Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Limits of Imagination

Last week, I came across a comment that seemed to imply that women who balance motherhood and careers, and have "utterly crazy lives, scheduled to the hilt" are (1) not really happy, and if they write a post saying that they are happy, they are just trying to convince themselves that they are happy, and (2) that they aren't enjoying their kids, because they would need to take time off from work to do that.

My first instinct was to write a comment in reply saying how strongly I disagree with that implication. I was busy and had a fair amount of schedule in my life before I had kids- that's just the type of person I am. I am definitely busier now, but my pre-kid life was not some sort of schedule-free nirvana. In fact, "schedule-free" and "nirvana" don't really go together in my book.

I am also enjoying my kids very much, thank you. I love watching Petunia when she decides she'll put her PJ bottoms on by herself, or when she decides she needs to give her sister another good night kiss, and directs me to wait in her room while she goes and does that. I love how Pumpkin and Petunia both want to help me weed our front garden, even though they are completely ineffectual at it. I love listening to Pumpkin explain things to Petunia. I love listening to Pumpkin read. I could go on and on, but the point is just this: the idea that I am somehow missing out on the everyday joys of having children- that I am not in fact enjoying this journey- is completely wrong.

If my blog posts say that I am happy, then I am actually happy. I do not need to convince anyone else of that, and I certainly don't need to convince myself of that. If I am not happy, and I feel like writing about the reasons, then I will do so. One of the reasons I blog, after all, is to help me figure things out. You can believe that I am truly enjoying the journey, or think that it is just the corny subtitle to my blog. I don't care. I know the truth.

But then I decided (based in part on the rest of the comment, in which the writer says she does not yet have kids but will take time off to enjoy them when she does) that this comment wasn't about me.

Oh, it was perhaps written with my post on how I "have it all" in mind- she was commenting on a post that referenced FeMOMhist's blog carnival. But even if she was responding directly to my post, her comment wasn't about me, because she doesn't know me.

The comment was, in my opinion, about the person who wrote it, and the limits of her imagination. She imagines life with kids and a career, and can't see how she would enjoy that. But she can't stretch her imagination enough to see how someone else may in fact enjoy that life. So she projects what she thinks onto the rest of us- which would be no big deal if it didn't feed into the ongoing cultural angst about mothers and work.

But to be fair, imagining how someone else feels can be hard, particularly when that other person is living a life you do not live and cannot even imagine yourself living. I run into the limits of my imagination quite a bit, too. I frequently come across blog posts or comments from women my age or younger who are deeply unsatisfied with their work-life balance, often because their partner is not doing much (if any) of the parenting, or because their partner does not support them in their career. These are not the occasional "gosh this sucks" sort of thing (which I suspect we could all write), but posts and comments that make it clear that the author is really, really unhappy with how her life is playing out. These are also not generally comments and posts from women with no options- they usually also make it clear that they have education and either have or had a career.

I honestly cannot imagine the reasons why those women let their lives be that way. Was it a big surprise when their partners turned out not to view them as equals? Why do they tolerate such inequality at home?

And I know that these thoughts are unfair, because there is a larger culture at work as well, feeding into the expectations of both the women and their partners about what their home and work lives will be. Kids change everything, and I suppose that it can be hard to tell how your partner will react to parenthood. Heck, I was surprised in some ways by how I reacted to parenthood! But still, I cannot imagine living my life in that way. If I were that completely unhappy with how things were, I'd have to change something.

I don't comment on those posts, or reply to those comments, because I know that my answer of "well, if you don't like the way things are change something" would be neither welcome nor helpful. In fact, I am not sure why I keep reading them. Perhaps I am looking for the one that can stretch the limits of my imagination a bit farther, because I'd rather not project what I think onto other people, either, and I suspect that understanding why these women put up with the crap their partners dish out would help me understand why my culture is so unsettled by happy working mothers.

I think I'll just apologize in advance to all of the people this post will offend. The usual caveats apply. If the anonymous commenter wants to take some time off to have kids and that is what makes her happiest- hooray for her. I just want her to recognize that maybe the people who have made different decisions also did so because that makes them happiest. And if you are in the group of women who are deeply unhappy with your work-life balance- I truly am sorry and wish you could be happier. I just don't understand why you don't make some changes to increase your happiness. Feel free to try to explain it to me in the comments.


