Last week, I replied to a tweet about the difficulty of putting in extra hours after the kids are in bed with this honest observation: This has gotten soooo much easier for me now that my children are a little older.
When my kids were babies, toddlers, or even preschoolers, my evenings were exhausting. The pick up the kids-make dinner-try not to feel hurt when the kids refuse my lovingly crafted dinner-playtime-bathtime-bedtime gauntlet was punishing. This was compounded by having a low sleep needs kid (how I envied people with 7 p.m. bedtimes for their toddlers!) and a kid who took awhile to get good at self-soothing. I would occasionally do some work after the kids were asleep, but only if I had a deadline looming. Mostly, I either collapsed into bed or wrote a blog post (which at the time was an outlet for me like Mr. Snarky currently uses TV: a way to unwind and remind myself that I still had things I enjoyed to do that were just for me). There is a reason that this is timeframe in which I fell for short ebooks.
Now, though, I often come into our home office after the kids are in bed and do something that qualifies as work. In fact I often come into the office while my kids are still awake and do work. My day job is no longer as "big" as earlier jobs were, so that evening work is not necessarily for the day job. Instead, it might be for Annorlunda Books, which involves things like accounting and querying reviewers that definitely feel like work in addition to things I find more fun.
It isn't that parenting has gotten easier. There are still problems to solve and times when I feel like I'm in over my head. But there is more space between the demands now. Some evenings, my kids need me, perhaps to help with homework or perhaps just to go on a walk or play a round of birdie and reconnect and hear about whatever is on their minds. Other evenings, they'd rather be off playing with the neighbors or reading their books. Space has opened up after dinner, and I am trying to make sure I claim some of it for myself.
Even on the nights when my after dinner time is claimed by the family, I can usually do something after bedtime if I am so inclined. Bedtimes have gotten easier. At long last, Pumpkin just wants a good night kiss and the lights turned out after story time. Soon, I know, she won't even want story time, preferring instead to read to herself. Petunia still likes snuggles, but she doesn't need them as long (most nights). And aside from the bedtime routine, the entire evening is just easier, with more reminding a kid to go do something (e.g., take a shower) and less hands-on wrangling. I often have energy for my own pursuits after bedtime is done.
And weekends have more space, too. We still usually do one fun outing as a family, and there's still gymnastics to go to on Saturday mornings. Next Sunday, Lego team starts and I'm coaching Petunia's team again. But that leaves a surprising amount of time, and the kids no longer expect me to help fill it. Some weekends still get busier than I'd like, but to be honest, that is often Mr. Snarky's fault. I'm a high energy person, but he's even higher energy. I have to remember that I should tell him I need more downtime now and then.
So if you're in the midst of the baby/toddler/preschooler years and wondering where all these other parents are finding time to do work or serious hobbies in the evenings, take heart. In a few years, it will probably all be different. The change started for us when Petunia hit kindergarten, but it was really in her 2nd grade year (last year) that I noticed how much space I had reclaimed for my own interests.
You have to be careful, though: There are all sorts of school activities and committees that can steal the time right back from you, and it can be hard to ignore the signals our society sends that mothers should be more active in their kids' schools. I am choosy, and pick just a couple school things to get involved in, and say no to the others. I also have to keep an eye out for the way schools tend to default to communicating with only one parent, and the way that social event scheduling also tends to default to one parent. I don't think there is any magic answer to this problem. We can usually manage to get the teachers to add Mr. Snarky to their email list, so he takes the lead on monitoring homework and the like. We have absolutely given up on getting people to communicate with him for scheduling play dates, birthday parties, or any of the other social events that find their way onto our kids' schedules. There is one other dad among my kids' friends who schedules play dates, and so for that particular friend, the scheduling is handled by Mr. Snarky. For all others, it comes to me. I don't love that, but have made peace with it. We explicitly recognize it as a chore, and balance it with other chores that Mr. Snarky takes on.
This is why I want to do an updated household logistics post - I think it would be interesting to see where the space actually is, and whether it is distributed evenly between me and Mr. Snarky. But that exciting post will have to wait for another night. I did the work I needed to do after dinner, but I'm reading a good book and I want to go to bed so I can read another chapter or two!