Free Falling

August 30, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Posted in Family, Serial Commas | 33 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I am addicted to freelance work. There, I said it.

When someone offers me a project — writing, editing, proofreading — I can’t say no. Even when the work is as exciting as changing an explosive diaper. Even when I have seven other projects I already agreed to. Even when there’s no time left for me.

Breakdown
In the months before Bun was born, I marathonned through project after project, hour after hour, night after night. I worked more so that I could take at least four months off after he arrived. Free and clear. No. More. Projects.

I would take a break. I would breathe. I would enjoy every sigh and snuggle with my new little one.

Two months in, I accepted a project. Then another. And another. I had four due last week. I’m pretty sure I’m a crazy person. But on the schedule there’s more work, more deadlines, more diapers, more insanity.

Here Comes My Girl
Flash back to four years ago. I always imagined I would be a mom with a career. I would have my kids and my corner cube. I had worked hard at my job, gotten promoted, decided I liked it better a rung or two back down the ladder, and finally established a comfortable, rewarding place for myself on the org chart.

Then I had Lollipop. She needed to eat all the time. She cried for reasons I didn’t understand. She required every ounce of my lagging energy. My piddly six weeks of maternity leave came and went. I was still a sleep-deprived wreck. I couldn’t fathom returning to work and actually … working. What’s more, I couldn’t imagine giving my daughter to someone else every morning. Needy as she was, she needed me. Or, really, I needed her.

So I quit. I decided to stay home. I packed up my cubicle and purged my hard drive. It was tough, and I cried. But it was right for me, right for Lollipop.

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part
And soon enough, of course, she wasn’t so needy. She slept through the night. I put her down for a morning nap and she slept. I put her down for an afternoon nap and she slept. It was a miracle.

So I took on a project. And here I am, two more kids and hundreds of projects later. A crazy person.

Somehow, I have let myself believe that I need to keep my toe in the professional pool. I have let my self-worth get wrapped up in the idea of bringing home the bacon, even just a slice. I have let myself think this kid-raising business is all well and good, but it doesn’t pay. Not in ways that pad the bank account anyway.

I Can’t Back Down
In my head, it goes like this: The more I work, the better off we’ll be. The more I work, the more we can save, the more organic food we can afford, the more fun things we can do as a family. And on and on.

But the more I work, the more I lose my mind. The more I lose precious time. The more my children grow up in those small ways I only notice when I’m really paying attention, not when I’m rushing through the morning to get to nap time so Mommy can just work already.

The more I work, the more I miss. So why can’t I stop??

Ah, work-life balance … How do you manage it? How do you find the strength to say no? Do you ever feel you need validation outside of your role as a mother?

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This post is part of Jana’s ongoing Spill It! Series, where she invites bloggers to talk about the tough stuff. Even when it’s, well, tough.

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33 Comments »

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  1. I’m crying here Stacia. I’m crying because yes, oh yes I feel this so much now. But we’ve gotten ourself into a position where I have to work, there is no out. And to be quite honest, like you, I never thought I would want to stay home. And maybe now I want to stay home for all the wrong reasons, but the stress has consumed me. I just want to stay home. But I can’t…and so I plug on, and I try to make a few decisions along the way that help. And I shed a few tears like now. Thank you for this post, for just knowing. It helps you know! (I’m typing through tears so I may not be coherent).

  2. My mother always had a toe in here or there, and when I told her I planned to just stay home, here mouth gaped, she said, but but but…
    Here is the unvarnished truth, I would love to have a toehold (heck, a baby toe?) in the adult world of work. Earning money is a wonderfully gratifying thing. But, balancing childcare and costs of childcare and my husband’s work insanity… I can choose all or none. Those are my only choices. And I make the choice that I can. But I hate it when people ask me what I do, ‘who’ I am. Because even though I see value in what I do, I don’t always feel valued.
    Christine, I want to hug you!

