I Know You

The challenge to balance career, kids

By Melissa Stefanec

Tonight, I cried. Mind you, it wasn’t a “lock myself in the bathroom and sob” sort of cry. It was more of a “leave the bathroom door open so I can hear what the kids are up to” sort of cry. The sort that comes from being overwhelmed but too darned busy to let it all out.

Maybe it was because I worked straight through another day without a lunch or break. Maybe it was because I read another headline about mass shootings and was stricken with internal panic at the thought of my world being forever shattered by someone so lost and angry. Maybe it was the three times I awoke to a crying kid the night before. Maybe it was the tiny voice that pierced through the wee hours of the morning saying, “mommy, my bed is wet.” Maybe it was getting out of work just a few minutes too late and racing to pick up my kids, yet again. Maybe it was looking at my daughter’s first-grade classwork, seeing so many wrong answers and knowing I wouldn’t have time to help her tonight or, likely, tomorrow. Maybe it was thinking about getting up early tomorrow and taking me and my son to the dentist and then finding a way to make up the lost time at work. Maybe it was knowing that I would miss another night of exercise to make our appointments happen.

I won’t divulge the details, but most nights of the week, I parent solo. And, on these nights, I am simply in survival mode. There’s time for food, cleaning, preparation for the next day and sleep. There just isn’t time for all the good stuff that keeps my parenting tank full.

I couldn’t fill up my tank because there was dinner to be cooked and a table to set. There was a martial arts code to memorize before class next week.  After dinner, there was an unplanned and much-needed bath to give. There were papers to sign and checks to write that would be slipped into the ‘back to school’ side of the folder. Dinner had to be cleaned up, teeth and hair brushed, assigned reading completed and arguments to be had about using the potty and taking vitamins. There was laundry to be flipped and a blanket that wouldn’t be dry in time for bed.

I won’t divulge the details, but most nights of the week, I parent solo. And, on these nights, I am simply in survival mode.

If you are looking for the sort of column that is going to give a lot of magic answers (be cool, and just say no to almost every invite), witty coping mechanisms (it’s wine o’clock somewhere) and Instagram-worthy filters for real-life moments, this isn’t that column.

This is where I admit there are many occasions when I feel like a failure as a parent. There are nights where my only recourse is to sneak a quick cry in with my potty break.

There are nights where I feel like my only parenting success is keeping my children alive and relatively free from harm. There are days where I just can’t deal with how little I am bringing to the table.

Some days, something big and awful happens, and it takes the wind out of my lungs. But, most days, it’s the culmination of many tiny missteps and many hours of missed sleep and recreation that unhinge me. I know I am not alone.

You see, I always imagined that if I became a mother, I would be the sort who would balance a career and kids. I thought I would have time for the important stuff, not just the bare necessities. I thought I would be the kind of mom who would make time for it all. I was never foolish enough to think it would be easy, but I thought I could do it.

As it turns out, I am right. I am the mom who makes time for it all. I am, in a thousand colloquial ways, pulling it off. What I never expected, is how pulling it off would make me feel sometimes. Debilitated. Lonely. Inadequate. Exhausted.

So, to all the parents sneaking a cry in the bathroom or pantry; I see you. To all the parents resorting to yelling after so much restraint; I feel you. To all the parents who were led to believe these challenges were surmountable; I too believed. To every parent who lets themselves believe they are some sort of failure; I am you. For every parent who faults themselves for getting bogged down in the day-to-day stuff; I share your guilt. I know I am not alone in this experience. I know you.

But, as we all also know, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. At the end of my day of inadequacy, I tucked my two little ones into bed. I told my son I loved him forever, even when one of us is mad or sad. He smiled, gave me a huge hug and said, “I love you forever ever.”

Then, I crawled into bed with my daughter and replaced a common song with lyrics about our cats, and she laugh snorted. A little bit of failure fell away, and happiness snuck in. There was enough love to make me believe there would be no crying tomorrow. And, that is how this beautiful and strange show keeps playing out.