HI, CAROLYN: Since my kids were born, my job basically covered the cost of day care. The kids came home overtired and overstimulated.
As they became preschool age, I restructured my work to freelance so I could drop off and pick up from school, take them to extracurricular activities, and be home more with them. They seem to be thriving in all areas but one: I’m not.
I just can’t get enough time to myself, to do all the things that keep me (and my household) humming. I think my mental and physical health has suffered because of my decision. I don’t know how at-home parents do this.
After my second was born, I cried almost every day near the end of my maternity leave because I couldn’t wait to go back to work. I thought that was just because having a toddler and an infant was so demanding. But now with two preschoolers, here I am again.
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I am so torn. I want to do what’s best for my kids, and for myself. But the two options seem mutually exclusive.
Am I missing something? Is there a way of doing things or changing my perspective to make this more bearable?
DEAR WORKSICK: You feel stuck, so try the universal unstick: Stop treating things as either-or.
It’s not working parent or at-home parent, stressed kids or thriving kids, your happiness or theirs.
At least, child-rearing is not these things automatically and not in perpetuity, because they and you change. You might have to make trade-offs like that at certain times — and, in fact, children’s health hinges on parents’ willingness to make such sacrifices when needed — but if you’re staring down 1.5 decades in a fixed state of near-unbearability just to make your household work, then it’s time to rethink your household.
Look at the pieces individually:
▪ You said your kids came home from day care overtired and overstimulated. Possible solutions include not just the one you chose, but also having the other parent (yes?) make career adjustments, changing day cares, seeking a more family-friendly job, switching to in-home care or a nanny share. Or you make the choice you did for a year or two until your kids are old enough to be enriched by their care instead of drained by it, then return to work outside the home.
▪ Your pay just covered day care. Also pretty common. But it’s not just about money in, money out. It’s about your kids’ health, your health, your career’s health, the health of your partnership. If you’re as miserable as you sound, then breaking even might be well worth it — plus you’ll avoid the career (and therefore income) erosion that slows so many stay-at-home parents’ return to the work force.
▪ How do at-home parents do this? Some love it, hate it, feel torn. Some could but refuse to do it; some would love to but can’t. We all make this up as we go along, no? And as our and our kids’ temperaments dictate?
Accordingly, some see being home as right for now(. Knowing kids change, needs change, finances change, opportunities change.
Maybe you made a for now decision, and maybe its time is up.
Meantime: Find some parent “colleagues.” Isolation is often what tips a tough job into an unbearable one.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.