  1. mom2boy5:22 AM

    I've been unhappy before and stayed in the unhappy circumstances. Biggest reasons being 1. money and 2. change is scary (better the devil you know than the one you don't)
    Garden variety unhappiness was not enough to motivate me to downgrade my socio-economic status as superficial as that sounds. Being financially dependent, even partially so, with children is a hard situation to get out of for just "unhappy".
    Also, when I was younger I thought I had more time to get to happy. When I started the relationship that ultimately made me so unhappy, I had very little idea about what I actually needed to feel good about myself and my life. Once I discovered what it was, the person I was with was never going to be able to provide that or be comfortable with me going after the things I needed to be happy. It's a selfish choice to say my happiness is more important than this relationship/family. One that is frowned upon by most religions and cultures and often pointed out as the problem with relationships today. (Divorce rate)
    So that's my story.
    My brain tends to think that the decisions I've made were the ones with the best possible outcome. It doesn't do me any good to think maybe things would have turned around in that old relationship or that Tate would have been better off there. Because I am without a doubt happy now and here is where we are. My imagination doesn't stretch to being able to hold all the possible parallel life paths in my head for very long. The one I'm on is the best possible one.

  2. It's not just mothers who post about work-life balance who get told they're not happy, FWIW. I've been clear for years online that although I have a certified mental illness, it actually works for me okay and although there are challenges and difficult spots, really _it works for me okay_. Lots of people do not want to believe that. And online, I certainly could be lying.

    In some ways I think there are strong cultural scripts for women (or sexual abuse survivors, in that case, largely women) and if you do not fit the script then your happiness is suspect. Your script is deviant.

    Anyways, just adding to your post. This week is one of those weeks where the balance is shaky on my end but overall I love busy much better than the alternatives. I really want to push through the tough stuff to maintain what I enjoy.

    And yes, a real partner is absolutely critical. A decent salary helps too though -- mine is on the edge in some ways.

    1. You're right- this phenomenon appears in other contexts, too. I suspect the underlying cause is the same- people just can't imagine that someone might react to a situation so differently than they do.

    2. There's probably good anthropological/psychological reasons for it too. There are probably benefits from being in the same culture as everyone else, (we're probably hard-wired to want to be "normal" for whatever group we're in) and imposing that culture on everyone else is comforting. It just sucks when the culture is a dysfunctional one.

  3. "I don't comment on those posts, or reply to those comments, because I know that my answer of "well, if you don't like the way things are change something" would be neither welcome nor helpful."

    Yeah, this. Though sometimes I do anyway. Mostly I just grump on my own blog without linking to the latest grouse.

    And it's different when the person is actually stuck, like Mom2boy says for monetary reasons or whatever... on forums generally once they realize they're at that spot they're actually seeking advice, usually anonymously under a different user name. And sometimes they get out. It's the lawyers and other high paid folks who are miserable and whose husbands don't do jack that really get to me. They'll use money as an excuse, but when you're making >$200K/year, it isn't the money.

    And what really gets to me is when they try to push their misery on women who aren't miserable. And they say that any working mother who says she is not miserable is LYING. Which isn't true. I'm not lying. Motherhood doesn't have to make a person miserable. And I'm not miserable. My kid is not badly behaved. These are truths. When people say things like that I tend to speak up and then not visit that thread again. (It's what happens when I click on some of the links from Wandering Scientist like Mom101... the Happiest Mom etc. There are a lot of unhappy women out there who spend a lot of time commenting on blogs.)

    Right now I'm reading Motherhood Online (free book for review) and it's focusing on the benefits of the internet mothering community, but completely ignoring these negative cultural expectations that unhappy people seem to push. The crabs in a bucket phenomenon. I have to take breaks from it (reading Laura Vandekam's much easier to read new tome!) because mothering online is really not all sunshine and unicorns and support. It's creating cultures and some of those cultures are not as healthy as others.

