If I had a magic wand, the first thing I would do is add about four more hours onto every day. Here is my stipulation, though: these four hours would be mine and mine alone. I would spend them without anybody else around me, most significantly, my family members.
A few weeks ago I managed to have the “perfect day.” It was a rare occurrence, a blue moon of parenting days, and involved my youngest daughter going to her childcare center on one of her regular days, but I happened to be off work that day. My oldest was finished with summer camp and had not yet started school, so she was home with me. The magic ingredient was the fact that she was busy all day with the neighborhood friends, and I had very limited involvement in their interactions.
What it boiled down to was this: I spent nearly five hours at the computer writing, catching up on blog reading and commenting, pre-scheduling and editing future posts, and even working on some bigger projects. The entire morning was dedicated to that aspect of my work: writing and blogging. Nothing else. My daughter breezed in and out, stopped to have some lunch, but was fairly self-sufficient while I frantically typed away. Around one that afternoon, I decided to call it a day and focus on other things. So I spent several hours doing laundry, cleaning the house top to bottom, and preparing pasta salad for dinner that night.
When I was finished, just before childcare pick-up time, I felt tremendously satisfied. My sense of accomplishment was invigorating, and I lacked that usual nagging feeling of having forgotten or neglected something. Everything was done. This sense of fulfillment and ease left me downright cheerful when I went to pick up my toddler. I spent the rest of the evening completely engaged with my children; I marveled at my lack of distraction, newfound patience that seemed to be a divine gift, and ability to squash any moments of familial stress without breaking a sweat. I couldn’t believe it. I felt calm, happy, and distinctly lighter than usual.
At the end of the day, after the kids were in bed, I didn’t feel that pressing urge to scramble around and wrap things up. I felt proud of the fact that I hadn’t snapped at anyone all day, nor had I even experienced the all too familiar irritation that seems to regularly wash over me. I thought to myself, “I really wish I could be a stay at home mom. I rocked today.” But then it hit me- my day did not epitomize being a stay at home mom in any sense of the word. For one thing, my highest maintenance child (Usually. Talk to me after a frustrating evening of 2nd grade homework and social devastation.) wasn’t even home. For another thing, I spent part of my day working. Sure, it was at the job that pays me next to nothing, but it was still working.
My utopian day combined the best of all worlds. I was away from my children for several hours, I was working at a job that I found immensely fulfilling, and I was home. I had time for household maintenance, I cooked a homemade meal, I tended to our nest, and I interacted harmoniously with my children. That one day had everything I had ever hoped for in life. If 4-5 days of every week looked like that, I honestly believe I would be a happier person, a better wife, a calmer mother, and a more level-headed household engineer.
But that day never happens. As I said, it is a metaphorical blue moon.
There are a handful of obstacles to making that dream world a reality; for one, I need to go to work at the job that pays me. I wish with all my heart that my income was disposable, and that is simply wasn’t necessary for me to go to work in order to contribute to our family’s livelihood. But it is necessary, and we do need that money. Fortunately for me, I actually enjoy my work, and teaching my music classes is a very rewarding experience for me. But it’s one more thing that cuts into my ability to find time for my writing goals, my home maintenance, and my family enjoyment. I would have to actually be earning a living from my writing in order to justify staying home all day while my toddler was at childcare, even for the three days a week in which she goes.
I’m sure we have all read so much about the balance between staying home with children, finding personal fulfillment, and pursuing career ambitions. You can’t throw a rock without reading something about opting out, leaning in, opting back in, WAHM vs SAHM, the “Mommy Wars”… and you have my solemn vow that I will not add one more post to that commentary. As much information as there is available to mothers, every family situation is unique, and every household dynamic is its own delicate ecosystem. There is no magic formula to make sure each of us is fulfilled, has the right balance, and has the perfect situation for child-raising.
For me, though, I found the key to happiness. That elusive “having it all” prize that dangles just out of reach is now well within my grasp. If only I could find the magic wand that would add on those four precious hours to my day, all of my problems would be solved, and balance would finally be restored. There would be enough water for all of my gardens; I would have plenty to offer my children, my husband, my home, my work, and my self. I would have it all.
What does your vision of “having it all look” like? Is it possible?
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