Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Reclaiming Space

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!


  1. Socal dendrite11:36 AM

    I'll look forward to your household logistics post! We're a few years behind you (with a kindergartener and a preschooler) but I am already noticing that I am sometimes less completely worn out after they are in bed and more able to do a few hours of work if I need to.

  2. I'm a recently retired teacher and a committed feminist. When I began teaching, I used to try mightly to communicate with both parents, but 95% of the time, I'd only hear back from one parent - usually, the mom. I'd make two phone calls and leave two sets of messages - on my own time, no less, since all that has to happen after hours -- but only hear back from one most of hte time. After awhile, I was making extra effort at my own extent and it just didn't seem worth it. In my experience of over 60 students per year over 10 years, most straight parents leave the parenting to the mother. Is it really fair to blame teachers and the school?

    Also, you write that "it can be hard to ignore the signals our society sends that mothers should be more active in their kids' schools." Would you agree that parents should be active in their children's schools? And is the gender problem in the school or at home?

    Just some thoughts based on a view from the "other side."

    1. Alexicographer8:05 PM

      Fair points. Certainly in my household, the responsibility for the absence of paternal involvement in our kid's school lies principally with the dad in question -- my DH does not (to my irritation) prioritize this, even though he is a SAHP who does not work outside the home. In fairness, he's an introvert who has no desire whatsoever to volunteer in the schools, but in my view this is just one of those things we do because we do it ... not because we want to. Our different perspectives/approaches probably also reflect our different backgrounds (me white collar, him blue collar).

      But as for the communications, our schools now have mass lists (and teachers seem to use email lists also) and send messages (and make automated calls) to "everyone," yet getting them to add my DH's email to their list has proven nigh unto impossible. In fairness, I don't think this is a gender thing; I think it's an overload thing (or maybe a disorganized thing -- but I'm assuming the one person who's responsible for doing this and who has assured me multiple times that it's been done, is just overworked). I've delegated responsibility for getting this fixed to DH, so at least there's that (and easy enough to send an email to both parents even if it is a personal message, though clearly not feasible with phones unless one does double the work).

    2. Almost all communication from our teachers is by email, so it really is just a matter of getting them to put a second email address on their list for our kids. The school has both of our email addresses, because they ask for them on the form. But most years, the teachers' lists start out with just mine, so I have to ask to get my husband's address added. That's not a big deal, and I'm sorry if the post came across as critical of teachers.

      As for whether I think parents should be active in their kids' schools... I think we should be active in partnering with our kids' teachers to make sure our kids are doing their work and that sort of thing. But I think society would be better off if we stopped relying so much on volunteer parental labor and donated money to get our schools everything they need. The availability of time for that labor and money to donate is not at all evenly distributed. I think we should fund our schools and give them the budget to hire teacher's aides and an actual art teacher instead of expecting parents to volunteer to do these things.

      But since our society doesn't do that, we donate money and I pick a small number of things to volunteer to help with.

      The societal pressure I mentioned tends to come from other parents, not the school, and is not limited to school activities.

    3. Its definitely the other parents, not the school, that perpetuates the gender bias. I see just as many fathers as mothers dropping their kids off, but the introductory PTA meeting held immediately after drop-off today was 100% moms. But also, I seem to have been the one to originally give my phone number & email to the school and ALL the automated calls/emails from the district come to me and I can't figure out how to change it to come to both of us. For us, its disorganization at a higher level. Definitely not the teachers.

  3. Looking forward to the logistics post, it was your original one that led me to your blog lo those many years ago. I see glimmers of that space, but it comes and goes right now...I have a 1st and 3rd grader, and the little guy is needing me constantly these days, after a period of self-sufficiency, so its hard to go backwards! I still am useless after 9 pm (which is when my kids SHOULD go to bed, but the low=sleep-needs one is up reading/coming to bother me until long after I fall asleep, and the weaning-off-the-thumb-one is now getting up at all hours too). I think that will always be the case, I'm more an early bird than a night own. The thought of having energy to devote to anything after the evening gauntlet sounds impossible to me, but then again, I can have hope!

  4. I'm seeing a tiny glimpse of this now as JB plays more independently which I encourage even as I let zir do so in my office across from me at my desk or on the floor with my absentminded participation. Ze doesn't often want a lot more than that during these parallel play periods so I can get some work done and spend time with zir. Sleep is still interrupted but to a lesser degree than it used to happen and the lower frequency means I'm much less irritated by the interruptions when they do come.

    I remember working before and after naps and during evening sleep but after a year of that with infancy, I fell out of the habit or really could not muster the energy or motivation to try and squeeze in any more time.

    It's nice to know that it will improve, and a nice reminder to not wish away this time, even as we figure out what our next steps may be.


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