Working Parent

An Amendment to F**k-Off Time: How About Smoke Breaks… for Non-Smokers?

I wrote a few months ago about how my partner and I had designed a new plan for better life balance: daily Fuck Off Time gave us each regular periods almost an hour long completely free of responsibility in the late afternoon, and it was glorious. I knew even then, however, that this luxurious pattern would likely have to be altered when I returned to work at the end of mat leave, and indeed, it has. It just hasn’t been practical or sustainable now that neither of us is home during the day, and as soon as I get home at 5, it’s time to feed little R while my husband finishes making supper – c’est la vie, for now.

I’ve often thought enviously of colleagues of mine who smoke at various workplaces. From my grass-is-greener vantage point it seems like those extra breaks are quite the luxury. Taking five to ten minutes to remove oneself from all the tasks at hand, sit quietly, consume something pleasurable, and take in fresh air and sunlight? Delightful. (I know, I know, this is totally a non-smoker’s view of what a smoke break entails.)

I was thinking of this when last week, after the dishes were done and it was time for the boys’ baths, I said casually to my husband, “Is now a good time for me to have a smoke break?” No, I didn’t actually take up cigarettes to get this time. But I did go pour myself a glass of wine, put on my coat, and head out to the backyard. I spent a leisurely ten minutes loitering around my property while sipping a little Pinot Grigio – checking out the early spring growth of plants I hadn’t noticed returning in the garden, plucking a few dead heads that survived the winter off a flowering bush, siting on the step of the back porch and watching the early evening light through the semi-cover of the maple leaves overhead. The fresh air was rejuvenating. The quiet gave me a moment to appreciate the home I love. The wine felt luxuriously self-indulgent. It was an excellent ten minutes, and when I returned inside, I felt relaxed and ready to embrace the rest of the bath and bedtime routine with ease and joy.

I think more “smoke breaks” of this sort are in order, for me and likely, for parents everywhere. I wish there was something healthy that could be inhaled, as I find the physical action of smoking fairly relaxing. But as I don’t want to take it up, nor do I really want to get into the habit of taking a glass of wine outside with me every evening, I’m trying to think of what else might do the trick… perhaps a square of dark chocolate, slowly savoured? Perhaps some of the Kombucha my friends keep raving about, mixed with soda water to make it feel like a cocktail? I’m looking for more ideas here, so let me know what you would suggest!

I wish you all ten minutes of relaxing, self-indulgent, break time every day.

Sometimes Others See the Gifts You Don’t

I’ve said more than once to my husband or a close friend that I don’t have many skills that would be useful in an apocalyptic situation. I’m not particularly creative with foodstuffs, I don’t know how to repair things, and I’m certainly not equipped for any sort of hunting/security needs. My skills, such as I have, seem pretty well geared toward a luxurious state of peacetime. I think I rock at my job of helping undergraduate students sort out some of their problems. (How many people are going to be in university when the zombies rise?) I’m confident in my writing skills. (Maybe I can help write the manifesto of the underground rebellion…) I’ve been told that I give pretty incredible hugs. (I’m not naive enough to think this could solve many dystopic conflicts.)

Sometimes this questioning of my “valuable” skills trickles down into the level of my friendships. I have friends who are amazing bakers, generous chauffeurs, thoughtful gift-for-no-reason givers, crafty geniuses, or handy repair people. When they share these talents in a way that benefits me, my family, and my home, sometimes I hear a quiet inner voice asking, so what do I contribute to this friendship? have they not realized yet that I don’t bring anything tangible to this table? Continue reading

I Refuse to “Make the Most of It”

I’m almost at the end of my mat leave. It has really crept up on me fast here at the end. For so long, I felt like the months stretched far ahead of me and I had so much time to spend with my baby, not to mention my wonderful fellow mom friends.

