Terrified

If what most people say is to be believed, you’d think that the worse thing about parenthood is that you lose your freedom, your sense of individuality and your ability to sleep soundly without a care in the world.

But honestly, I think they are utterly wrong.

The most terrible part of parenting is really this: Constant feelings of guilt, inadequacy and worry.

Guilt because you almost always feel like you aren’t doing enough for your children. A regretful sentiment that convinces you that, time and again, you fail them in multiple ways that you cannot even recount yet cannot simply forget.

Inadequacy because you can’t shake off a nagging thought that perhaps you aren’t really suited for this virtually lifelong responsibility. Hence, you are perpetually messing things up.

And worry because you know your children are still vulnerable, and yet you can’t protect them enough from every single danger there is that lurks out there.

To top it all, the terrifying truth about all this is that there is no quick fix to dissolve all these tumultuous emotions for you. You have to live with them, and they inescapably change you.

But perhaps you can attempt to determine what kind of impact you will allow it to have on you. At the very least it’s something you can control.

The end looms far into the future, but you have today. And maybe, if you remained focussed on the right stuff, it just might be enough to get you through.

This ought to be your hope. It is certainly mine.

Fleeting

Dinner is due and there’s still things left to be done in the kitchen. But I feel compelled to write, even if just a bit.

Today has been such a mixed bag of emotions. Jamie and I went to visit another potential preschool today. It didn’t go too badly, but the experience made me realise how much growing up is expected of children these days, even while they are still at a tender age.

It is marvellous to be able to witness a child capable of so much at so early on in their life, but is it necessary? Are we in fact curbing their freedom to just be a child and savour the world as-is by demanding that they are able to meet supposedly age appropriate abilities? How does it feel for a child who isn’t able to comply at the time it is expected of them?

The other thought that occurred to me today is how limited my time alone with Jamie every day is becoming. For what seemed like an eternity, it felt like things would remain the way they are now for a long time more to come, but the reality is these days of being at home with me 24/7 will end soon. Surely there will be exciting times ahead thereafter, just that I wonder have I done enough to equip him for this upcoming next phase.

Here is the startling realisation I have come to after having been at home with Jamie for just about three years: It’s not necessarily enough to just be at home with your child. Being available and being physically present are two different things. I regret to say that often times, I am only one of those two things and not both. It is a sad sort of feeling when you become aware of this. I still have no useful enough remedy to overcome this problem.

It’s true what they say that we have such a short time with our kids before they move on in life. I already feel the weight of this reality. I can only hope that my husband and I are preparing Jamie well enough for whatever is ahead of him despite the limitations we have in terms of time, money and other resources.

Because essentially, I guess that’s what parenting is about: Helping them find their feet and equipping them to be able to handle whatever life throws their way. Building resilience. Shaping character. Leaving them with enough strength to go on, even when the time comes that we can no longer accompany them.

Insights and idiocy

Parenting has its fair share of online content these days.

Everyone and their dog has advice to dish out, promising you a better outcome for this or that issue you are facing with your child.

Then there are those who craft these almost poetic, contemplative pieces that seek to motivate you and inspire you and move you to tears as you reflect on your role as a parent or on the specific details of your child’s life as paralleled in their writing.

Not forgetting too those comedically relayed tales, guaranteed to elicit at least a chuckle, if not belly deep outbursts due to how uncannily similar its depiction is to something you experience on a regular basis.

So much has been said, but sometimes it feels like it’s the shiny, polished version. In retrospect, I often think of particular topics I’d wished someone would have addressed in order to have made it a little smoother of a transition for me into the various phases of parenting that I have experienced so far.

Maybe this identification of gaps in parental discussion is a cue for me to add my own thoughts to the World Wide Mix of Parental Confusion. Perhaps it will bring Parental Clarity. Or I could just be disillusioned in thinking I am any wiser than the next Mum.

Choosing to be a Work-At-Home Mum

I could be wrong, but I personally feel that only a really small percentage of people out there truly understand what it means to be a work-at-home parent.

Say that you are in full time employment, describe the main responsibilities of your job in a few sentences, and you will have others nodding their heads. They can imagine how you pass your days. They conclude that you are living your life productively.

Or tell people you are a stay-at-home parent, and they will envision house chores and self managed childcare. They might still make wrong assumptions about what your daily routine is like, and may overestimate the actual amount of free time you have, but they will at least have a somewhat concrete idea of what you would possibly be doing on a day-to-day basis.

But tell someone that you are a Work-At-Home Mum (WAHM) and I believe they can’t really reconcile what it is that you do at all. The concept eludes them. You are either a plain vanilla housewife, or you work like the rest of them and usher in hard earned money that’s needed to keep your family alive. But WAHM? How does that even work?

What’s horrible about this is that I often feel the need to justify what I do. While in conversation with others about my WAHM status, I often tend to emphasise the fact that I do work, even while caring for my son at home. They may not have actually asked about this, but I will be anxious to point it out, as though it is terribly idle of me to only be focussing on house chores and being available to my son. This feels like a terribly wrong thing to happen. But it keeps turning out this way.

