The Intensive Drain: Parenthood

I’m tired a lot.  Okay, I’m actually exhausted.  I’m privileged, I have a home, I have healthy children, I work on my own terms from home, and yet I’m exhausted.  Do you remember reading about The Mental Workload of Motherhood, or emotional labor or maybe you’ve seen The Guardian cartoon? I signed up for this.  I am the stay at home parent, and it is what I want to do.  The problem is the drain of doing invisible work.  We all do invisible work regardless of gender, traditional job vs non-traditional, parent vs. non-parent.  Some of the work is to manage our own illness or illness of a parent or family member.  Some of the work is quieting an overactive voice in our heads about what we can and cannot do.

As a stay at home parent, all of my work is invisible work. The work is exhausting and part of that is my own fault.  If I had a traditional job, I would turn off my parent mind for parts of the day because I’m forced to focus on my job.  If I worked traditional hours I wouldn’t have my day so segmented constantly switching gears from house-to-home and home-to-work like some kind of insane person who ends up spelling her own name wrong at the end of a work email.  Yes that really happened, Sincerely, Lean.  If I were a different person, I would maybe be better at balancing parenthood with work and taking care of my self.  I’ve learned that I’m terrible at balance and creating balance is a constant goal. The scary part is that I am not dealing with any real crises at the moment so what will that kind of exhausted look like?

Out of Control – by Heath Robbins (Tui Stark prop styling, Erin Charest wardrobe and Cynthia Murphy hair and make-up!)

Invisibility Is Not a Super Power

Part of the invisibility of my work isn’t coming from within.  It is cultural, it is habit, it is ignorance and it is indifference. A big portion of my daily work  will get undone daily: cooking meals, cleaning, tidying, running errands, picking up children, shuttling children from one place to the next. It is a seemingly never-ending loop. This loop is spotted with the constant putting out of mini-wildfires.  There are the bad days, the difficult homework assignments, the terrible lunch I packed, the exploding pickle container, the lost paper, the social drama at school, the doctor’s appointments, the dentist appointments that need to be rescheduled and the list goes on.  It is true that every parent is dealing with all these things, but if you’re able to focus on other things, then some of these wildfires burn out themselves. I should learn from this.  If you are unavailable they are resolved by someone else before you can get to it.  I need to learn how to make myself unavailable more often.  This is the key!

Another part of the invisibility of this work is that there is very little recognition and no tangible compensation. My children and husband are better at acknowledging that I do at least a few things around here; it only took a decade.  I know that I chose this and I do love being around for all the good, bad and ugly…especially the good.  When I remember, I give myself a pat on the back every once in a while.  I think the hardest part is feeling that I’m never doing enough because as a progressive, modern society, we don’t really know what to do with a stay at home parent especially a stay at home mother.

I’m Not Whining Just Send Wine Anyway

All that is a bunch of big, controversial ideas and I know I’m going to piss some people off.  I know others are reading all kinds of wingeing and whining tones into the above and I can’t do much to change that perspective. What I’m really saying right now is that I’m in summer planning, dance intensive stress-ville.  I cry a lot all the time, because you have to release the pressure somehow. The emotional load of parenthood has me exhausted before I even start my day.

Planning for Summer

All the parents who are now planning for summer break get what I’m feeling.  They’re about to sign kids up for camps that the children may love or hate. We lasted one day at a particular art camp.  Dancers end up injured or unhappy at camp and sit out the rest or go home after a few days. Moms and dads are tying up loads of $$ for something that should be amazing and fun but might be a disaster.  This week, I’m taking audition photos. I took almost 900 last night and we still need to redo three quarters of the photos we need – we only need 4. After spending almost two hours taking photos last night and then another two hours going through them, one item that I checked off my to do list, just got put back on. I was stressed about taking a good photo. I’m a mom not a photographer, but I also don’t have $300 budget for photos.  After looking at the photos last night I thought I found some great ones, but this morning there were tears and they weren’t mine.  So, I take a deep breath, and I work on plans b, c, d and e.

