Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Still Here

I am still here! Didn't mean to be away for quite that long. Life has been busy these last few weeks. I'm always frustrated with myself when our schedule gets too busy. We try to keep close tabs on our time, to not let ourselves get so busy that we're too busy for the things that are really important. We try to be available for and flexible with appointments, meetings, etc. I used to work in a medical clinic, and I remember how difficult it was to work with patients who said they needed their appointment to be on Wednesday at 3:30. No exceptions. Not only did that make it nearly impossible to see them (a lot of people seem to think that doctors are just sitting around waiting for patients), but it also made me feel kind of sorry for them. I would hate to have such a rigid schedule! And so I try not to.

The danger in having a flexible schedule, though, is overcommitment. (In the early days of staying home with my daughter, people would comment on how wonderful it must be to have so much free time. I always tried to gently tell them that my time was flexible, but it was not free. Free time to me meant deciding whether to watch TV or read a magazine. Flexible time meant deciding whether to run errands or give the baby a bath first.) I have not yet come to a place where I immediately recognize my own flexible plans as being just as valid as scheduled appointments on the calendar. If I have planned a day at home to clean and do laundry, and someone asks me to do something, chances are that I'll say yes. Or, more often, I'll agree to an event on a "free" day without paying attention to the fact that it's the only free day for two weeks. That's when my first priority, my family, suffers. We suffer not only from lack of clean clothes and dishes, but also from lack of time together, relaxed time to just enjoy one another. When we're rushing from activity to activity, errand to errand, then our precious few minutes in between at home are spent getting ready for the next calendar event, and we miss out on quiet meals, toddler tea parties, jam sessions with kazoos and tambourines, even slow-paced trips to the mailbox with stops to examine pinecones, squirrels, and rain puddles.

(Our daughter discovered that she could "make hands" after eating a piece of sticky lemon cake.)

I certainly don't want to sequester myself or my daughter at home all the time. We need to pursue friendships, to take educational opportunities, to give of our time in a charitable capacity. In fact, I think that it is altogether possible to spend too much time at home. But the effects I'm feeling right now aren't from too much time at home. You would think that, two and a half years into this stay-at-home role, I would have mastered the art of time management. I haven't. I'm afraid that somewhere in my mind, despite the fact that I believe this job of parenting is important and should take top priority over every other role that I have, there is still a nagging whisper that says I can do parenting and homemaking tasks any old time. It says that setting aside time to play outside with my daughter is a luxury that should take second seat to a meeting at church. It says that the things on my "Home" to do list should come after the things on my "Work" and "Church" to do lists. This leaves me feeling stressed, cranky, dissatisfied, and unorganized. There is an abrasive, unhealthy tension when stated priorities don't match active priorities. I always feel calm and content when I take care of my family and my home first. Of course, that's not to say that other commitments should be neglected. I believe firmly that once we commit to something, we need to see that commitment through. (Provided, of course, that it is not a harmful or immoral activity.) I also don't mean to say that we should forgo outside activities just because we don't feel like doing them. I really believe that service to others, whether formal volunteer work or baking a batch of cookies for a burdened friend, is very important. I believe that, for Christians, corporate worship and involvement in a local congregation is important. For those with kids in school, I believe it is important to be involved in your child's school. Those are some things that we shouldn't ignore because we don't feel like doing them. But there has got to be a balance, you know? We don't have to be on every volunteer board, every church committee, every school trip. Overcommitting doesn't get things done! (I have strong opinions on the popular idea of multi-tasking, too, but that's another post.)


I'm really rambling here, and probably not making much sense. Does anyone know what I mean? Jane at Yarnstorm recently quoted her former English teacher as having said, "You don't know what you're thinking until you can say it." I like that. By that standard, though, I only sort of know what I'm thinking on the subject, given the blathering of the last few paragraphs.

I need to go and wash those lemon cake handprints off my front window.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I know what you mean. Completely. I think the struggle between making time to enjoy the quiet, relaxed moments in life vs. fulfilling commitments/appointments/ etc. is something we all experience to some degree -- and it's even harder when you're a parent, I think. But those relaxed moments are often what fulfill us and allow us to recharge and connect with one another so we can continue to go about doing the charitable & "necessary" commitments we've agreed to do. It is hard to find the right balance.

Personally, I think people who think stay-at-home parents have lots of "free" time don't really get it. I think working parents who make those kinds of comments about how it must be nice to have so much free time are sometimes just, in an unfair way, expressing their suppressed frustration and/or jealousy that they don't have as much flexibility in their own life.

Try not to let it get to you.

(I hope you don't mind that I follow your blog now; your husband got me hooked with all those links...) :)


Holly said...

Kara - I'm very honored that you follow my blog! Glad to see Andy's links paid off. He started putting them up because I teased him that I linked to him, but he did not link to me.

Thanks for your kind words. The comments used to bother me a lot more early on than they do now. That may have been because caring for a newborn really was easier than I thought it would be, so I suspected that those people were right. Maybe being a stay-at-home parent really was easy. But now she's two, and I know better. :)

Hope you guys are doing well! Your busy season is about halfway over, yes?