    Or, as I prefer to think it, man, it's really sad that these unhappy people trying to bring me down just aren't as awesome as I am. The world would be a better place if everyone were as awesome as I am.

    1. "There are a lot of unhappy women out there who spend a lot of time commenting on blogs." Curiously, many of these women simultaneously claim to have no me-time. Last time I checked, commenting on blogs wasn't required for most people's work or as part of childcare, sleep, eating, etc.!

  4. I'm totally with you on not understanding people complaining about circumstances that they can change. The Zac Brown Band has a song called "Let It Go" that perfectly encapsulates my feelings on the matter, "Save your strength for things that you can change/ Forgive the ones you can't / You gotta let 'em go" only I say it a little differently: "If you're unhappy, either change your environment or change your mindset." Obviously it's easier said than done, but in this nation, very few people are actually powerless over their own happiness.

    My advice fror unhappy people is this: For a little dose of perspective, try expanding your mind a bit. Read a book like Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (about a POW) or Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (about a woman born into a Muslim nation). If people in dire circumstances can take control of their own destinies, certainly a housewife or a banker (or whoever you are) in the US can do so, too. You're the only one who can make it happen, though.

  5. @mom2boy, @Nicoleandmaggie- I can understand people who feel trapped for monetary reasons. But I don't understand why they don't try to make a plan to get out of that trap, particularly when they have the education and experience that could be used to get them the money they need to get out.

    @mom2boy, if I remember correctly, you were a student when you realized your relationship was no good. I think that is a much different thing than realizing it as someone who has already got her education. I can understand deciding to accept some short term unhappiness to reach a goal like getting a degree. People do that all the time. Maybe that is what the women I'm talking about are doing- but if so, I'm not clear on what the long term goal is. Maybe raising their kids? But in that case, I think they are mistaken- I think kids will probably do better when their parents are happy with their lives, so making some changes to make the mom happy is anything but selfish.

    1. @Cloud-- there's psychological scarring that I don't really understand that goes on with abused and trapped women, but have read enough about from women who I really respect (and who did manage to get out) that the phenomenon must be very powerful. The monetary control is usually part in parcel with an overall domination of the abuser over the abused. It's not usually that the husband is a total sweetheart and the woman feels trapped monetarily-- that's escapable. That's easy to make a plan to leave (unless the woman is happier in a loveless marriage with a man who brings in a lot of money... which happens in LA, I guess). It's generally also isolation, domination, and verbal abuse if not physical.

      Often the way that I see on these forums that these women get out of that, is the appeal to think of their children. They have to put someone else's needs first before they can take care of themselves, and they have to realize that short-term financial hardship is better than the long-term negative effect on the kids.

      With the lawyers etc... I think money is just an excuse. Especially when they decide to take out a lease on a new BMW. There's something else going on, maybe fear of failure. I dunno.

    2. Oh yes, I understand about how abuse can break a person down and trap her in the situation. I should have made it clear I'm not talking about abusive situations. Just situations where the partner won't do housework or the parenting work.

    3. I suspect that a lot of these monetary situations actually *are* abusive situations. When a woman truly feels trapped and doesn't make a lot of income, if any. That's even true if she's educated but isolated.

      And like I said, when the woman does make a lot of income herself, I don't think it's income that's actually the problem. But yes, it irritates me when they attack people offering advice and praise people who say all men are like that. They're not. And it's bad for everyone when we expect them to behave badly.

  6. Anonymous6:43 AM

    (Also: a lot of differences in these kinds of preferences became clear to me when I realized that most kids sleep more than my kids. You're not missing out on as much when your kid goes to sleep at 10 instead of at 6:30. And doesn't take two hour naps.

    OMG, in the womb this second kid is so much more active than my first was. And the first was pretty active both in the womb and out. I fear for the future. Especially since my mom says my little sister was pretty mellow in the womb and she was pretty mellow as an infant and toddler. Apparently the opposite of me.

    And that's why we're going to hire help to keep this kid entertained. Two adults are not going to be enough to keep up.)