First off, I’m going to do something moms don’t do a lot and toot my own horn: I think I did a good job this time. From the outset, I was really trying to take more of a paternity leave, ie. doing parental leave the way my husband did his with our older son. I also learned a lot from my first mat leave, especially the hard lesson that my child’s first year of life was not a project: it is merely the start of a lifelong relationship. These two personal epiphanies have made it possible for me to truly enjoy the past 11 months.

But old habits die hard, so when I suddenly, recently realized that my first day back to work was less than a month away, my brain immediately started racing. I was instinctually formulating a list, nervously scanning my surroundings and the corners of my mind for the things I might have wanted to accomplish, the activities I would miss the most once I returned to work or that I worried would fall by the wayside with no one in the house to do them all day. I had to make the most of it!

Thankfully, I stopped myself pretty quickly. I decided right then and there that I was specifically NOT going to “make the most” of this last month. For me, doing so is just too much pressure.

First, it stresses me out trying to figure out what the “most” would be – what’s the most important to me? What’s the most fun activity that I’m going to miss? What’s the most practical thing to get done? What’s the most efficient use of these last few weeks!?!???

Second, it inflates my return to work date as a gloomy cloud looming on the horizon, signalling THE END. In reality, the day I return to work is not the end. It is just the first day in a transition that’s going to last a very long time. It’s the first day I happen to go back into the office, but the negotiations between my work, home, spousal, parental, and personal selves have been going on for years and are just going to continue to grow and evolve. It’s the first day I’ve been going to work since R was born, but not the first since I’ve been a mom. I’ll be okay.

Third, it fills me with a kind of anticipatory ennui, dampening with melancholy these next weeks that I could be spending with as much comfort and joy as I’ve spent the last 40+. I want to stay in the moment, not spend each day subconsciously worrying about how I’ll remember it one day soon.

Nah, I got this. My life is not divided into discrete blocks of time – it ebbs and flows, and my circumstances change and evolve. I know I will evolve with them. Will I miss things about mat leave? Will I miss feeling so connected to little R that sometimes it feels like we are one person? Will I miss the ability to see my wonderful mom friends and their littles growing up on a weekly, and sometimes daily, basis? Will I miss puttering around my home, spending so much cozy time? Will I probably cry about these things, more than once??? Abso-fucking-lutely. On all counts. But I’ve done so many big life changes already, and none of them have broken my life, or my self. The transition from couplehood to parenthood. From maternity leave to paternity leave. From one parent at home to two working parents. From one kid to two. This is just another transition coming down the pipes.

Everyone Needs a Little F*** Off Time

We’re trying something new in our house: Fuck Off Time. (Granted, we have to avoid saying its name it front of our toddler, who has dropped a couple of proper-context F-bombs in the last week or so. Oops. Cue the judgment here, I guess).

I mentioned in a recent post that my partner and I both feel every day like we’re “on duty” from the minute we wake up until the minute the kids are in bed. Yes, he gets the ride to and from work by himself, plus his break at work, and I get the time when our baby is napping ‘to myself’. But we both know, as workers, that a commute doesn’t really count as “off” time, and we know as parents that neither does a child’s nap, since it can end at any moment and you’re still “on duty.” No, we were both craving some true off duty time. Time when we were not in charge of anyone and had no obligations. In short, time when we could Fuck Off and do what we wanted. Essentially, the kind of time we used to have in abundance (but which we never truly appreciated!) before we had kids.

Sounds glorious, doesn’t it?

We took a look at our daily routine and determined there was only one time where it would really even be possible for one of us to Fuck Off: dinner prep time. This would mean that one person would have to handle double-kid-duty and dinner prep each night so the other person could Fuck Off, and we would alternate. As parents who had fallen generally into a 1:1 parent-to-kid system of childcare since our second son was born, this seemed pretty ambitious. I should mention that of late, dinner prep time often coincides with a feeding for R and whining/tantrumming from A. We decided to try it for a week and see if it was possible, or if it was just too much.