Ballet Summer Intensives

In addition to just getting everything we need ready for the audition (travel plans, applications filled out, photos, hotel reservation, etc.) I’m freaking out inside because what if the audition goes badly? What if the photos we pick are wrong? What if she doesn’t get in?  At the same time, I’m saying what I truly believe: “It doesn’t matter if you don’t get in.  There are plenty of other programs. One audition doesn’t tell much.  You have wonderful training and strong skills and if it isn’t a good fit it just isn’t a good fit.”  But I’m also preparing for consolations and bruised egos and everything else that comes with rejection.  I don’t have time to go to yoga because I need to sort all this out and I’m pretty sure none of these thoughts are welcome during shavasana.

Yes. Positive actually that these thoughts do not belong in shavasana.

This isn’t just something parents deal with for summer intensive auditions.  We are dealing with it on a daily basis with friendships at school, sports, music, after school programs.  Life is basically a series of mini auditions from start to finish.  Just thinking about it is exhausting.  So, I’m just saying if you are out of the house for a bit, and you come home to a parent, a grandparent, a nanny, or friend and you wonder why they’re so freaking exhausted.  This may have a little to do with it.

Keep telling yourself that until you believe it. I am not good at balancing what I do for others (in my family) and what I do for myself.
Morals of the Story
  1.  I’m enough and I’m doing enough
  2. Let some of those wildfires burn out themselves.
  3. Get out of the parent mode and get into the studio, go practice your harp (going to do that now), meet up with friends, read a book, put yourself (not your parent self) back into your day.
  4. Paying a professional photographer to do audition photos (if you can afford it) is worth every penny.

 

 

24 Comments

  1. I only have 1 little girl who starting a week ago is going through some serious separation anxiety especially during bedtime so yes, I am exhausted as well!!! I as well need to learn to balance what I do for others and what I do for myself.

    1. There is no such thing as “only one”. A child or many children is a lot of work both physically and emotionally. Separation anxiety is rough. The good thing is it does get easier. Different things come along that are hard too, but those early years are definitely hard on the emotions.

  2. I feel you so much. I don’t think you’re whining, but even if you are: whine away! Parenthood is hard, especially when you’re the primary caregiver, or caregiving is your primary activity. I love my kids beyond words, but I get depressed about being a mom all the time–just because I am so tired and so desperate for space and time to myself. As you said, it doesn’t help that our work is so often invisible. Motherhood is a “duty,” and that means it’s not important work in many people’s eyes. Just think what those people would do if we all went on strike!

    1. Yes – I remember when I thought I would never go a day without buckling and unbuckling my kids a dozen times a day from the car! Of course those days are long gone now and don’t seem like such a big deal. In the moment its draining though.

  3. Stacey

    I love this. The “work that gets undone” resonated with me the most- the circular to do list . I know I have an out of the house job, but the “never doing enough” is exactly how I feel every vacation. And then I feel guilty that I didn’t enjoy it enough. F*cked.

  4. I’m not a parent yet, but knowing what I put my parents through, I’m a little afraid of the Karma coming my way! I always wished that as a kid I could tell my parents how much I loved them, and how amazing I thought they were – they were my superheroes. I bet your kiddos feel the same.

  5. I hear you yes! I didn’t hear any whining there. Parenting is exhausting – period. All you can do is learn how to manage it and if you find that all-elusive balance, good on ya, mate. I work outside the home 20 hours a week and have long considered that my scheduled ‘break’ from parent-y things. When I’m home actively involved with my kids(now all teenaged) my psyche can’t help but absorb every thing happening to them – good, bad, dramatic, ecstatic, disappointing or satisfying. I’m like an emotional sponge – their day is my day and there’s no escape. Until I go to my job, which is more logical and less emotional and allows the space I need. And, I have an utterly reliable, logical partner who is the perfect balance to my feeling/sensing personality. So I understand where you’re at – there is no break for you unless you create it! I see weird that harp like a shield and make your way to the door for that yoga class lol 🙂 Loved reading this xx – Julia, another Boston-area mom

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