Work and Parenting: The Painful Pull Between Them

Last week, my kids were off for five days for winter break. A month from now, they’ll be off for another five days for spring break. And today and tomorrow, they have half days.

For a country that’s got some problems in the education department, the kids sure get a lot of time off, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t have money to go skiing in Aspen and sunbathing in Antigua right now. Not only that, but I’ve got work to do.

When I was a kid, my parents divorced. Our dad gained custody of us, and became a single parent. Whenever we had time off, which was not as often as these days, he dragged us to work. He didn’t think about it for a second. No guilt. No consideration of taking the day off and doing crafts with us. He had a job to do and money to make, and we were going to sit there all day at his office and behave and that was that.

It didn’t bother us, probably because we knew there wasn’t any other option. Plus … office supplies! What kid doesn’t love office supplies? We typed on the typewriter. (Yes, I said typewriter.) We played with Liquid Paper. (Yes, I said Liquid Paper. Do these things even exist anymore?) We stapled pieces of paper together, and bent paper clips into shapes. We put tape on our hands and pulled it off to see what would happen. We pressed buttons we shouldn’t have pressed and ate candy out of the secretary’s jar. It was a long day, but it was fine. We lived.

So why am I so freaked out by the fact that I only have three hours to work today and that I have no plans for the kids? Why do I have such a hard time thinking that when they get home from school I could just tell them to go outside and play and let me get my work done?

Is it a mom versus dad thing? Is it the fact that most of the work I do all day advocating for women with postpartum depression is unpaid, so it “doesn’t count?” Is it because my dad didn’t have a choice but to work, and technically my blogging and writing is a choice and not a necessity?

“Work-life conflict is a familiar feeling for most women — the guilt and tension that happens when we need to switch gears between our professional and parenting roles. Forty-five percent of working mothers report feeling work-life conflict, and this has been true for years. I think this is because most women are still the ‘default’ parent, and also because society sends us such mixed messages about being working moms. What’s interesting is that men now report feeling more work-life conflict than women! In 2008 when asked how much their jobs and family life are at odds, 59 percent of fathers in dual-income families reported conflict, while only 35 percent did in 1977, according to the Families and Work Institute,” says Morra Aarons-Mele, a mom, blogger, work-life advocate and small business owner.

If my dad had something to do, that came first. Period. Perhaps it was because of the circumstances we were in, but we didn’t feel slighted or unloved. That was just the deal. I think he must have been one of the 70 percent of men in the ’70s who didn’t feel pulled between parenting and working. If I make a choice to work on a half day when my kids are home, I feel bad. I feel like I’d be making the wrong choice and everyone will know it. I can feel the narrowing eyes looking at me and hear the tsk-tsks.

I know there’s a balance. Sometimes you can say “sorry kids, I’ve got stuff to do” and sometimes you can say “let’s play Candyland.” In fact, that’s what I do. I work a little and I play a little. It’s the feeling bad about the former and feeling good about the latter that bugs me. What happened to me to make one choice okay and the other not? Is it society? Low self-esteem? The current trend in parenting philosophies?

“Only 20 percent of the actual workforce has the luxury of a stay-at-home parent, so we’re all going to have to figure out how better to manage work and family. It takes a village to work and raise kids, but few of us have anything like a village. We’re often alone to figure it all out. So I think we have to put less pressure on ourselves to be perfect parents, and make the most of the unfettered time we do have together,” adds Aarons-Mele.

Parenting is hard work but I LOVE it. My work is hard work but I love it. I wish I felt more comfortable doing both and not feeling guilty about the choices I make.

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