The rules of Fuck Off Time are simple:

  • One person makes dinner and cares for both kids at the same time.
  • The other person Fucks Off and has zero obligation to get anything productive done, but they can if they want to (like actually want to – note the italicized, bolded bits there).
  • If someone (ie: me) has to feed R during her Fuck Off time, she can do so in the basement watching something on Netflix, and then return R to Dad.
  • If we eat somewhere else or if Fuck Off time is not possible on a given day, we simply pause the alternating and pick up the next day where we left off.

I’m happy to report it has been two weeks and so far it is the Best. Thing. We. Have. Done. At least in a while. Here are a few reasons why it is awesome:

1. It teaches our kids about daily life and getting things done.

With our usual 1:1 approach, there’s almost always a parent available to play. With Fuck Off Time, our kiddos have to entertain themselves a bit more. Our toddler, A, can choose to play by himself or help with dinner. I’ve been impressed with how helpful a two-year-old can be in the kitchen, and when he plays by himself, I love listening to his dramatically narrated stories about train crashes and “Who can help?!”, especially when he makes the trains say “Thank you” to each other (I’m hoping this unprompted politeness balances out those F-bombs?). 20170116_172726-1

9-month-old R is making friends with his pack ‘n play (I only recently discovered that parents of yore used this invention for, you know, PLAY, and not just sleeping away from home). He simultaneously learns to be okay with being alone for a short time, and also gets an opportunity to play with his toys without A taking them away when they look like too much fun.

I want my kids to learn that everyone – even mom and dad! – needs time to do what they like, and that sometimes, they have to be okay with not being the centre of attention because shit just needs to get done. I feel like Fuck Off Time gives them a little, manageable dose of that every day.

2. My on-duty time gets a fresh sense of purpose.

Dinner prep used to be one of my least favourite times of day. I’d procrastinate, avoid thinking about it, and way too often, I’d get to 5pm and go, “oh, crap! what’s for dinner?” It was rushed, haphazard, and just generally sucked. Now I know when “my day” is on, and I get kind of pumped about planning what we’ll have (with a picky eater, a toddler, a vegetarian, and allergies to nuts, dairy, and various fruits/veggies at our table, it’s sometimes a fair challenge to be varied enough for interest and make sure there’s something on the table everyone can/will eat). Sometimes I do some prep in the afternoon, and I try to think of a fun activity A hasn’t gotten out in awhile to suggest for him for while I’m cooking.

I get to feel a bit like super-mom every other day for successfully taking care of two kids and cooking at the same time (I know, I don’t have super high standards, but the kitchen isn’t my forte, okay?).

3. My partner and I each get to give each other a much-needed gift a few times a week.

The On Duty person gets to give their partner the gift of the ultimate luxury: saying,”I got this; you can go Fuck Off,” with a big smile. Fuck Off Time all to oneself… seriously, is there anything more romantic one parent can give the other? The lucky parent then gets to return from this blissful time to a thoughtfully-made meal (and some days, copious amounts of hummus, cheese, fresh veggies, and bread totally counts as a meal, by the way, at least in my house).

The Fucking Off partner gets to give the gift of true appreciation for what their co-parent is doing. It’s harder to see the work your partner’s doing when you both feel like it’s all-hands-on-deck and you’re both run down. The sincerely grateful “thanks for making dinner, honey; this looks great!” that now gets offered on a daily basis in our house is completely lovely.

4. I sometimes CHOOSE productivity, and am TRULY happy about it!

In the last two weeks, I finally bought clear plastic bins to put excess toys in, I reorganized our toy room and reduced the number of toys that are out at a time, decluttered our bathroom, stacked firewood in our backyard, and drove around delivering some things we’re done with to friends who want them next.

The biggest difference in how I felt during these tasks was that I didn’t feel rushed or tense through them: the time was actually MINE, and I didn’t have any of my usual mom-guilt about not being “on duty,” because I wasn’t supposed to be. Fuck Off Time = relaxing, even if I’m doing something productive.

