One of the most common questions I see on parenting forums is ‘how do you balance it all?’. Between parenting, school, extracurricular (volunteer) work and life’s everyday necessities I often find myself struggling to answer the question. Because while it’s true that somehow or another my partner and I have managed to make it through the last 3 years of parenting, if I actually stop to think about it I can’t explain how we balance it all.
Our current situation is a perfect example of how precariously our lives are set up. My partner works 3 1/2 days a week, while I’m home with the kids and then he stays home for 1 1/2 days while I’m in class. Technically we’re both “off” on the weekend, but that’s also the only time I have set aside to study. Since I’m currently taking 3 courses and a teaching assistant for another course, I’m supposed to find 27 hours a week to study and another 5-10 hours a week to grade assignments or plan lessons. Our youngest is still breastfeeding on demand, including throughout the night, and our toddler also needs help falling asleep. This means we both spend 5pm-8pm(ish) every evening doing our usual bedtime routine (dinner, bath, reading and/or nursing). So in reality, the only time left for studying is on the weekends, also the only time left for housework, groceries, laundry, meal prep, cooking etc. So I sneak my school studies in between all of these other things, and work around my infant’s nap schedule (ideally 2 naps a day).
And all of this was working for the first 5 weeks of the semester…until my infant and I both came down with some as-of-yet undetermined illness with symptoms including ear infections (both of us), a fever (baby, not me) and general fatigue. The fact that the baby is also getting molars and in constant pain from that has also meant very little sleep. In fact the baby that has been sleeping 6 hours a night since 4 months old, has been unable to sleep without being propped up on me and one of my nipples in their mouth. Did I mention the high fever? So I’ve felt like I’m in bed with a hot water bottle that bites!
Well, thankfully the worst has passed and we are now recovering. Which means I can turn my attention back to the dozens of emails waiting in my inbox, as well as the THREE assignments that are now due in the next 10 days (one of which is overdue and another which I have to redo because I wrote it while fighting this illness and obviously was not completely coherent at the time). So as I sit here looking at a calendar with not enough hours in the day, completely overwhelmed and a bit bitter (why, oh why, did I CHOOSE to be in school again?!?!) I keep coming back to that question. How do you balance it? How do you balance a full-time job (parenting) with a full-time job (school for me, work for my partner), while also finding time to care for yourself?
The answer seems to be that you don’t. You find a way to set short-term goals and get through one day at a time. You ask for help (in my case from my partner, my family, my classmates even). You forget anything unessential, and redefine the word essential. You focus on the big picture and remind yourself that this is a short-term situation (school will be finished soon, little ones will be independent and won’t need us so much). You try to be grateful for what you have (again, my partner, my family, my classmates). You learn to do without (money, time, energy). And you hope, pray, beg, manifest, envision it all to work out, knowing that there are many, many others going through the same, or more. You remember that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And most of all you keep going. One day at a time. Because sooner or later, something’s got to give.
I am an immigrant.
My parents were refugees, fleeing a civil war in which my father fought. I was born along the way, on the journey from there to here. From the motherland, the land of origins. A warm country, noble, enduring, steady. To here. An unpredictable place, a cold country built on stolen land by a nation of people who still struggle to acknowledge their place in history as oppressors. Colonizers.
Immigrant. A person living in a foreign land.
Foreign. Not your own.
That is what we are. Never belonging, always searching for a place that fits just right. Looking for a space that is ours.
My children are the first generation born on this soil. What does it mean? For me, as a mother. For them, as black children. Immigration amplifies the generation gap. Will it affect my ability to understand my children? To prepare them sufficiently for what they will face, to overcome life’s challenges. Will they find a place to settle?
Or will they roam, like we do, searching for a place that fits just right. Looking for a space that is ours.
Seeking a home of our own.
I have been a mother for just over two years now, and a mother of two for almost two months. When my eldest child was born I considered starting a parenting blog, but didn’t because a) I was too overwhelmed with keeping my baby alive! and b) I thought there were many other moms out there writing about the same things that I would. I was on maternity leave for the first 9 months of my child’s life and during this time I read, watched and talked about nothing other than parenting. I have always been an avid reader but I found myself gravitating towards parenting books and blogs and agonized over things such as breastfeeding, infant sleeping habits, birth and post-partum health and something called “attachment parenting”. I joined parenting forums, facebook groups, and support groups. I surrounded myself with other parents (mainly mothers) and spent almost every waking minute with my child.
Then, suddenly, my leave was over and I found myself back in the company of adults again. I was a full-time graduate student, juggling an infant with no full-time child care arrangement. Rather than feeling overwhelmed, I found myself settling quickly into a routine which included doing my academic readings while nursing my baby to sleep. I began to read journal articles and text books, and occasionally found time for pleasure reading as well. When I found out I was pregnant with my second I vowed not to get sucked back into the world of parenting blogs and online groups, and to stay connected with “the outside world”. Instead, a few hours after giving birth to my second child, I found myself turning to my parenting groups for advice and commiseration as we were forced to leave the baby in the NICU. Soon, I was sucked back into the endless conversations about diapers, nursing and parenting and I forgot all about my plans to keep up with my academic readings while on maternity leave. But something was different this time.
Whereas the first time around I had found the parenting forums to be full of knowledge and wisdom, this time I found myself applying the same critical lens that I had grown accustomed to in my academic work. In addition, as a second-time mother I found myself just as likely to be giving advice as to be asking for it. As a result, I soon began to notice that the parenting forums which I had considered to be safe spaces for all parents to ask questions and discuss the challenges of raising children…were not created for all. I began to notice racist, gendered, homophobic and ableist language being used. I started to name these things and to engage in dialogues with others about the problematic assumptions being made. And I soon found that this type of critical discussion was neither welcome nor wanted.
After a number of threads got out of hand with name-calling and personal attacks against myself and other racialized or queer parents I realized that these so-called parenting groups, were in truth meant for white, cis female mothers. I was welcome to participate as long as I stayed in my place, and my attempts to bring awareness to the oppression occuring within the groups resulted only in my being labelled an angry, black woman (literally, repeatedly). I began to have anxiety when I logged into facebook and saw notifications from certain parenting groups, and my inbox was filled with private messages from racialized and queer parents who themselves felt excluded and oppressed. For a while, I simply retreated. I erased my conversations and comments and decided to hide notifications from some groups. There was only one group where I felt safe (eventually two because I found a feminist parenting group). I decided to stay in one of the local groups solely for the fact that it was a great resource for certain things, but I stopped engaging in conversations that had any potential to become problematic. I stopped naming oppressive language or posts. I began to search for blogs by parents whose experiences more closely resembled mine and I realized that parenting blogs are also more likely to be written by and for white mothers. And as this realization sunk in, I began to think about how much I had depended on these avenues for support with my first child and it saddened me to feel so alone and isolated this time around. It didn’t feel fair, and I wondered if other parents felt the same. So I decided that perhaps it was time to create this blog after all.
Perhaps somewhere out there is a mom (or dad) who is looking for a safe space to discuss their thoughts and challenges with parenting and although I don’t have all the answers, maybe I could help to create a space for them to do so. I hope that this blog will help someone out there, or will help me connect with other parents and feel less alone. And so I have begun this journey, and look forward to seeing where it takes me. Because all parents deserve to find a place to go to share, ask questions or simply complain about the stresses and challenges of raising children. I hope that this space will serve to be that place for some, but at the very least I have found a place to share my own struggles and victories.