the time they were 5, 7, 9 and 11 years old. It was hard...really hard. Their dad was pretty much their primary caregiver which allowed me to pursue my career and my academic ambitions. I know FT SAHMs who send their kids to day care a few days a week. Nothing wrong with any of that. Each family is different, and their needs are uniquely their own.

    Several years from now, on a Friday night, you'll find yourself home alone. All of the kids well be out with friends, and you'll be the only one in the whole house. You'll wonder, "How did that happen?" Then it will keep happening. It goes from frenetic to nearly silent in what seems like an instant.

    You're doing a great job, but you don't need me to validate that. All you have to do is look at those cute kids and your supportive husband to know that you've made the right choices for you and your family!