Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Back to the future?

Lately I've been thinking a lot about what I'm going to be when I grow up.  Or at least when my kids grow up.  I'm worried about going back to work full time and the upheaval to our lives it will bring. 

When I factor in daycare costs for two kids, commuting costs, the need for new work clothes (because none of my old stuff is even close to fitting my mummy tummy), and various expenses like coffees, lunches, etc. etc. etc., I'll probably have something like $20 in the bank account.  I'm scared to do the actual math - it's entirely possible that it will COST me to go back to work full time.  Not to mention that I will have a scant few hours in the day to spend with my precious babies and the opportunity cost of lost time with them bills out at a crazy exorbitant hourly rate. 

I did go back in between the boys, and while I liked having some time without a tiny person tugging on me, getting a decent amount of money deposited in my account every two weeks (nevermind that almost half of it was gobbled up by the daycare cheque), and having more intellectual challenge than memorizing Sandra Boynton books, I definitely did not like the compressed time at home.  Also I was already pregnant when I went back, so I knew it was only temporary and so did everyone else.  And of course, Roo got sick so many times from the saliva-fest known as daycare that I ended up missing a lot of work - or needing to work from home a lot with a crabby toddler wiping his nose on my shirt, taking conference calls on mute.  So I don't think I was ever seen as a fully-contributing member of the team.  Which frankly suited me just fine at the time, the pregnancy was really kicking my ass.  

But I felt mega guilt any way it was sliced.  Guilt for not being present enough or busy enough or focused enough at work.  Guilt for not being with my baby enough.  Guilt every day for leaving him at daycare past a certain hour when all the other kids got picked up.  Guilt for letting the house turn into a dump.  Guilt for barely having anything left at the end of it all for my husband.  Guilt for not having time to send Halloween cupcakes to daycare, or Christmas baking, or Valentine's cards.  (Actually I did do Halloween cupcakes, but I stayed up until like 3:00 in the morning to make and decorate them.  And that's why I did not do any of the other things.)  Guilt for not taking care of my unborn baby well enough because I was too busy trying to do everything else.

So now that almost half of my second maternity leave is behind me, I'm hearing lots of questions floating around in my head.  Should I go back full time?  Should I try to go back part time?  Should I try to find a McJob where I work a few evenings or weekend shifts - thus keeping the boys out of daycare but still keeping me sane and a financial contributor?  Should I go back to school?  Should I be a stay at home mom for a while?  Will it kill me to have zero income? 

I know it's still a long way off, but a week goes by in a blink these days and I know that the time will be here before I know it.  I'd like to have a plan for the future.  I just have no idea what the plan should look like!

All I know for sure is that come next March, I'll be feeling guilty.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Progress, Not Perfection

I first heard the phrase "Progress, Not Perfection" a few years ago from the president of a company where I used to work.  I immediately loved the phrase and decided to sort of make it my motto.  I liked the idea of forgiving myself for not being perfect but commiting to try to improve.

Since then, I do always try to keep this in mind, but even as much as it resonates for me, it's regrettably easy to forget. 

Every time I lose my temper and yell at my kids or my husband or my mother, I feel such overwhelming guilt.  And I shouldn't!  Compared to how I used to be ten, five, even two years ago, I barely ever lose my temper these days.  When I look around the house and it looks like a tornado ran through it, I feel like such a failure.  And I shouldn't!  I am about a gazillion times more organized and clean than I used to be.  I have systems now.  When I serve my family a meal that came from a can, a pouch, or a freezer, I feel like I'm taking a very sneaky shortcut and wish that I had skipped watching 22 minutes of Throwdown with Bobby Flay and instead made something like Bobby made, preferably with free range, organic ingredients.  But I shouldn't!  I make healthy choices a lot of the time, I'm a damn good cook, and the occasional convenience food item is NOT going to harm us.  The fact is I have a young and demanding family and I don't have hours to lovingly slave over gourmet side dishes every day - which may or not be eaten, owing to the whims of a two-year-old.  I'll have time for that when the boys are older.

So clearly - I am the embodiment of Progress, Not Perfection.  I have nothing to feel bad about.  And yet there it is.  I don't know why I have such an impossible standard that I try to live up to.  It's, um, impossible.  And nobody really cares if our floors are spotless enough to eat off.  My kids will eat off them, clean or not.  And if they are spotless, well, they won't be for long, with two kids and two dogs. 

At the end of the day, our tummies are always full, there are clean clothes to put on the next day, we're washed, and the house is not sparkling, but there's no threat of contracting an e.coli infection from walking across the kitchen floor.  We almost certainly ate more fruit than cookies on any given day, and there are frequently muffins baking in the oven for the next day's breakfast (even if they did come from a mix).  The dish drainer may be piled sky high with dishes that I didn't dry and put away, but at least they're washed.  I strive every day to stay calmer than the day before and not to let little things upset or anger me.  I try so hard to breathe instead of snap, to distract or redirect instead of yell - and I fail sometimes, but I succeed often.  And - most importantly, I think - my toddler son ends every day by saying "YES" when I ask if he had a good day, flings his arms around my neck, and kisses me while giggling.  So I've got to be doing something right. 

Maybe one day I'll make it to Perfection.  But for now I'm going to be happy every day with just a little Progress.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Competitive bad mothering and other exercises in passive aggression

Lately I've noticed myself (and others) saying some weird, passive aggressive stuff.  For example, I have excused some of my recent parenting decisions by prefacing discussion of them with "Maybe I'm a bad mommy, but I...use bumper pads/allow my baby to sleep on his belly/allow the dog to lick the baby/...some other HEINOUS crime."  And I've noticed a lot of other moms do it too. 

Why do we do this?  One theory is that we're just trying to prove how awesome we are because we don't buy in to all the rules and hype and we are so SMRT and we're making our own decisions. 

Maybe we're trying to prove that we're just super cool and retro and are kicking parenting old school?

Are we trying to make other people feel guilty about the choices they make/don't make?  Or about things they're too uptight/too relaxed about?

Could we really be feeling guilty about some of the choices we make?  I know that deciding to get a little more serious about sleep training with my second baby was a tough choice for me.  I still feel conflicted about it to a point...although seeing how much more cheerful he is now that he's better rested is erasing those doubts.

I wonder if any of these might be the true reason, but I hope they aren't.  My preferred theory is that we are really really hoping someone will say "Oh, you're not a bad're a wonderful mom."  Which I think is something that none of us hear quite often enough.  Even if you hear it's not often enough.  No job is as fraught with self-doubt as this one.  And if you don't have doubts about who in their right mind qualified you to be in charge of a tiny life, then you should write a book or give classes or do a podcast or something.  Seriously.  You know something other people don't.

And you know what, it's so stupid to have these doubts and insecurities.  Because the kids don't know the difference.  You are always the best parent that kid could have (with criminal exceptions, of course).  Even Michael Jackson's kids remember him as an incredible dad...which he may have been, despite his wacko image.  He was the best dad they ever had anyway.

YOU are a wonderful mom.