    1. Oh so true. I think some people think you "never" see your kids during the week if you work because they're putting their kids to bed at 6:30. 9:00 is a success in my house, which means that my being done with work at 6 is the equivalent of those people being done at like 3pm.

    2. We are those people. For ages my husband didn't see T before bedtime because bedtime is 6:30. If I kept her up, she'd wake up in the am even EARLIER and was a MESS by the time he came home at 7:15 or 7:30. Sometimes the kid's schedule wins :)

      But we made up for this by having him take her to daycare in the mornings, and not go to work until 9:30 or 10, which gave him those hours "back" in the mornings instead. it's doable.

    3. Just a comment from the other side - I put my kids to bed early (as early as 6 PM for the baby when he was smaller) and still spend lots of time with them, AND enjoy them (which are not the same things). Of course I have a job where I can come home earlyish and have no commute to speak of. I don't think it's the quantity of time one spends with one's child during the week, but a variety of other factors (I mean, within the confines of a normal schedule, but my partner doesn't see the kids for weeks at a time and they have a great relationship).

  7. I knew many child-less colleagues/friends who were frazzled and stressed at work, period; I was not at all surprised they opted out of working once kids came along. Many of these same people think that ALL women cannot manage work/life balance, just because they could not handle it, ignoring the fact that they never had good time management skills anyway.

    The way I see it is I can handle my job (non-management, white collar) with kids, but other women can and do handle higher level positions plus kids. We all have different capabilities and also support systems.

    OH, there is an interesting article in the April issue of Real Simple about women and time. It seems that for many, the real reason many cannot handle the stress is due to housework/chores, not work interference. While men are often able to carve out leisure time (while working with kids), women often feel like they have to clean, cook and do all household chores, plus gift giving, baking, planning, and other gender stereotypical stuff.

    N&M: The activity in the womb thing was so true for me. My first was mellow and he's more mellow. The second was a kicker and he's like that in life too.

    1. "Many of these same people think that ALL women cannot manage work/life balance, just because they could not handle it, ignoring the fact that they never had good time management skills anyway." Yes. This. Reminds me of Tina Fey talking in her book about pundits who don't like certain women comedians, and then claim that women aren't funny. She says something like "I don't like Chinese food, but I don't write essays trying to claim it doesn't exist." Just because YOU can't deal with kids and work and succeed at both doesn't mean it's impossible. It may just mean you can't do it.

    2. YES! I think some people are less tolerant of schedule business, multi-tasking, etc. It's a personality thing. Or they don't like their jobs very much to begin with.

      I'm one of those who can't bear to be overscheduled (to me, which may be just fine for others). So my 25-hour job works much better for me. In theory I *could* work 40-45 and still have time for other stuff, but it would drive me batty.

      But I know there are others who can handle this better than I can. More power to them (and more money!) :)

    3. I'd forgotten that quote from Tina Fey. It is very apt here.

      @Anandi- and some people COULD handle it and just don't want to, and that is fine, too. All I want is for people to stop saying that the life I leave is impossible and/or necessarily not a happy one. I think it is very possible, and I'm pretty happy!

    4. Some people (and by "people" I, of course, mean haters on the internets who say "I don't have kids yet" while criticizing working parents) just cannot manage their time, and my guess is they're unwilling to do the personal work required to figure out why that is. Or they actually enjoy something about their status quo - something to complain about? - which is perplexing.

      Amen, @Laura Venderkam, you're spot on about those blog commenters who claim to have no me-time, and I love that Tina Fey reference. I don't get it either.

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  9. Thanks for addressing that comment at Dr. Sneetch's. I was quite ticked off by it too, but decided not to get into it over there...

    I don’t know about you, but I’m so sick of reading posts by women who have utterly crazy lives, scheduled to the hilt, but are so happy and fulfilled, and yes their homes are messy, but hey, don’t you know, messy is now chic?

    What, a clean house is more important than a fulfilling career plus happy kids? So you'll drop your career to be able to clean more? Sheesh. That sounds like someone who does not know what it's like to really love your job.

    [Certain posts] sometimes seem to me like the people they are most trying to convince of their happiness are the authors themselves.

