The tensions and triumphs of work at home mothering

Tree pose…

Most of the time I love and feel very grateful for the opportunity to work from home. The work is interesting, stimulating, and fulfilling. I feel like I have a real opportunity to have a positive impact of my students’ lives. I love not having to drive in bad weather and I love being able to work around the rest of my life/schedule and around the lives of my kids. I enjoy the income and the professional development. I like contributing the our family’s financial health and feel optimistic about my potential to eventually be able to release my husband from “wage slavery” so we can both enjoy a predominantly home-based life. I enjoy the relationships I create and I enjoy the (admittedly, fairly limited!) “status” of my role. I love gathering and sharing information in a field I care about.

I recently got home from spending four days at of town at a festival in Kansas. On the long car ride there, Birthing Beautiful Ideas posed the question on Facebook: what does working at home look like for you today? My response was: Leaning over the car seat nursing on the way to Kansas while checking in with my online students via iPad! (bless the iPad, possibly the greatest addition to my life this year. I don’t know what I’d do without that thing!) Mondays are always on the rough side for me because I have to enter my grades for the week and that “extra” duty tends to topple me from got-it-under-control-territory into slightly too much territory. This Monday, however, I now have my first batch of 25 papers to grade. As I’ve alluded to in the past, usually online teaching blends seamlessly into my day, often taking roughly the same amount of time and energy that checking in with Facebook would take. During the two weeks each session that papers are due (fifth and seventh weeks out of an 8 week session), the work suddenly feels unmanageable and incompatible with motherhood and I feel taut, tense, and drawn. The kids are need-factories and I’m distracted and impatient and consumed with the NEED to get these freaking things GRADED and OUT OF MY HEAD! So, imagine how I feel today when the getting home from being gone coincides with the first batch of papers! Whew. This morning I happily experienced the modern motherhood sweet spot in which I snuggled comfortably in bed with my nursling, smelling her sweet head and holding my iPad with the other hand while I entered my fairly simple weekly grades. Then the day devolved slightly with people wanting to go outside and me not eating enough and being inexorably pulled into the swirl of un-responded to email backlog from the weekend as well as those dang papers.

Luckily, past self had some advice for me that came to the rescue this morning. At the close of the last paper grading session I typed myself the following note in my trusty iPad of goodness and beneficence:

Reminders to self about grading papers:

This is temporary
You are guaranteed to finish them. It will happen.
Remember you’ve done it before and it is normal for you to feel stressed, overwhelmed, and unable.

You need:
Two days, part days (Monday and Tuesday) or one whole day to finish.
Write on calendar in advance so you can prepare and give advance warning to helpers.

Don’t schedule anything and/or cancel commitments on those days (including LLL if need be)
Don’t try to do them while Alaina is awake
Skip school with boys–it will be there later
Don’t do any blog posts, school assignments, FB, or any other “work” on those two grading days–don’t secretly plan to do some anyway.
Take breaks for self-renewal
*Ask for help*
*Be kind, but firm and assertive about needing time and space to work. Expect to have this available and “allowed.”*
*Ask clearly for what you need.*

Plan to get up early and stay up late as needed–trust that these times can be backup if naptime/grandparent-visit times get messed up.

Don’t cook real dinners on those two days.

Be nice to the people you love. If you are mean, increase self-care and respectful requests for aid and be compassionate with own feelings of tension and irritation–respect them as “normal,” even though they aren’t desirable. Remember that it will pass as it always does and equilibrium will be restored.

Say no.

Remember–again–this is temporary and you’ve done it many times before!
Still pray. Listen to music. Take time for spirit.

Have a reward when you finish.

Release your shoulders. Breathe.

Wasn’t I smart?! It really helped to read these things and among other things I called Mark and asked him to bring home Papa Murphy’s for dinner. I told the boys it was “school-off day,” but we still ended up walking on the road and finding cool rocks and having an impromptu geography learning time. I said no to some things even though I felt badly about doing so and tried to figure out some other way to make them work. And, I’m trying to be okay with leaving my bubbling brew of blog post idea/updates (I want to write about my trip!), jewelry ideas, birth art ideas/writing, and more, and more, and more for “later” and trusting that later will, indeed, come. I am trying to feel compassion rather than hatred for my ragged self.

Why post this here? Who cares? Well, I do. I often use my blog as a “storehouse” of things to remember. And, when the next batch of papers rolls around, I want to easily be able to read my reminder list again! I also thought it might be of interest to the other mothers out there who continually teeter on the edge of finding that elusive and possibly-not-actually necessary “balance” in their work tasks and mothering tasks. I have a friend who describes balance not as making things “equal,” but as being like tree pose in yoga—you want one leg to be firm underneath you so you can stay standing up, but your two sides do not have to actually be “equal” in order to be balanced. Today, my balance is weighted towards the work-at-home tasks, but it will shift again and I’ll still be standing. Find your center. That is the mental reminder that instantly pulls my own literal tree pose into balance for me during my (formerly daily, now erratic) morning yoga. Find your center. Perhaps those words should find a home on my reminder list above as well.

Today, I also resisted the temptation to blurt out a giant laundry list of to-dos in my Facebook status, even though the panicky urge to do so was potent. I was reminded of my own prior reminder post about this tendency: Busy is Boring. I shared the link on Facebook this morning in lieu of sharing my to-do list and a friend responded:

“Not sure I completely understand. You write ‘I’d rather talk about the things we’re doing that fuel us and excite us’, and I completely agree with that, but these are also the very things that keep us busy. If I look at a really busy day in our family…I am excited about every single thing on the list: I love working, I love it that my kids are involved in activities that are exciting and stimulating for them, I love being part of that… so, all this busy-ness serves to enrich our lives.”

So, I clarified. What I’m talking about is trading litanies of, “I have this and this to do…” and “well, I have this and this to do…”—essentially trading to-do lists without actually hearing or talking to each other, but just rattling off semi-stressful lists of places we have to be, things we have to remember, and things that are on our minds that we have to do.* Talking about busy plans that we’re excited about and care about and are looking forward to is something totally different than just sharing to-do lists without really listening to each other. It is HOW we talk about/share the busy-ness that makes the difference to me. And, I’m trying very hard to stay mindful of the difference and not share the exhausting list that just adds to the cortisol levels of all around me who are already dealing with their own busy schedules and lives.

(*this is a pet peeve about myself that I’m trying to adjust/remember/fix. I occasionally experience it with others in my life too and it bugs me, because it also bugs me in myself. ;-))

2 thoughts on “The tensions and triumphs of work at home mothering

  1. Pingback: Tuesday Tidbits: Mothers and Work | Talk Birth

  2. Pingback: Chain of Mothers | Talk Birth

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