  3. It’s funny. I took on a part-time job teaching this summer after an entire year of not working at all. It was liberating, not to have graded a paper or dealt with any administrative tasks outside of my house. And then I taught a class, and the week after it ended, I felt a little down. I think I had come to look forward to the feeling of being a working woman. My day with kids ended a little sooner and I was off to be a professional for a couple of hours at night. I’ll be teaching a bit again in the fall, and while I hate “going” to work, I think feeling effective outside of my home is a huge confidence boost. That’s probably the way it is for you, too, and if you can handle it, do it, don’t feel guilty about it. It’s understandable that you want to be a bit more than a mom and a wife, especially when you have such writing talent!

  4. I’m working on it. The teacher that I am, I should be releasing a family lesson plan soon. No, seriously.

  5. I see what you’re saying. I’d really like to be able to work even part time. There’s something about it that I would like to do for myself. And get some me time. Some creative time. But yes, they grow up so fast. I hate to miss out, so even though I really want to work (sometimes) I also don’t want to work. It’s a dilemma.

  6. Stacia – I hope to be where you are. The thing is, I’d love to just work part time and manage projects from home so I’m not away from my baby for so long. But I understand that even that takes its toll on us doesn’t it? I think I’ve managed to balance work and life quite well only because in my head, I know where my priorities are and I can’t give my all to both places so I focus on one instead: my family. I am coasting, not striving for anything more than what I already have in my own little cubicle and it runs counter to the way I was brought up. Oh well. Better than being a crazy person. 😉

  7. Aaaarrrrrgggggghhhhhh! Slow down and screeeeeeeeeech, stop. Look around at where you are. What’s working? What’s not? What needs to change? What do you need to do more of? What do you wish you could do, if only?

    You’ve got to ask yourself the big questions, my love.

    On the workfront: What will change if your toe is out? What will you miss? What do you get from work that you can’t get anywhere else? How important are these things to you? Can you get the same effect from working much less?

    On the homefront, it always comes down to money and stuff. What will happen if you can’t afford to eat organically? How important is financial security to you and how much do you need to tuck away to feel that security? How much fun stuff makes up for a crazy, harried mum?

    To get the balance, you have to know the answers. You have to do what’s right for you and you won’t know what that is unless you ask the questions.

    In the meantime, just breathe. Let a few balls drop. Thud, thud, thud. Now, was anyone hurt? Did anyone die? Amazing.

    • Oh, yes! I ask myself these questions all the time and come up with answers I like. Then something happens and I forget all about those answers and have to ask myself the questions all over again. It’s the remembering part I need help with! =>

  8. PS – forgot to add that it isn’t about work / life balance. It’s about life.

  9. I do not have the answers for you. Work/life balance is so difficult. WAHM? SAHM? WM? Who has the best option? I don’t know.

    I reckon it may be about staying in the moment a bit. Concentrating on work when you are working. Concentrating on the kids when you are with them. Compartmentalising a bit? Letting your expectations go a bit?

    I have to say though that I returned to work 2 days a week recently and it it awesome (for me, not so much for my workplace I am sure!) People appreciate me, I get stuff done, and I have time to myself. I do need external validation.

    My brain hurts if I don’t use it, and while parenting is extremely challenging, it doesn’t stimulate my brain the way work does.

    • “People appreciate me, I get stuff done, and I have time to myself.” This would be the perfect balance for me, too, I think.

  10. I agree with Jana – if you can handle it, keep doing it and don’t feel bad. I think that you can’t say no because working is, in some form, enjoyable to you, and important to you. It may not feel that way when you’ve got the kids and the house needing you, but on some level it must be critical to your sense of identity. I have just one child (now in school) so it’s alot easier for me, but when he was 1 my husband and I started our own work-from-home business. We didn’t use childcare so we would take turns taking care of him and otherwise work whenever our son was sleeping – e.g., 2 a.m., 4 a.m. It was awful. Maybe what you can do is simply cut down on the number of projects, but still do a few, whatever number works out for you in terms of sanity. Good luck!

    • I do need to find that magic number. And starting my own business? I can’t imagine the added stress of that on top of mothering and working and sleeping (or not) and maintaining sanity (or not)!

  11. I think no matter what the situation, there is always some amount of stress and/or guilt on mothers. Never the balance that we want. But we have to do what feels right for ourselves and what we enjoy in order to try to make it work.

