The internet is bursting with posts and articles about the challenges of parenting:
’10 things you can’t do now that you’re a parent.’
’10 things you have to do before 9am that you never would have when you were childless.’
‘5 reasons you want to kill yourself when you’re a stay-at-home parent.’
I may exaggerate for effect but you know the ones I mean. I flit between thinking, “oh God yes, I’m not the only one who finds it so damn hard half the time.” And, “give it a rest! Stop fixating on the challenges and stealing all the joy away from parenting.”
It causes me to reflect regularly on a perplexing question: why do I find this set-up so challenging most days? What leads to that deep-set frustration and stress?
Is it wiping poo off bums and dealing with two wee accidents in one day? Is it having to share my bed for half the night with a child that likes to sleep horizontal and pressed up against me? Is it saying “don’t touch that” and them… touching that, repeatedly? Is it having my shoulder used as a hanky? Is it when my visible (and wobbly) flesh is squeezed like a stress-ball? Or is it having to play referee for 90% of the day? These are all the occupational hazards regularly listed in posts or joked about in images/cartoons.
But recently I came upon THE reason. That’s right. This is the post you need to read to understand why it can be hard being a stay-at-home parent. No it’s not ten reasons. Just one. This is it:
Now, I have to explain what I mean by this phrase. Typically, it refers to an adult that has prematurely stopped developing and walks and talks like a grown-up but is actually infantile mentally or in a state of regression. (Also refers to a hilarious American sitcom).
This isn’t how I am using the phrase so I will give you my very own definition for the purpose of this post…
Arrested development: A state of being unable to finish anything or travel from beginning to end predictably. A lack of progress.
On the days when I don’t have any plans or a have window of time for being at home, I struggle to know how to use that time. Why? Because I want to do something that I can finish. Everything in life has a beginning and an end. The natural order of human life at it’s most primitive creates this mindset. There is a beginning, some stuff in between, then the end. A result (which may be a nothing) follows everything.
So what happens when you start something and then your kid wee’s all over themselves and you have to stop? If that something was cleaning the bathroom and then they wee all over it there’s double frustration for you. If it was clearing up food items from the previous meal and your child comes in and asks for a snack, then you have to get out food that you may have just put away and mess up the kitchen again.
There are many cartoons about the fact that housework is never-ending. Of course it is. But what a challenge some days to have to face it all again with no end in sight.
Before Easter I had two weeks of not having my two afternoons to myself to write and do other things because my children were both ill and one or both were off preschool. Then it was the Easter holidays. Four weeks of no decent writing time when I’m coherent and can work in daylight! Kill me. Trying to find bits of time here and there with them around rang this truth home to me.
I want to progress in a vocation that is integral to who I am, to my well-being, to my creative expression. But every day I am at the mercy of the needs/wants/demands of two small humans who couldn’t care less about the career dreams I have. Their needs are unpredictable, unrelenting, and intensely demanding at times.
I may sit down with a newspaper and coffee to find I’m only able to read one article before being interrupted by a fist-fight. I may start writing something to find I’ve written a sentence and lost my thought process after being asked to fetch a ‘cup a-ta melt’ (cup of milk).
I am trying to make progress but… am arrested. Some days, at every turn. Some days only once or twice. But it’s unpredictable and I don’t like it. I want to be able to clean my entire house tomorrow. I want to be able to do my overdue assignment for my course.
But, I won’t. Because sometimes starting something you can’t finish is worse than not doing anything at all.
How do I deal with this?
I mostly get irate.
But to deal constructively, I reflect on my purpose. Why am I wiping butts and negotiating for the thousandth time with a four-year-old who wants a doughnut that I will yet again not buy?
Ultimately, because my main purpose is to be a parent. This will be a significant purpose for the rest of my life. When my children are grown I will still be their parent. A significant influence. How we raise our children will impact future generations of our family. No matter how mundane or trivial, it is all purposeful. Meaningful.
When I feel like I am being interrupted from my most important thing (writing or some other task), I am being interrupted BY my most important thing(s). To do my most important job. And the end is not in sight for this job because it doesn’t end with dumping them and all their stuff in their university halls at 18 years-old. It’s lifelong and so sometimes, it’s hard to keep on going at the expense of all else that matters to me.
Keep asking yourself, what is my purpose today? Whatever is the most important thing will help you get your priorities right. And perhaps lead to less frustration if you try to give some time to the lesser priorities and it doesn’t pan out.
This still applies if you’re a parent that works outside of the home with contracted hours. It just applies to the time you’re at home, which may be less than it is for me. And this does not reflect bad priorities by any means. I expect your children are still number one. And I expect, like me, you still struggle with the time you do spend with them and wanting to do your own thing. Because working may be a means to an end, it doesn’t get the housework done and may not be what lights your fire or refreshes you, or both.
And being refreshed and invigorated is important. So alongside realigning my purpose to help with the daily arrested development, I schedule that time for my vocation. Because I can’t rely on my kids to give me the time. I have to plan it in as well as grab moments when they come.
I think I just heard a child cry as I’m trying to finish off this post, which beautifully confirms another theory I have: children are especially gifted with regards to timing.