    We all need a pat on the back from time to time. And sometimes there's no one else to give us that pat but ourselves.

    1. Anonymous9:23 AM

      "Behind every successful woman is herself"

      I need to get another one of those t-shirts.

    2. "We all need a pat on the back from time to time. And sometimes there's no one else to give us that pat but ourselves." YES. And if I can't do that on my own blog, where can I do it?

      @Nicoleandmaggie, that t-shirt is awesome.

    3. Anonymous6:13 PM

      Sadly mine is all worn out! There are holes where a lady does not allow holes.

    4. I went back and actually read the comment that prompted this discussion. I didn't get that from her at all - that the clean house was more important to *her*. I got that she's calling out the fact that in conversations regarding I'm a WOHM and my life is great it also seems to follow that "and my house is messy but I don't care". I think her point, or maybe my takeaway, is that there are only so many hours in the day. Something has to give. Cloud - you make dinners that only take 30 minutes to prep and have a cleaning person every so often in order to keep up with your career and have time for you family when at home. It seems to me the anonymous poster was just saying that she was willing to give up climbing the corporate ladder to have more "time with her kids" (and perhaps clean her own house, idk).
      Why does chasing a career with kids mean dealing with a messy house? I have a clean and neat house and I would go crazy if I didn't. I can't give that up for happiness in a career because when I came home I'd be decidedly unhappy. Either I continue to keep a clean and neat house or I'll have to allocate resources to pay someone else to do it. (I'm not doing it alone. My partner travels during the week. She helps but in order to keep the house the way I want for my own happiness I do a much larger portion.)
      For someone who doesn't enjoy a messy house (as though a messy house is some sort of release of an unwanted burden/outside expectation) the idea that happiness comes with that added bonus might seem like a fiction.

    5. Hm, that's nice of you. The lack of the cute emoticon after "because messy is chic" makes me think that perhaps she didn't mean it nicely. You know, along with the other not so nice words she used. Or he used. I tend to imagine anonymous commenters who attack groups of people as 13 year old boys. (Does that mean I'm one?)

      I always feel sorry for people who can't deal with having a messy house. I think it's a real disadvantage. But that's ok, they feel sorry for me because obviously my mother didn't bring me up right. (Of course, if I were male, needing a clean house would be a pathology. That's just not normal for guys.) And they're in the majority, so obviously that view is winning.

    6. I appreciate your sympathy.
      I didn't say whether or not she meant her comment nicely. I said that I got from the comment that the "scheduled to the hilt" happy life was perhaps not being presented as real if included in the I'm so happy without a minute to spare is a messy house (suggesting no time to clean and it's okay I'll say I like it that way... different from I have tons of free time and a messy house and I like it that way.)
      I think we gravitate towards certain communities to find common ground whether it be for a kid that doesn't sleep much or keeping a messy house or to stay at home or to work or to be vegan. I thought the point of Cloud's post was that there are things she has a tough time imagining and was looking for those view points explained in a way to help her understand.

    7. mom2boy: Good points. I definitely thought the commenter was rather mean-spirited, but i didn't consider that a messy house is a source of stress. I am trying to relax my standards but I must admit there's a point that messiness gets to me and makes me unable to relax. I just want to shift my breaking point however to be more realistic, i.e. let go of the small things to enjoy time with kids, otherwise I'll always be doing one more chore.

      My spouse helps but I have slightly lower tolerance for messiness. We did just hire cleaning help (again) and that will be a huge relief.

    8. To me, it is pretty simple. If having a clean house makes you happy, then you prioritize spending some time or money cleaning it. I get how having everything neat and tidy can make you happy- it does for me, to a certain extent, so every now and then, organizing and cleaning bubbles up to the top of my priority list. And yes, I pay a cleaner to help us keep the house at the cleanliness level that makes me happy.

      The problem comes in when people start judging people who have different approaches to house cleaning. And when the cultural ideas that having our houses look like they have been professionally staged ALL THE TIME starts to cause angst because that requires more time/money than most working families can manage... then it becomes really harmful. It is another source of guilt, making women (and yes, this is always aimed at the woman in a hetero couple) feel like they aren't doing something really important for their family if they don't keep the house that clean.

