So I tried a life that went like this: juggle a job in the city that includes a one hour commute each way (add some travel, international at times), two children aged 3 and 1, run a farm that sells vegetables and feeds its family with meat, eggs and dairy too, finish a 1000 square foot addition you’re building yourselves, do this next to a husband who also travels a fair bit for his off-farm job so that you may have to do the whole kit yourself at times, while figuring all else that life brings and stay sane. Nope, that didn’t work. So I tried something new. Not because it was my lifelong dream and it came to me in a clear vision. But because I had tried the other ways and failed. I stayed home.
I left my job, shortened my children's days in care, caught the spillover on house repairs, car repairs, family emergencies and worked alongside my husband in his expanding organic vegetable business. I continued caring for our pigs, chickens, dairy cows, but now it was during the day. I didn’t know what I was doing. I just knew what I wasn’t doing anymore and something about that was working.
I read an article in the Globe and Mail a few days ago that brought a strange sort of perspective on things for me. The thing that rang a bell the hardest for me (aside from laughing my butt off at the notion of ‘airing out our kids’), was that women today that work in a full time job outside of the home still spend the same amount of one-on-one time with their children as a typical mother in the 1970s who stayed at home with her kids.
Basically somewhere along the way my generation became these hyper-vigilant parents that did indeed take full responsibility for the social and psychological well being of our children. By all accounts this would sound like a noble undertaking, right? Children deserve our attention and our praise, they deserve second chances and options and choices and explanations and opportunities - all with you by their side. Don’t they? Yet all that I managed to facilitate with my patience project called ‘Being a Hands-on Mom’ was a whole lot of yelling and not one ounce of centered sanity.
In the past year at home I have found myself more and more able to be patient with my children. But instead of spending more time on the floor with them teaching them how to make a truck go boom, I wait for them to do things for themselves. I spend more energy teaching them how to be independent. Like my therapist once said, it seems I’m in the business of putting myself out of a job. If we do our jobs right, a parent should essentially teach their child how to get by without them.
What was true for me is that being drill sergeant Mommy who rushed my kids out the door and spent more time doing up car seat straps than holding them in a quiet cuddle on my lap at home, I did not have the head space or the time to actively ignore my children when I was home with them. I had to stay on them, get their teeth brushed and shoes on and it was faster to do it myself. I was not able to think about what was best for them. I betcha many women can cope quite well doing such a juggling act. I was not one of those women.
Daily I would experience these chest pains under my rib cage. It was a searing cramp so sharp that it would at times drop me to the ground. I was unable to breathe through these cramps, as any movement of my ribs would make the pain more unbearable. Each incident would last anywhere from 10 seconds to a minute or so. It was terrifying. My father had died at the age of 54 of a heart attack so quickly that nobody had a chance to say goodbye. One thing I knew to be true: my children were not going to lose their mother to stress-related issues as I had lost my father if there was anything I could do about it.
I pulled away from the world that was crashing down on me. I left work for a month and immediately began to experience life without the pains. With that, I had all the information that I needed. I returned to work rejuvenated and certain that a long-term solution was required. I was going to work for five more months until the end of a big meeting that was going down in Qatar and then I would begin my leave (this time by choice and not for medical reasons).
The one thing that confused me the most was why I had left this piece of the puzzle that I had worked so hard to attain. I had attended university to do this very job, something that many people I knew had not managed to do (work in the area they were schooled in). I was still very interested in my work, highly dependent on my salary and highly dependent on being independent. I liked going out the door in the mornings to do something to call my own.
Though I had always stuck my fingers in deep on the farm and spent oodles of time focused on my children (the quality of which varied of course!), I knew that I needed to own a little part of my week for myself. So I began to write. I wrote every day, two pages, about anything and everything that came to mind. Writing things down was like building a life on paper that I could then fold up and throw into the wind so that it would take true flight.
It has been only 5 months that I have been publishing some of these writings but years since I started them. I have had excellent feedback from old friends and new. I have learned that friends feel guilty when they don’t read your blog (I hate this part). I have learned that my mother doesn’t have the attention span to read it. My husband reads it religiously. I don’t really know who else does. But it gives me a little piece of the pie out there in the world every week. Just enough to keep my sane.
Last week I wondered if I might stop all this writing and just get on with living. We learn in the world of academia (especially in the sciences) that life should be watched, counted, studied, manipulated. We learn that we can control our environment and make something of ourselves for a decent wage, no less. But reading that Globe and Mail article helped me realize something. We can’t apply this model to our lives at home. Children are not projects. They are not to be molded towards an endpoint. They are to be respected and guided, surely, but I’ve truly come to believe that my part in their lives isn’t as great as I once thought it was.
I plan to give them everything they need. I will even try to give them what they want. But I am so done with trying to figure out how to be the perfect parent. Because it isn’t just about me anymore. It is about another living being. And this person will have ideas of her own. And I may or may not have influenced all of his decisions and that will be okay. I will have been the one standing there within constant reach.
I want my children to know they are loved unconditionally. I want them to be treated fairly. But I have spent this past year undoing my perspective that I was the centre of their universe. I now have the time and energy to walk beside them. Instead of circling them like a freaky, blind hawk. I can lead by example.
After all this writing, I don’t know anything more about money, or education. But I’ve learned a lot about time and love. These two things are the new currencies of my life.
And with some of my time and with only love, I will keep writing. I hope you will keep reading.