Parenthood Juggle: Rice and Beans

rice and beansI always knew that I would be a work-outside-the-home mom.  The working part came first, as I trekked through college, grad school, med school, residency, and fellowship on my path to becoming a radiologist.  During part of med school and most of residency, I thoroughly enjoyed being half of a DINK (double-income-no-kids) couple: we traveled and enjoyed a carefree life.  However, as I wrapped up my training, I realized that I wasn’t getting any younger—it was time to get serious about starting a family.

A few days into my firstborn’s life, I acknowledged that being a full-time stay-at-home mom was not for me.  My little guy, having apparently taken lessons from banshee, screamed 24/7 unless he was asleep or eating, sometimes screaming for hours.  I was both devastated and secretly relieved when I dropped him off at daycare for the first time.  I missed him terribly all day, but was glad to be doing something besides rocking/bouncing/cajoling/pleading/crying, now back to work among grownups who regulate their volumes.  My hat is permanently off to those who can be full-time stay-at-home parents.  I can’t. 

Since that first daycare drop-off 5 years ago, I have frequently chastised myself for not being good enough at work or at parenting.  Both my parents worked outside the home, but both managed the balancing act (as remembered through the rose-tinted glasses of childhood) much better than I do.  Sometimes (perhaps too often?), I think back wistfully on my DINK days.  However, my struggles have provided me a little perspective, and I have some anecdotal advice to young folks who are considering being working parents:

  • Marry someone who supports your working outside the home (a no-brainer if you want to make this happen). 
  • Marry someone who is awesome with kids and doesn’t mind helping with household chores.  I didn’t know this about my husband when I married him, but he is a kid magnet.  Sometimes I get a teensy bit jealous of how great he is with our kids.  But mostly I am grateful. 
  • If you can afford to work part-time, do.  I work 80% time.  This is not ideal for my career, nor does it add up 80% of the work that others do.  But I don’t go to work on Wednesdays; I spend it with my kids.  Except when I am exhausted, then I drop them at daycare for the afternoon and take a nap. 
  • Find good daycare/nannies/schools so that you don’t fret about whether your kids are happy all day long. 
  • If you both work outside the home, one spouse’s flexibility is hugely helpful.  My work hours are better than many physicians, but sometimes I absolutely must stay late.   My husband runs his own business from our house, so he can usually drop everything and zip to daycare before it closes.
  • Live close to family or friends who can help you, particularly on an emergency basis. Before my husband starting working for himself, we constantly struggled over who could pick up the kids from daycare and who could stay home with the sick one.  One day, we both absolutely needed to stay late at work.  I lost the proverbial coin toss and picked up my kids while frantically calling babysitters, to no avail.  I had visions of parking my kids in front of Netflix in my office while trying to complete another two hours of work uninterrupted (a move that had been wildly unsuccessful in the past).  Fortunately, a fellow daycare parent took pity on me, followed me to my house, made mac and cheese for everyone, and took care of her kid and mine while I sprinted back to work. 

The corollary is, if you ever find a friend like this, don’t let her move to Georgia.  (Unless you happen to live in Georgia.)

  • If you can afford cleaning help, get some.  If you can’t, do close to the minimum to keep yourself and your family happy.  The dirty secret is that no one’s home looks as pristine on any other day of the month as the day you visit them.  Perhaps we would all be better off if we allowed ourselves to have messy homes when people visit, lowering everyone’s expectations. 

Nevertheless, a home auditioning for The Hoarders may make you crazy.  Until a few months ago, our house was slowly but steadily became more and more of a pit, with dog fur accumulating in every corner and a layer of dust over the piles of papers and books.  But my husband balked at getting any help.  When he went on a business trip for a few days, I went on a cleaning/decluttering rampage each evening.  Then I hired a maid service to deep clean everything.  Deep clean.  Aaaaaahhhhh.  Now the maids come intermittently to remove all the accumulated grime and playground sand. 

(Now, I don’t mean to make it sound like being a working mom means you have to have a maid or your house will be a disaster. True in my case, but not universally true.)

  • Don’t aspire to be a gourmet chef unless cooking brings you joy.  If your kids will even eat veggies, they will scarf down microwaved veggies just the same (or perhaps faster) than something fancy you make.  The more time I spend preparing a meal, the less likely my kids are to eat it.  Beans + rice + fruit + microveggies = a decent meal, prepared fast.
  • Have a hobby or interest that is your own.  If you work is all-consuming, and your kids are all-consuming, you will be consumed.  Find an outlet.  Mine is the Autoharp (Wikipedia it).
  • Don’t beat yourself up.  You will not be perfect.  Your kids will survive, and they will know that you love them.

-Submitted by Joanna

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