      Which is silly. My kids prefer it when I let the house be a little messy, because then they can have their toys out!

      And yes, women can learn to ignore this crap, but it is so pervasive and presented as just obviously the "better" way to live, that I think it is hard for some women to do that.

      I found that entire section of the original comment snarky. I thought she had some good things to say about the value of getting alternative experiences represented- it would be awesome, truly awesome, if Dr. Sneetch or someone else like her wrote about taking time off to have kids and then coming back into the workplace (in fact- I would happily host a guest post on this topic if anyone is interested). That is an option a lot of women consider, and it would be truly helpful to have stories out there describing what it was like.

      But then the comment degenerated into tearing down women who make a different choice, implying that they are lying about their happiness with their lives- and their messy houses. And that was unnecessarily mean and hurtful, in my opinion. You don't have to tear down the different choices to support the choice to stay home with kids. We would all be a lot better off if we could remember that.

    9. The problem comes in when people start judging people who have different approaches to [insert anything to do with a woman's choice regarding kids and life that's different than the norm]. Yes, I agree.

      If I were you as the one with multiple blog posts on your own personal choices, I'd have probably felt attacked as well. I wasn't defending the tone or tactic - just identifying the differing point I saw.

  10. Great post and great discussion!

    On the point of enjoying your children more/less: To be totally honest, I think I enjoy our son MORE when I'm working than when I was at home with him full-time. I really value our time when we are together. When I was at home, I was at the end of my rope by 3pm that I would just get frustrated/annoyed/angry. I might not work for someone else, and I get that, but it works for me. I'm happier that way, which makes for a happier household in general.

    1. Me too Alyssa, in many ways. In fact when I went back to work full-time I did a time comparison between the hours I was *really* spending with my (older and only at the time) kid at home (not counting nap, classes to get him socialized, etc.) I took out the hours after 5:30 because I felt like I was burnt out and they were "survival" hours and not "great time" hours.

      Of course it's not really that simple but I did find that working gave me *back* the time between 5:30 and 7:30 as time I was really, really glad to see my son. And bedtime got better, in part, I think, because my own glad-to-know-you came through better at that sort of he-needs-security time. I wasn't watching the clock wishing he would Just Sleep Already.

    2. I enjoy my kids more as a WOHM than I would as a SAHM, too. I almost wrote something about that in the post, but decided it was a can of worms I didn't want to go into there, because then I'd have to make sure and say really clearly that I'm just talking about ME. Some parents will no doubt enjoy their kids more if they stay home. I think it depends on the parent and the kid.

    3. Anonymous12:11 PM

      @Cloud Obviously you have no right to be having kids. Don't you know that your only goal in life should be to sacrifice yourself for the next generation? So that your daughters can grow up to sacrifice themselves for the next generation? (Or not have kids.)


    4. I know. I am totally ruining my kids. Or maybe I suck at my job. Or maybe both!

    5. It is so WEIRD when the empirical evidence at hand just doesn't bear that out.

  11. Anonymous11:15 AM

    Wow. This post resonates with me on a lot of points. I don't mean to pile on that anonymous commenter, but geez, we are scheduled 'to the hilt', and I am stressed as all hell, but I would be stressed no matter whether there was a kid in the mix or not, because that's just who I am. I am not happy unless I am busy, and pushing my limits. Otherwise, I'd be BORED OUT OF MY MIND.

    Which brings me to a point I don't know if anyone's made (or maybe I skimmed the comments too quickly). Why is it limited to working mothers with crazy schedules who are lying to themselves (and everyone else)? After all...
    a) there are lots of working mothers who, before having kids, led busy and hyper scheduled lives. A child just adds to the mix. Were those women unhappy with their schedules before that?
    b) there are lots of stay at home mothers who live busy hyper scheduled lives. It's such a fallacy that one takes time off to RELAX and stay home with your kids. Dude, that's STRESSFUL! And honestly, the most hyper scheduled mother I know is a SAHM. She's running around WAY more than I do, and with a toddler in tow... at least I have just myself to worry about during office hours!