5. I get to feel glamourous and/or lazy in the middle of the day!

Watching Netflix and browsing rugs on Pinterest while someone else makes my dinner? Reading my book and drinking hot chocolate while someone else handles that whining? Showering at my own pace AND drying my hair right afterward? Luxury, I tell you! There are all sorts of possibilities for this time… colouring, yoga, working out, writing… and when the weather gets nice again??? A short bike ride, a walk, napping in my backyard under the leafy maples, going to my friend’s house for a quick dip in her new pool (*wink wink, you know who you are, nudge nudge*)… My dreams are endless and the future is bright.

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6. Fucking Off makes us better parents when we come back.

Instead of being simply worn down by the time we get to bath/bed, at least one of us is always a little refreshed. We have a renewed patience, interest, and calm to share with our kids as we play, sing, read stories, and get ready for sleep, and I think they can sense the reduced stress in the air at this time, which makes everyone happier.

An important note on comparison: Don’t! I believe this is absolutely essential for Fuck Off Time. And it’s pretty easy to be tempted. Like on Friday, when I’d spent the day with little R and some fellow mom friends while my husband had a grinding day at work, but it was my turn to Fuck Off (yes, it was the BEST day). Or on Saturday when I’d been woken up by babes many times the night before, but my husband got to go for a relaxing RMT appointment in the afternoon, and it was still my night on duty. The Fuck Off time can’t be in any way conditional on “who got what” already today, or yesterday, or last week. It’s either a free gift to each other or it isn’t. If it comes with strings attached or any guilt at all, it’s no good.

I also have to make a huge disclaimer and acknowledgment here that I know I am supremely lucky. My partner and I are in a position right now where we’re both usually home before dinner prep time even starts; I know many parents don’t have this luxury. People work night shifts or irregular shifts or long hours. They have other commitments that keep them busy or away from the home. They have kids with unique needs or situations where independent play without adult assistance is much harder to achieve. And I know that my own luck won’t last forever. Pretty soon, I’ll be heading back to work and things will change in a big way. R might not tolerate being away from me for even a second when I get home from work at, the earliest, 5pm. I simply won’t be able to do any prep for dinner in the afternoons, and will have to think of things further in advance. There will certainly be a lot of house tasks that just haven’t gotten done during the day, which will be nagging for my attention and pushing my buttons. As our kids get older, there will be after-school lessons, carpooling, and homework to juggle, too.

But I hope knowing how good this has been, we’ll continue to find space somewhere in our lives for Fucking Off. Even if it’s only once a week, or a few times a month. Because it’s just too good to not try for.

GUEST POST: Making it look easy

We’re happy to welcome back Laura Marquis ! You can check out her first guest post here. Laura lives in St. Augustine, Florida with her husband Jeremy, her son Will, her daughter Caroline, and her dog, Lucy.  She works part time and enjoys reading, painting, writing, swimming, and pilates. Welcome back, Laura!

I recently returned from a long weekend away with my husband.  We went to our favorite beach spot on the Florida Panhandle and tucked ourselves away.  I napped on a white couch, ate breakfast at 10am, and thought only of my own needs.

To say that this was a treat is an understatement.  There is nothing I know that is better for the soul of a mom (particularly one like myself who is at home with two toddlers every day) than time away.

Being a perfectionist, during my time away I imagined myself returning to my life after the trip ready to do it all better.  I would carve out 30 minutes to write every day, I would work out six mornings a week without exception, and I would squeeze in both more self care and more part-time work. Needless to say, by lunchtime my first day home I was reeling from the shock of re-entry, and becoming more painfully aware with every hour that my plan was likely not to be followed.

I was baffled by the fact that a fully rested version of myself couldn’t execute the plan on day one.  Then I realized: this is hard. Continue reading

Mom Stuff I Learned at Work #1: Celebrate the Small Victories

We’ve written here before about how our professional lives shape and impact our parenting lives. Usually, these reflections have been about the challenges we face as working parents, trying to find a balance for all the demands on our physical and emotional time and energy. I’m sure we’ll have plenty more to say on that theme in the future, but lately I’ve also been thinking about ways in which my work life has helped to prepare me for the marathon that is parenthood.