    I think work-from-home moms might actually have it worse than work-outside-the-home moms… There is that guilt that you talk about while rushing your child off for nap time, etc. When you go away to an office, of course there is the guilt (for some, honestly I don’t usually have it), but you leave your kids with someone who is paid to look after them and then you concentrate on what you are paid to do. For me, it’s much easier. I don’t think I’d get any work done if I were home with my kids and expected to do both!

    Do what you can. If these projects make you happy and bring in some extra money, you should still do it but in smaller amounts.

    BTW, a six-week maternity leave is ridiculous. We are spoiled here in Canada. When my son was born (12 years ago) we had six months off. Not long after that, it changed to a full year! It’s much easier to leave a one-year-old with a caregiver than a six-week-old!

    • Oh, maternity leave! Don’t get me started! And I do think my daughter’s age was a huge factor in my decision. If she had been older, I would have been sad, still, but not distraught. It was the newness of her, of my new life with her, that made leaving her unbearable, I think.

  12. Thanks for the post – this is an issue that I think about on a daily basis. What’s equally interesting is to read the responses you’re getting. For my daughter’s first year of life, I was working SO much and saw her very little. Now, we’ve recently moved and I’m staying at home with her, trying to think through what balance I want before plunging back into any type of work. I don’t have the answer yet!

    • Pretty soon you’ll have her filling out some make-believe tax forms just so Mommy can do some accounting! =>

  13. I’ve been on this page so much recently. For me it’s reflexive, and I need to find the brakes! I have two demanding full-time jobs already – one as a parent and one in an office – and I STILL take on freelance work. I really just can’t say no, and I vowed last week that next time, I’ll have to. Because that work-life balance is just not balancing.

    • Why can’t we say no?? I feel like there are one or two or ten posts I could write on that topic alone …

  14. Stacia, my husband has long supported me in my desire to be a stay-at-home mom. He has often said he would rather work 2 or 3 jobs than make me do something I don’t want to do. I appreciate this so much, but it doesn’t relieve the guilt I feel for spending the money he works so hard to earn. When I say spend, I mean on the necessities: food, diapers, wipes, and other things.

    Having seen my husband struggle through working and attending school has been so hard on me. I feel selfish and worthless for not doing something. So, when the opportunity came to baby-sit my friend’s little boy for a little extra cash, I said yes. After a week or so, another friend asked. And another. It’s turned into a comfortable side business that brings in just enough money to pay those extra bills so my husband only needs to work one job.

    If I had the training (my degree did not give me this option) of working on writing projects at home, I would be in the same situation as you. Taking in more and more projects because I feel like I need to and because I can’t say no.

    Hang in there. Do what’s right for your family and for you. : )

    • Yes, Amber! There’s guilt for spending money I did not earn, even on necessities, as you said. We are not frivolous, and we make saving a priority. But I still feel the guilt. Arrgh.

  15. I can’t imagine trying to balance work and motherhood. I left my high-octane job when my daughter was born. I went through MAJOR withdrawal for the first few months. So much so that I offered myself part-time to my old company. Thank goodness they turned me down because it would have turned into full time in no time and then my dreams of being there for my daughter would have been shot.

    Remember, you can always say no. Not to all of them, but to more. That way you stay in the game but not so much that you’re drowning.

    • Yes, the career withdrawal in the beginning was so, so tough. Talk about a life change! I became addicted to soaps just because I needed to hear grown-up voices, even if they weren’t talking to me.

  16. I think work/life balance is a myth, I really do, something to keep mothers who want to work on the hamster wheel. And I don’t say that meanly — after staying home for a year with Kate and Flora, I gladly returned to full-time work. As disorganized as it is sometimes, I am finding ways to make it work. Now how I’ll make it work with three is another thing altogether.
    I think freelancing/work-at-home is more difficult honestly. i was a WAHM when Flora was little, and I always felt the pull to be doing work at home. Plus, when you freelance, there are intangible costs that you have to factor in that really put a lot of pressure on you. Full-time in an office 1/2 an hour away may be stressful, but when I leave, I leave. Totally off the clock, so I’m not puttering on a project at 10 at night.
    My only suggestion for you would be to try to say no a little more often. facing freelance deadlines one on top of another with three kids — that sounds high-pressure, more high pressure than leaving for an office every day. Good luck! I know that freelance has its own gratifications, too — the endless deadlines are NOT one of them.