    1. I am not happy unless I am busy, and pushing my limits. Otherwise, I'd be BORED OUT OF MY MIND.

      I am like this, too.

    2. I'm very good at entertaining myself. The problem is when I'm not being challenged externally I tend to get into trouble...

      And work is waaay more relaxing than my super active amazing kid. Even though he's incredibly well-behaved and respectful and considerate and so on. But he's always on! He needs his own challenges so he's not bouncing off the walls at the end of the day.

    3. Yes! I get bored if I am not pushing the boundaries, too. I just had a realization about this and work recently. I have a post on that brewing.

      Which is not to say that I think I'm BETTER than someone who doesn't get bored in the same way or anything like that. But I'm not going to pretend I don't get bored.

    4. Nice points here--when it comes to wohms or sahms or ptwahms or apwwbdodltj (any people who work & do or don't like their jobs) or, etc., I always end up thinking that we all, no matter our circumstances, have to contend with the fact that their are only 24 hours in a day, time only works in a linear fashion, & we have to make choices within that framework. (Except the Doctor on Dr Who, because he has a TARDIS. But there's causality that he has to deal with, so he's not totally exempt, either.) I like reading Cloud's blog not because I share the exact same constraints on my time & work (I have no paid, well-loved career to speak of), but because her breakdown of her & her family's decision-making processes help me think about how I approach my own decisions about time & priorities within the framework of my family's needs & preferences. I'm lucky that I have the resources to make some weird decisions; I'm unlucky that all the things I'd like to spend time working on net workers little to no reasonable income--I'd spend more for childcare than I'd make per hour at any job I am good at & actually enjoy. I've not opted out of the fulltime work force because I can't juggle work & family--I opted out because the employment system doesn't value my contributions as much as I need it to keep my kids safe & healthy. Again, I'm lucky I can chose to opt in or out; many, many people I know have had to make much starker compromises regarding their work-life balances because of financial & educational constraints.

      But you all know that--& Cloud always makes it clear that she's talking about her situation, & not comparing her employment apples to, for example, my employment oranges.

      This response got away form me a little bit. Sorry to go on. Mainly meant to say, good points about how scheduling happens to all of us, with or without bambini in tow. Thanks.

    5. Anonymous12:13 PM

      I want to thank you specifically for bringing Doctor Who into this conversation. OMG what we would all do with a TARDIS. :D

    6. Glad to know the Doctor Who shout-out brought a smile. One day my husband & I will have the time, energy, & wherewithal to build us a TARDIS shed for the backyard. (Frankly, I could also use a sonic screwdriver, at least on that occasional day that I lock myself out of the house. Also, a peppy sidekick to make me look all smart when I discuss the timey-wimey nature of things. That's a strange post-Gloria-Steinem thought, isn't it?) Anyway--always nice to meet a fellow fan!

  12. Good post, it made me think about being happy with your choices (http://www.babyattachmode.blogspot.com/2012/03/short-and-long-term-happiness.html). Like other people already said in the anonymous commenter's defense, it's hard to imagine what having a baby will be like...

  13. the milliner7:31 PM

    The thing that comes to mind when reading the comment linked to in the post is 'watch and listen until you have a chance to walk in similar shoes...i.e. you actually have a kid'. As in yes, I understand the commenter has these ideas about the perfect mathematical equation to achieve happiness with kids in your life. But really, you have no idea* how becoming a parent will change your thinking, and you have no idea what kind of kid you'll get. (*OK, you'll have some idea, you may even have most of it figured out, but I haven't met one person yet who hasn't been thrown for a loop about something in parenthood...or their reaction to it... that they didn't anticipate).

    I think most people (including myself) think, pre-kids, that things are all linear and logical. But, IME, the game-changing thing about becoming a parent is that going in, you think that 1+1=2. Post kids, you eventually figure out that probably 1+1=4.5 or something else...as far as you can tell...for now. It's always a moving taret. And you know this because you *tested* 1+1=2, =3, =4 and those were all not the correct equations for the members of your family. There are so many factors that go into finding that right balance for each family (all members within) to be happy that I don't know how you can *not* imagine that there are many correct answers to essentially the same question.

