Parenting is a Full Time Job
Over the years, I've had a long list of different jobs. But the most challenging one I’ve ever had has been parenting. I got pregnant shortly after we got married and moved from Maui to Oahu. It was always just a given that I would stay home. I never had any aspirations of juggling a baby and a career. It never made financial sense for me to pay for daycare while earning a paycheck. It just didn’t add up. And I wanted to be the one to raise my child. But what I didn’t see then, that I whole heartedly believe now, is that parenting is a full time job. I think since I had always worked, staying home felt like I was cheating the system somehow. And that I had to justify not working by doing so many other things. I spun my wheels and busied myself, even though no one was questioning me. I scrubbed toilets and floors. I made homemade meals. I grocery shopped and couponed. I picked up and dropped off dry cleaning. I even created a few side hustles along the way to bring in some extra cash, instead of just focusing on the one thing that was most important. My child.
Over the years I’ve had a few parenting successes and a whole list of parenting fails. Like the time I lost him in PetCo. Or the time I added black food coloring to the vanilla frosting for his pirate themed cupcakes, staining all the little faces at his birthday party. One evening, when he was about three or four, I was making dinner while he and my husband were sitting on the couch. It was quiet for a moment and then I heard my son say, “Daddy, I say fucking.” I almost fainted. I always thought he would learn bad words from my Soprano husband, but no. He learned it from me. I had lost my cool that day and accidentally slipped. I know. I should be arrested.
When my husband moved out of our house, I had no idea what was going to happen financially so I started working full time. I had stayed home all those years, relying on him to support us. I wanted to be able to support my son and myself on my own if I needed to. Not long after that, my husband died. I continued to work, not realizing that we would need time to process and to heal. It was a good distraction at first, since I could hardly accept or recognize the gravity of what had just happened. My mind would only allow a certain amount of grief at a time. But what started to become glaringly obvious with my increasing anxiety and panic was, not only was I not taking care of myself, I wasn’t at all present for my son who had just lost his dad. So I decided to leave my job and just focus on the two of us for a while.
When the pandemic hit, whether it was just a coincidence or something was triggered in him, my son started to really grieve for the first time. He was angry and defiant. He was anxious and depressed. And he needed everything I had in me to help him through it. We struggled together through distance learning and lots of therapy calls on zoom. We fumbled our way through a lot of firsts and trying to navigate in new territory, all the way around. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was pretty ugly for a while.
At first, I felt funny about not having a job while my son was in school all day. First of all, every single time I turn around there is yet another made up holiday or some other reason that this child will be staying home from school. But also, the best possible thing I can do for him is make sure that I’m okay. I spend a lot of time on myself. It takes effort and energy to keep my head on straight. Self care for me isn’t just about massages and pedicures, although those work too. Some days self care is about making sure I leave the house to get some fresh air, even though I just want to hide. Making sure to move my body, even though I just want to sleep. Or making sure to take it slow when there are so many things to get done.
When my son was little and would run away from me toward the street or arch his back and fight me while I was putting him in his car seat I would think, “this is SO hard.” And now I’m raising an amazing, anxious, sensitive, grieving pre-teen with all of his hormones and big feelings all by myself. It takes every ounce of my energy and focus but I am determined to get it right.
The fact that anybody is raising their kid while holding down a job, or raising other children at the same time, completely blows my mind. Because I feel like every time I turn my back for a second, or am distracted in the slightest way, I fuck it up.
I’ve said this before, probably at every other age he’s ever been and it’s always been true, but this seems like a really important, pivotal time in his life right now. It feels like he needs me now more than ever. Not to wipe his butt or cut up his food but to teach him about how the world works and how to take care of himself. I feel like if I blink, I will miss so much. It’s my job to make sure this human being will be ready for the world someday, which is a shit ton of pressure. To teach him independence and responsibility, kindness and compassion, critical thinking and common sense.
And I’m not trying to fill the role of both parents because that’s unrealistic. But I sure do find myself overcompensating sometimes. This child has made it abundantly clear that the fun parent is gone. And that I am usually too busy cooking meals or cleaning up to play with him. I try. I throw the football around with him at the beach. I play Roblox on his iPad and get my ass handed to me. I’ve even been known to have a nerf gun battle from time to time. But I’m not good at pretend play. I can build a lego set or play a board game but please don’t make me act out a scene with your action figures.
Half the time I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I am winging all of it. But I just try to be as patient and loving and honest as I possibly can. There’s nothing perfect in parenting. It’s messy and heartbreaking and terrifying and beautiful and exhausting. And it’s the most important job I’ve ever had. Sometimes people ask me if I work. When I say no I can see the confusion on their face. I’m never quite sure if they are judging me or just trying to do the math. But what I want to say when they ask me if I work is Yes. On my myself. Every day. And also I’m a full time mom.