  17. Good luck on this. It’s a constant balancing act, and one that will never be perfect. EVER. Try limiting yourself. TRY. Try saying “no” or to put someone off for a while. Try extending deadlines and explaining that you are so desirable that you simply can’t fit them in during the timeframe they pictured.

  18. The balance is hard.
    It feels so good to be doing adult things that are appreciated in adult ways.
    And then it feels so nutso when every child needs something and you’re not sleeping enough.
    When Col was 2 1/2 and Rose was 5 months I started feeling really stifled by singing The Itsy Bitsy Spider for forty consecutive rounds and realized i needed something else, something small. I started writing a column for my local newspaper, just twice a month. It was actually huge, all I could fit in outside of motherhood, but it fueled me in a big way for the tedious tasks of mothering small children. Now, 3 years later I have the original column, my blog, a new column, and writing classes that I’m hoping to teach this fall. This may be too much, but it felt like time to stretch the wings a little further.
    Don’t forget, you have a newborn, who will soon grow. Your girl will go to kindergarten, time will open up.
    And by the way, I have an editing project -or ten, for you. 🙂

  19. I battle with this myself… but I will leave you with this. I WORKED I wish I could underline worked to emphasize how much with the my two older ones and they suffered… I am enjoying the fact that I am here for all four… though I still feel I need to provide so I am actively seeking work.. but it is actively hiding from me LOL
    So I have been taking it as a loud shout out from God that I should just chill.
    Now honestly if you like to freelance I think you should, but now that you know that there are projects that you could say no to then I think you should. The beauty of freelance isn’t it that you plan your own hours and schedule.
    Hugs

  20. I hear you on this. The trouble with freelancing is that it’s so difficult to say no – there’s always that nagging feeling that no-one will ever ask again. Even when you’re not busy, you worry that you will never be busy again and it ruins your enjoyment of not being busy. That said, I wouldn’t do it any other way. Even when I’m going crazy (which is often). I’m clinging to the fact that it will all get easier one day. Supposedly.

  21. So I’ve been thinking about this post ever since I read it. Work-Life balance? No tips here as I’ve never manage to achieve it. I agree with those above who’ve mentioned that working from home is almost more difficult than leaving to work. I did all of the writing for my graduate degree at home and so it was always there hanging over me — every naptime, every evening, etc. I am even more in awe of you now than before. Not only do you write these beautifully crafted, thoughtful, insightful blog posts on a consistent basis, but you are also a freelance queen. I don’t know what the answers are for you, for me, for any mom, but I’d say if you can afford to, see how you feel with a few less irons in the fire.

  22. Also, I just reread the title of your post and realized that I copied it (subconsciously, I swear) for my most recent post (though mine was a play on the “fall” part, not the “free” part). Sorry!

  23. Stacia, I have no advice to share. I’ve been having a similar debate. In fact, I wrote a post about it a week or two ago.

    After my first son was born (13 years ago), I returned to work part-time. I quit when he was five months old and haven’t worked since. Focusing on the kids has worked for me until this fall, when all four headed off to school. Now, I’ve realized that I have no idea who I am or what I should do with my life.

    The point is, mothers today are lucky to have so many choices. I hope you will be able to find a solution that works for you and your family.

  24. Stacia,

    When I had my little girl, I also thought I would have one toe in the professional pool and be able to take care of my family. For nine months, I tried it and even had the privilege from working from home and I just couldn’t do it. Not only because my job was demanding, but because my husband had bad hours as well. I now wish I could have balanced things better and have some regret in giving up my career. I sometimes miss the revenue I generated and the sense of purpose.

    I don’t have any sage advice Stacia, but only that I have been where you are and I understand. Sending you hugs.

  25. It just is hard. Even without a job. I just find myself needing my own thing. Something intelligent and social. And then I judge myself for needing those things. It is hard to be a mom and a person.


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