My psychiatrist told me this week that even working moms today spend more time with their kids than stay-at-home moms did in the 1950s. To be honest, I could use a little dose of throwback parenting. I’d love to be like those moms, sipping gin and tonics together on the porch in their tennis dresses while their kids ran around the neighborhood until dinnertime.
Instead, I’m hunched over my phone, my fingers flying trying to keep up with eight million kid-related emails, while simultaneously trying to have “quality time” with whichever kid I’m currently dropping off somewhere. How did we go from there to here?! Those moms wouldn’t be able to survive an afternoon in today’s parenting framework.
Command center at home
Now in 2017, I’m a typical mom on the verge of a nervous breakdown. With four kids at three schools in New York City, I have to work full-time just to keep up with everything. Mind you some of these are things I’ve created as problems for myself, like why did I sign them up for football, gymnastics, soccer, and animal care class if it’s so stressful for me to get them all there on time? But how could I not?!! I’d be missing an enriching childhood experience! My kids would be deprived! Behind! Understimulated! AHHHH!
Never mind the fact that in the unstructured time at home, they’re almost never bored. The other day my little ones spent over an hour pulling each other around the living room on a broom laughing hysterically. The laundry “claw” is the hottest “toy” we have.
My inbox is a joke. Every class has a curriculum night, a parents’ cocktail party, a moms’ coffee or drinks session, and parent-teacher conference. All classes have some sort of special snack, event, or donation that would be absolutely and totally life-ending for my kids if I forgot it, like bringing in a stuffed animal for chapel or donating the box of required rice (rice! I’m not kidding!) for the school picnic. I just added an iCal event for the days when Eli the stuffed elephant will be coming home from school with us. Those 1950s moms didn’t even have email!
Plus, it’s not just their schools. Every single activity now seems to have an orientation, a parent viewing class (with medals!), and required outfit changes. “This week, wear black shorts and a white T-shirt!” Why?! Whyyy? Class trips, chaperoning field trips, picture day, dress-up day, dress-down day, PTA meetings, class meetings, the food allergy affinity group meeting, the winter carnival kick-off. I have so many overlapping events on my calendar that I can’t even see what’s underneath it all. Plus all the apps and group shares I have to subscribe to so I can, say, watch my daughter’s science class in action or monitor my son’s homework assignments.
Managing photos on a weekend “off”
God forbid I add anything for myself in my calendar, even like getting myself to the dentist for that tooth that’s been electrifying me every time I eat for the past six months. And hm, why would I be eating? The stress of the 24/7 parenting vortex hardly ever ends, except, at least for me, from 9:30 p.m. after my oldest goes to bed until around 11 p.m. when my youngest starts coming in my room saying he needs more water or my little daughter sneaks in to start spooning me. I could use that time to bond with my husband or deal with the 6,000 digital photos I need to do something with, but instead, I usually hit the pantry. My go-tos right now are vanilla animal crackers. With a shot of tequila.
Speaking of drinking, I’ve never felt so dependent on an evening glass of wine. The other day, my doctor had to put me on an antibiotic, because at some point my body starts breaking down. “But,” the doctor said, “you can’t drink for three days when you’re on it.” I waited to take that antibiotic for almost two weeks until I could bear to part with my coveted evening drink.
I used to love to work out, but with the kids’ athletic practices and sports classes, my workouts now are just getting there. I know even 30 minutes on an elliptical would make me feel better, but usually once I hop on, I have to field calls from the school nurse, the doctor’s offices confirming appointments, or other essentials until I realize I haven’t even heard a single song on the headphones I retrieved from my older daughter’s trash heap of a desk drawer and it’s time to pick up my little son from school.
I am beat. I am throwing in the towel — you know, the one with my daughter’s pre-printed name tag label affixed on it. I can’t do it all anymore. I can’t remember the Kids in Sports T-shirt on Tuesday afternoons — or is it Mondays? I can’t remember to get perfect birthday gifts for kids’ parties, not to mention my own friends and family. I can’t rush from reading them books at bedtime to another class cocktail party, then back to doing spelling quizzes and greatest common factor math homework with my big kids. (What did that math term even mean?!) I don’t even have time to shave my legs anymore. Mani/pedis? We’re talking annually. Forget my eyebrows. Somehow I still manage to look put together, but inside I’m a mess.
Okay fine, twice a year I go a little more blonde to cover the gray. Best time to catch up on emails.
There has only been one night in the last four years that no kids have woken me up, at least on my days. And by “my days,” I should throw in that the stress of the four kids didn’t exactly help my first marriage, so I also have custody schedules, packing for different houses, and interacting with my ex while simultaneously celebrating my recent wedding. The other morning in bed, as I reached over to check email and started responding about a kids’ playdate while digesting another note from my ex, my new hubby reached over and tried to put his hand up my shirt. Are you kidding me? I’m like in mom ninja warrior mode here!
In fact, with the two little ones coming in every night no matter what failed methods I’ve tried to get them to stay in their beds, it’s practically impossible to have sex. How do any relationships survive this parenting overdrive? I know I’m “lucky” in that my new husband and I get to spend time together every other weekend when my ex has the kids, but I swear, if we didn’t, I don’t know how we’d survive. And I’m madly in love with him. Having kids today (perhaps worse with multiple kids, perhaps worse in the city, but who knows?) is a recipe for marital discord and psychological catastrophe.
But what can be cut out? I’m not sure. Maybe moms could tag team some of the events, like “Hey, you go to curriculum night and write my kid a note, and I’ll take both our parent-teacher conferences”? Maybe we could ask the schools to tone down the communications and events. Maybe I should just start skipping it all. But then I’d never get to interact with anyone who doesn’t watch Paw Patrol. Maybe I should kick up my heels and talk to my friends on the phone, 1950s style, while the kids zone out in front of the TV. I almost never get to talk to my friends anymore except the ones doing the same drop-offs and pickups, but thank god for those moms, because without a little venting, I wouldn’t be able to make it through each day.
Because the thing is, I had all these kids because I adore kids, especially mine, and I just want to be with them, snuggle with them, laugh with them, play. I don’t want to be so wrapped up in managing their lives that I can’t just sit on the floor in the afternoon and have a tea party. That’s why I signed up for the stay-at-home-mom gig, not to use my MBA skills to organize class car pools.
Booking playdates before a rare work meeting.
I think there needs to be a movement to reclaim a mother’s (or father’s) right to sanity, even a mother’s right to just to play with the kids without getting hopelessly behind on texts and emails. A mother’s right to not constantly deal with school reminders, newsletters, and lice-check alerts. I don’t want to be so busy all the time being a full-time kid manager than I can’t just be with the kids. Parenting shouldn’t be this much of an office job, every day filled with forms and sign-ups, spreadsheets and logistics management. Moms need a break from it all so we can be good moms, the caregivers we long to be, not stressed executives at home too.
Yesterday, I got a school email to bring in empty toilet paper rolls. No. No! I’m not doing it. I just can’t do it anymore. I’m taking my kids to the neighborhood bookstore for an hour to read and color, play, and just be with them. If that makes me a bad class mom, sign me up.