The Guilt, but it's not what you think

5 years ago

The fussing grows in volume. I curse as I pour more coffee. I tell the toddler to go get his father--who's in bed with a migraine--and I close my eyes.

I find my children really annoying sometimes.

Later, when I'm finally safely ensconced at the local Starbucks, able to focus on my editing job for a few hours, I feel happy and relaxed.

And a little guilty. When did I stop enjoying my children?

I don't actually not enjoy them. They just really bug me sometimes. It's the whining. I hate whining. Some people respond by crouching down low and using a soft voice and intuiting what the child needs. I've done that. I can do that.

But sometimes, like first thing in the morning when my husband is still sleeping and I haven't yet had my coffee or checked my email and barely got a chance to pee before the toddler attacked my chest to nurse, well, those days I'm more likely to increase on volume in tune with the kids, so as they get louder in whining and arguing, I get louder in telling them to stop. Stop that. Get dressed. I said get dressed. What's wrong with that shirt? No, your Batman underwear is in the laundry. Don't take that toy from your brother. Ben, don't bite him!

[Warning: This is a whiny post. Please feel free to advise, commiserate, or take my children for a week. Do NOT say something like, "Welcome to motherhood!" or, "What, did you think this would be easy?" or even, "You make your own happiness!" or anything remotely like that if you'd like us to remain friends. Thank you.]

I've read that the mother who works part time has truly drawn the short straw in terms of work-life balance. She's always extra-beholden to everyone and never, ever doing enough. Kids in school/have a sitter? Those had better be billable hours for her. Home with the kids? She'd better be making up for the time away from her children!

I know the grass is always greener, always, but I've actually read about some study that found that women (mothers) who work part time really are the most screwed.

For me, well, I feel as though I'm under house arrest. 

During the week, if I'm not with the children/making dinner/tending the kids/tidying up/doing the long jaw-clenching evening routine to get the kids to bed, then the kids are with a sitter and I am working. The sitter is expensive, so except for occasional yoga classes, I must work-work-work, of course, while she has the kids, to justify her expense. By the time bedtime is over (8:30? 9:30, on a bad night like tonight?) and we've eaten and the kitchen is cleaned and things prepped for the next day, it's 9:30 or sometimes close to 10.

Much as I'd like to stay up reading, sipping wine, eating popcorn, knitting or writing letters or something, I'm just spent by then, and I might need to work a little more or tidy one last thing before getting ready for bed. My day begins at 6 a.m. (if I'm lucky--sometimes they wake me at 4), when children wake up, so there's not much staying up late.

Weekends, we can't well dump the kids with a sitter while we do something fun, or do nothing fun, or just do nothing at all. It's family time. Except C and I disagree, often, about how and whether to plan weekends, so the kids and I might be raring to go right at 7:30 in the morning while C wants a leisurely morning at home, or the kids might want to just stay home and play trains naked--which is fine once in a while, but for chrissake, it's a beautiful day and can't we just go for a walk in the woods? Please?

So weekends are all sucked up as family time and errands. And C works all week, too, and needs some downtime on weekends. Unfortunately, at this point we're both so maxed out that neither one of us wants to say, "Hey, Hon! Why don't I take the kids on some adventure Saturday and you take some time for yourself?"

I would probably break down and weep at such an offer, especially if I didn't first have to pack the diaper bag, install a car seat, find socks, clean up the breakfast dishes, and be home in time to make dinner. I am so sick of making dinner every single night, including weekends. Did I mention I am sick of it? And I love to cook.

I do not understand how parents who get home later than I do manage to feed their kids. I walk in the door at 5, sometimes having to then go pick up Ben from daycare, and somehow I have to have dinner on the table by 5:30, with Ben clutching my legs and screaming to nurse the whole time, and Max either playing underfoot or asking for a snack.

See above, before telling me to prep dinner the night before. I'm sure I could be doing something different/better/more efficiently but for now, it just sucks. And I don't use processed or prepared foods, so I can't just nuke them an Elmo meal or something. I actually have to cook stuff. 

Dinner is another form of house arrest, at this point. [And no, I will not consider nukeable Elmo meals as a path to freedom. That's just--for me--a form of completely giving up.]

I know some people have it much harder than I do. I know that. But this post isn't about them. It's about me, and being unhappy. No one tells you that you can have beautiful, wonderful, delightful children, whose conjoined laughter makes your heart sing, and yet you can be deeply unhappy with the very fact that you have a family.

I may have mentioned, posts and posts and months and months ago, the fact that I need new clothes. I don't care, at this point, if I get them all from Goodwill. The situation is getting ridiculous. But when can I go? Not during the week, when the sitter is here. Not on weekends, because it is family time....I am trapped by this family life, and I am unhappy about it. I am cranky. I yell. I cry. I want them all to go away sometimes, all three of them (and the cat too, please, damn yowling old cat) and leave me alone for days and days.

But the silence would possibly crush me. I have lost touch with so many friends, unable to talk on the phone because of shrieking children (how do they know when I am on the phone and need them to continue to play quietly? Why can they never leave me alone for five minutes?) or because of the ticking meter on the sitter.

Maybe we need a bigger house.

Maybe we need Mary Poppins.

The bullshit preschool situation (excuse me for saying so, but at this point it's kind of a bullshit situation) isn't helping. We are now unable to send Max to preschool except for two days a week, due to a problem there, meaning we need to pay the sitter for an extra three mornings, which makes my working a whole lot more expensive, which means that I really cannot justify any chill-out time when the sitter's on the clock.

Clearly I need a break or vacation, but I don't see how or when that can happen.

It doesn't help that I'm injured and cannot run, so I've increased the yoga to compensate (ignoring some torn stuff in my shoulder for the second month in a row).

I keep accidentally setting things on fire in my kitchen, or cutting myself with the chef's knife. I'm angry and tired and bitchy and sad, as if I have a terrible case of PMS, except I don't. This isn't about hormones. This is about my life.

Some would say, "Well, quit work! Then you wouldn't be stressed about that!"

I'm not stressed about that. I like work. I really like work. I love it. I have coworkers and meetings and tangible goals and success and praise and recognition and I get stuff done and move to the next thing. Being home with small children does not let me experience getting stuff done and moving on to the next thing, not when we can spend 40 minutes fighting about socks.

It's the home life I'd like to quit sometimes, to be free to spend my day volunteering to paint the new yoga studio, or read the paper, or clean out a closet without any shrieking or whining in the background.

I'm unhappy and in a hole with no ladder. Maybe a pharmaceutical adjustment would help. But I think it's much bigger than that.  

What am I doing wrong?

Compassionate advice and commiseration welcome.



Julia Magnusson


Twitter: @notlikeacat

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