Let me illustrate my point. Here’s an example or two of how a chat with a friend might go:

Friend : So, you’re taking care of your son at home full time now?

Me : Err yeah… and I also do freelance writing too.

Or this…

Friend : So, what do you do every day nowadays?

Me : Well, I am at home, taking care of my son… and I try to work at the same time too.

I got asked a similar kind of question again recently. So I figured maybe it’s about time I wrote about this. Maybe it will lend some clarity to my thoughts so that next time, I can explain it all much better to someone else.

And perhaps it may benefit you, my reader, in ways I cannot yet comprehend. It might somehow be useful to you to know what a WAHM does, or why a woman might become one in the first place. Who am I to know?

So, without further ado, let me tell you about why I am a WAHM and what this means for my life.

Our reasons

While waiting for the arrival of our son into the world, my husband and I had many good chats about what we would like our family life to be like. We talked about childcare options, hit some dead ends, and concluded that, based on the options we had and our personal sentiments towards it all, that me becoming a WAHM would be a feasible choice.

One of our main reasons for arriving at this conclusion is that we felt uneasy about sending our son to a daycare or to hire a babysitter to look after him. Babies are incapable of communicating to you whether they have been well cared for or whether there has been an abuse of some form taking place, so rather than have to worry about all that, we felt we would rather that one of us be at home to take care of him.

Another reason why we went with this WAHM decision was that we wanted to be available to our son. That when he reaches out for help or wants company or any other need he may face at this early stages of his life, we would be the ones there to meet those needs. Sure, any other adult whom we appoint could stand in and do the same thing for us in the daytime, leaving us free to carry on with our jobs as before, but it would not be the same as if it were us, his very own parents, being there for him.

And just so you know, my husband and I are the type that evenly shares out responsibilities such as house chores. We also make a lot of decisions together rather than dividing up tasks and managing them independent of one another. So the process of pregnancy, delivery and child raising has always been something we were both actively involved in, as it has been for other aspects of our life together.

The decision that it should be me quitting my job and not him was mostly because he earns a better salary than I do. Also, the nature of my career lends itself to better freelance work options than his.

So that is what we went for and our rationale for it.

Another thing to add here is that we are not rich. Surviving on a single income as a family is scary, given the economic situation of our country at the moment. In some ways, I felt that it would help compensate for my loss of full time employment to a certain extent if I at least were to try and work on a part time or freelance basis. I also wanted a backup in case somewhere along the line my husband is unable to work or cannot secure a job.

Work arrangements

To give you some background, prior to becoming a mother and quitting my full time job, I was a journalist. So, when I transitioned to freelance work, I naturally wanted to take on writing jobs. Which I did.

Initially, I managed to get some journo gigs too; not just for my former employer, but also for other publications. It felt good, because I thought I would not be totally giving up on my skills and earning power.

But as time went on, I found it was getting harder to do journalism work while having my son in tow. For one, I doubt most interviewees would fancy a bubbly little toddler frequently interrupting their conversation with me. Being on time for appointments would also be a challenge with a tiny tot around. Then there was the arduous task of transcribing which would require a significant amount of time and focus; something I do not have enough of most days. And this is not even taking into account the actual writing process yet.

So I resorted to changing things up a bit and only accepting certain types of writing work.

Currently, this means only taking up copywriting or PR related work. In some ways, the returns are better than journalism assignments actually. But the nature of the writing involved is rather dull. So, in other words, it’s mostly about making the moola and little else.

Daily duties

Before I end off this post, a little on what I do every day.

Just like your average SAHM, I have my lion’s share of house chores and childcare related tasks to tackle all the time. I think you can roughly imagine what that might involve: Laundry, doing dishes, making meals, tidying up after my child, bathing, feeding, etc.

And then there’s the ongoing demands of my toddler to manage too. Like when he wants me to play with him. Or he wants to engage me in conversation. Or he has lost a random toy that he absolutely cannot do without. The thing about a young child is they do not understand the concept of waiting too well so they will likely want a response from you straight away. And to top it all off, they have no inkling of whether the current activity you are doing is urgent or otherwise, so they will just interrupt you anytime they need you. Which means your attention gets divided a lot and things you are working on often get abandoned halfway.

Many times, I’ll have a few tasks running and at various stages of completion during any given time of the day. It’s a bit maddening and takes some getting used to. The fact that your priority list has to keep getting adjusted to suit the demands of the hour. Consider it like a job which requires you to do a lot of ad-hoc tasks. Or one where you could be on call at any hour of the day.

Then comes the actual paid work bit. As with any other form of work, there are clients to please. This means deadlines and promises to keep. A certain degree of discipline to get work tasks done, regardless of whatever else is happening in the realms of house chores and your child’s wants and needs.

Oh, and I think it’s worth mentioning too that since these are freelance gigs, you will very often be dealing with new clients. And with every new one, there’s that long, arduous task of getting acquainted, familiarising with their communication and work styles, and negotiating the entire work agreement. This is in itself VERY TIRING and the part I am least excited about when it comes to freelancing.

Now, what does working at home look like?

