I was single-parenting it for a few days last week and came to a liberating realization: I would have made a terrible stay-at-home mom. (I came to this realization somewhere around the time they dropped Mardi Gras beads down the sink and terrorized the cat, who still hasn’t come out from underneath the bed.) I don’t have the patience and I don’t think fast enough on my feet to be endlessly creative in dealing with whatever issues they throw in my face 24/7.
I shut down under chaos. I mean, “hide under the covers quivering until it’s quiet” kind of shut down. I don’t function when I don’t have control. I need long, unstructured time to work. I respond to problems best when I have time to contemplate them. I also didn’t want to lose the foothold I had in my career if I had stayed home with them. I would not have the same professional options in my area if I was returning to work today.
None of this reflects on my love for my kids, of course, no matter what anyone says or thinks. If I’d ended up at home with them full time, we would have figured it out. That doesn’t stop me from wishing there were more options for parents, though. Job sharing, perhaps (an option I was told was “not acceptable”) or part time work with the guarantee of returning to full time work at a mutually agreed upon time. Day care on site. Less pressure to work full time and parent full time.
I work best when I have few obligations
I’m thinking about time a lot now that I’m on sabbatical – and now that the countdown to returning work has begun. How do I preserve all this lovely, unstructured time when I return? Maybe it’s unrealistic to want all this lovely time to myself – but I work best when I have few obligations, when I have lots of time to think and when I have a fair amount of control over how I spend my days. I’m a better employee – and a better parent – when I have time to think and recharge. My work doesn’t usually lend itself to this type of structure, unfortunately, even with the fair amount of autonomy that I have.
One of the reasons full time writing appeals to me so much is my perception that there’s a relatively large amount of unstructured time. Sure, there are client meetings and agent meetings and all kinds of deadlines, and perhaps this post sounds optimistically naive (it is). But it’s also the structure – from what I’ve experienced this year – that gets me to work at my best. I will be very sad to leave that behind next fall, even as I also solicit advice and put priorities into place that will (hopefully) yield a work environment that looks more like my current one.
I’m soliciting advice from you, too. How do you mesh your preferred work style with the demands of your job or family life, especially when there are disconnects?
(Bonus points for decoding the lyrics shout out in the title of the post.)