I am trained as a social worker, and my degree had a focus in social justice advocacy. For the better part of the past six years, I have worked in politics for a party that is known as a perpetual underdog. Let’s just say, I am familiar with an uphill battle.

And in both my professional training and work experiences, I have learned that the ability to do two things can be the difference between keeping motivated and dragging through your days: 1. the ability to re-define a “win”, and 2. the ability to recognize and celebrate the small victories.

At first glance, these skills might seem like another version of #GoodEnough, one of our favourite self-care reminders here at Raise a Mother. They’re related, but they’re also more than that.

Telling yourself something is #GoodEnough is about setting realistic expectations. It’s about not holding yourself to the standard of the “perfect Mom” who doesn’t exist. It is, to some extent, about letting yourself off the guilt-hook. It’s about allowing yourself to believe that you are doing a good job.

Redefining a win and celebrating small victories are a little different. These are about the big jobs, the ones that are going to take a while. They are about breaking down a seemingly impossible task into manageable chunks and giving yourself kudos when you deal with one of those chunks.

And while #GoodEnough is often about recognizing that a particular task is not actually important in the grand scheme of things, celebrating a small victory is about recognizing when a particular task is an important step on the road to achieving a larger important goal.

I’ve gotten fairly good at redefining a win and celebrating a small victory at work. When you’re trying to advocate for changes in public policy, things do not move quickly. There are many, many steps on the road to success. Sometimes your bigger goal is something that you know full well will be years, decades – or even generations – down the road. If you don’t take the time to claim some of the small accomplishments as wins, the challenging days start to take a much tougher toll.

Let’s be honest: parenting is no different. The ultimate goal is to raise a good human being. Talk about something that will be decades in the making. Even some of the shorter-term large tasks of parenting, (getting them potty trained/ getting them sleeping or eating well/ getting through toddler tantrums or puberty), can feel like endless hills to climb. And at the same time, you have the giant goal of becoming the parent you want to be – definitely a long-term project.

I’m not yet as good at celebrating a small victory at home as I am at work, but I’m working on it. This weekend, I watched calmly as my two-year-old coloured all over a Christmas list I was working on. For most people, this is probably nothing to note, but I was proud of myself. People who know me know that I have slightly anal-retentive tendencies when it comes to organizing and list-making. I get an abnormal amount of joy out of colour-coding. My little guy’s artistic expression rendered my list almost illegible and the colour-coding basically disappeared.

My pre-kid self (even my early Mom self) would have been annoyed and resigned myself to starting a new, clean list. But this weekend, I didn’t freak out; I didn’t get annoyed or make a new list. I just accepted that this year’s list is decorated by my budding artiste and I gave myself a mental high five. On the really, really long path to getting to the non-control freak Mom I want to be, I took a little step forward. On to the next…

Raising Boys When Trump Can Be President

Issues of sexism and patriarchy have never been the focus of this blog, but they’ve come up a few times. We wrote just over a year ago about Teaching Our Boys About Sex, Consent, and Respect in light of a seemingly endless train of sexual assaults prominent in the media. Well, now Donald Trump is President-Elect of the United States, and women everywhere (and we don’t think we’re being hyperbolic when we say everywhere) are frankly, scared. We certainly are here in Canada. The day after the election, our experience of greeting other women was that we asked each other, with a sombre, knowing tone… “How are you?” None of us had to say why we were asking.

Simply put: the recent election showed us that a man can have double digit sexual assault accusers – and be shown on video, bragging about how he assaults women – and still be elected president. This is the part that’s hurting the most post-US-election, that a man can say terrible, terrible things about women and minorities, on tape, for years – he can even make that kind of divisive, hateful rhetoric the basis of his campaign – and that’s still apparently not a disqualifier for being elected president.