    OK, end of cranky (and perhaps nonsensical for the mathematical equation part..it makes sense in my head, but...) comment.

  14. I agree with you, the milliner, and I also think generally we need to get better at empathy in our society. Stop being obsessed with being judged (which is clearly part of the problem, because that's what leads many people to believe their beliefs/attitudes/methods are the ONLY way) and really listen to what other people are saying about their own experiences. I think the negativity on the internets needs to be addressed, too, but I am one of those people who have felt infinitely expanded by the opportunity to listen to so many women talk about their diverse experiences. You know, I used to have "views" about infertility treatments? I thought they were terrible! And then I actually listened to women going through infertility and educated myself about the treatments; it opened up my mind and my heart (going through a miscarriage helped too). It's very easy to have opinions about things you don't know anything about; for me the whole point of connectivity (via the web or IRL) is to learn about the limitations of one's own experience and ideas. Empathy usually follows understanding.

  15. I don't have time to read all the comments because my life is, you know, both angst-ridden and scheduled to the hilt, hee hee. But I will say that pre-kids I made a lot of self-righteous blanket statements out of fear of the unknown. "All those other parents out there, clearly, THEY don't know what they're doing, but I'll have it all figured out."

    Then Le Petit was born and he pretty much beat that right out of me in the first week.

    I maintain that you may not know what kind of work/life balance will make you happy until you're in the thick of it. Here in France, many parents (the vast majority moms, which is no surprise) take Wednesdays off. Pre-kids, I thought this was NUTS. Take a 20% cut in salary just to spend one thankless day at home with the little brats? No way was I going to fall into that trap! But then when le Petit was 9 months old, it was just the right solution for me, and now four years later I'm still happy with it... which isn't to say I'll never revisit the choice. But I never could have imagined it before I was in the thick of things.

    As they say, "Before, I had principles. Now I have kids."

    FWIW, my life is actually much more organized, calm, and fulfilling now that I have kids, even the parts that have nothing to do with being a parent. I can't (or rather have chosen not to) keep doing everything I used to do pre-kids, and my schedule is much more rigid. But I'm more effective now. And happier.

  16. In defense of the anonymous commenter...

    I understood what she's saying. I am currently miserably overscheduled and I don't have kids. I am not happy. I'm trying to make changes; they take time. (I'll be in a different job next year but I need to finish the one I've got!) If I projected my life forward without change and include kids I would explode, because being scheduled to the hilt and having a messy house is stressing me out already. (Yeah yeah cleaning lady conversation with spouse frugality cheapness class issues privacy whatever.)

    When people like me -- child-less and going nuts with one little academic job -- see all these posts that portray only perfection (or feel that way), we figure we'll never be able to pull this stuff off and we might as well just quit. This is a curious American female phenomenon: you figure if you're not projecting happiness or feeling happy right now you just ought to find something else to do.

    That's why grumpiness is refreshing. Be happy if you are -- other days that's the encouraging post a reader needs. It is really refreshing, though, to see some other points of view and know that if you're stressed or grumpy it isn't because U R DOIN IT RONG and you ought to just quit. As you said, the comment is not about you at all -- it's just about the commenter!

    1. Thanks for commenting! I appreciate your perspective. I get what you're saying, and if the comment had just said that, I don't think I would have written this post, because you are right- showing different people's perspectives and realities is very important. But it went farther to imply that I am lying- to myself or my readers or both. And also to imply that I am not enjoying my kids. And that annoyed me enough to write this post.

      I also don't think I'm portraying perfection. I wouldn't call me or my life "perfect" by any stretch. My husband and I argue (and I write about that occasionally). I screw things up with my kids (and I write about that- see, for instance, our long trek through potty-training Pumpkin). I wrote a post about losing my temper at work. But I'm HAPPY (most days).

      FWIW, I had a really hard time getting my husband on board with the cleaning service idea- mostly for what can be categorized as class issues. Kids, particularly the second kid, won that argument for me.


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