Having my tablet or handphone always close by, and keeping an eye out for any messages or emails coming in which are about work. Replying them within a 24 hour timeframe (this is a work ethic I set for myself).

Planning ahead to finish work with some buffer in terms of time, because you can never tell when something unexpected will happen at home that will knock your work schedule off its course. Example: Child/spouse/yourself falling sick.

Working at any time of the day and at any corner of the home (toilet included), no matter how ridiculous it might be, as long as it’s a span of time which is fairly uninterrupted so that you can actually think properly and produce relatively good quality work. This also sometimes requires staying up when you want to sleep. Foregoing naps you desperately need. Ignoring the child in the background who keeps inviting you to play. Putting off your own meals till later and then (potentially) suffering gastric from the folly of your actions.

I hope this gives you a glimpse into what my life is like as a WAHM. If it is beneficial for you, I will attempt to talk about this experience more in future posts. Let me know what you’d like to know more about and I’ll do my best to put it into words to help you out.

Perhaps you are considering going down a similar path. Or would like to better understand your neighbour, relative or friend who dons the WAHM label. If something I have already been through would be useful for you to learn from, I’d be happy to share.

Anyway, I really glad to have had you stop by, and hope you enjoyed reading this.

Bloopers

Boy with a sunny side up personality.

* Edit: Para 14 – Changed 20.5 to 18.5 years. Yes, it’s true. I cannot count.

We have been blessed with a beautiful little boy. Sometimes I think I take this for granted.

We could have nearly lost him on his day of birth because of his fetal heart rate dropping rapidly midway during labour. I ought to remind myself about this every so often. God was gracious though and here he is.

We’ve just reached the 2.5 year mark of spending life together. It’s been mostly a fabulous time, but some days, like how it was yesterday, I feel horrible about the way I parent him.

I am not very good at handling the clumsiness and apparent fickle nature of toddlers. So sometimes I make a fuss about small things. At other times, I think I may have outright misjudged his actions, interpreting something he did as rebellion when maybe it was just plain ignorance or innocence even.

I realise that there is a difference between punishing him for behaviours which would endanger him or which are bad habits that he should not carry forward into his adult life versus things which he does that cause an inconvenience to me (like playing with his food and dawdling and messing up the dining table and the floor at mealtimes. Or choosing to explore some random object or corner in the house and getting himself dirty in the process, which is not essentially harmful, just that I would have more work to do clearing up after him).

Regrettably, I sometimes respond in the same way for both categories of behaviour.

It’s come to a point where my son automatically responds in the cutest voice ever: “Sorry Mummy. I won’t do it next time.” without properly understanding the extent of the cause and effect of the event at hand. I feel awful now for the flawed reasoning I am teaching him. All he wants to do is literally kiss and make up. He will also say things like “I want to hug Mummy. Make Mummy feel better”.

SIGH.

Some modern day child psychologist will probably tell me that I am ruining his future because of the negative ways I am responding to his inquisitiveness or his inherent nature as a toddler. And that by yelling at him and spanking him for certain behaviours I am wrecking havoc on his social behaviour. Or some other complicated line of reasoning that I might not be able to actually comprehend.

All I can say is that I am still trying to improve, though I do fail a lot. I sincerely do not want to hurt my lovely little boy, but I do not want to spoil him either. At the same time, I also do not want to abuse my authority and dictate how he does things just because it’s to my convenience. He is a unique individual with quirks of his own, and I hope I do not curtail that unwittingly.

Plenty of Mum bloggers out there will give you post after post about how to do things right, tips and tricks, etc. Apparently, they must have got it all worked out. Bless their dear hearts. Well, here I am with a dose of reality for you instead.

Parenting is tough and will test everything you are and what you stand for. It will shake you to the core. It will taunt you for all the things you were so sure of earlier in your life. All those smug solutions you swore you would do when it’s your turn to parent a young one.

At the end of the day, it’s entirely possible to feel awful and disgusted with yourself and how you handled a situation with your kid. It’s discouraging and yet, it’s not something you can just back out of. It’s a commitment you took when you decided to raise a child. It’s not like there is a Return Policy you can negotiate with God or anything like that.

So, ladies and gents, I am stuck with a mountain of problems on how to ensure my wonderful boy turns into a useful, respectable man who is a blessing to society. We’ve still got about 18.5 years to go till I let go of my responsibilities and he gets to choose his own path. It seems like a daunting task that I am not sure I can complete. I guess it’s only possible by the grace of God.

I’ll be sure to stop and pen you a note when I finally figure some of these things out. For now, it’s 5am and all I can do is imagine that today will be a better day. And determine in myself that I will find a better way of managing my household and the behaviour of my son without losing my cool and unnecessarily punishing him.

My son is more forgiving towards me than I am of myself though. He loves me unwaveringly. I wish and hope that God is just as kind (though I know He is, it is still hard to believe often times). I feel like if I fail this parenting thing, it’s literally the end for me. (Okay, so I tend to over-dramatise things a bit. Well, don’t all writers?)

If we ever needed an opportunity in life to prove ourselves and to correct the mistakes we made earlier in life, parenting sure is one of them. Our children are that second chance. We got to make sure we make it count.