There are so many small, seemingly-innocent ways in which rape culture is perpetuated in our society – from the “boys will be boys” excuse we so often hear when male children engage in violent or aggressive behaviour that we would never accept from female children – to the many, many, MANY examples of pop culture ‘love’ stories where a woman resists a scoundrel-type hero who initially forces a kiss on her only to have her (of course!) fall in love with him in the end.

And while there is a big jump from watching a blockbuster to assaulting someone, there is no doubt that the message is sent, over and over again, that male aggression and dominance is not only acceptable but to be admired. No one starts out as a rapist or even remotely sexist, but these repeated messages, both subtle and not so subtle, are steps along that path.

Electing someone to his country’s highest office who has been open about his disrespect for women as objects worthy of either a) sexual assault, (if attractive enough, in his opinion), b) dismissal as a nuisance to employers (if pregnant/mothering), or c) dismissal as a “nasty woman” (if daring to disagree/state facts/aspire to a position for which she is actually qualified), is, yes, TERRIFYING.

It’s basically the cherry on top of a sundae for rapists, assaulters, abusers and garden variety misogynists to reassure them that, regardless of how they treat women, no pansy-ass-liberal-PC-police can stop them from achieving their ambitions in the world, because hey, it’s still a MAN’S WORLD. It says that, not only is this behaviour acceptable, it’s acceptable in a person with enormous influence as a leader and a role  model.

We thought it was going to be hard enough to teach our sons that women are equal to men as it is. We thought it was going to be hard enough to teach them that traits commonly associated with women (cooperation, openness, nurturing, and emotional intelligence) are just as valuable, and necessary for a vibrant life, as those commonly associated with men (independence, strength, assertiveness, and reason).

How are we going to explain this to them? How do we explain to them that the country where their grandfather and aunts live has a President who thinks Mommy shouldn’t have the right to make her own choices about her reproductive health, even though Daddy should? A President who thinks that  if one of their aunties gets pregnant, she should have to forego employment security, because she apparently ‘deserves’ what she gets for being knocked up, even though the father of that baby would not be similarly disadvantaged for becoming a parent? A President who, if he was in the same room with Mommy, or one of their aunties, or any woman they know, would feel entitled to size her up, decide if he felt like ‘grabbing her by the pussy,’ and believe that because he’s famous she would ‘like’ such treatment?

How do we explain that, while this man became President when people knew that these were his beliefs and voted for him anyway, that this standard is NOT OK for them?

We are feminists. Our husbands are feminists. We hope to raise feminist children, who will grow into feminist men, men who respect women – and all people – as equal human beings.

Donald Trump’s election has not, as we’re sure some of his supporters might hope, cowed us into some sort of bizarre acceptance that it’s a “man’s world” out there. All it has done is made us more sure in our principles, bolstered our confidence that the work of feminism is far from over, and made us even more determined that our sons will know, each and every day, by our words and actions, that misogyny is not okay. Even misogyny by quiet bystanding. Even misogyny in its subtler forms. Even misogyny masked as “locker room talk” or excused as “boys being boys.”

And yes, this might sometimes result in us being moms who are “no fun,” who can’t “take a joke” or “let it go.” But we’re okay with that. Because the alternative – quietly laughing along because we want to be liked by our boys, or just being quiet, or simply eye-rolling at the sexist behaviours they will encounter in order to avoid uncomfortable conversations – is too horrible. We’re seeing the results now of what happens when people turn a blind eye to sexist, racist, and homophobic behaviour.

We love our boys, and we want them to be free to be complex, multi-faceted human beings. We do not want them to feel defined by what is between their legs, as Donald Trump seems to define women by what’s between ours. We want them to care so much about other people of all backgrounds, and to empathize with them so strongly, that should someone espouse the values and opinions that Donald Trump has displayed, they will call them out. They will stand up to the injustice – not “like men,” but just like decent human beings.

 

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