Parenting Sacrifices and Priorities

Yesterday I published a book review. That shouldn’t be a big deal. This is a book blog. But it feels like a big deal to me because that review means I have finally caught up. For the first time since OCTOBER, I don’t have a list of books I’ve read but have yet to review.

When I was pregnant and worried about having to sacrifice all the things I do that are important to me, someone told me that, “You’ll make time for the things that are important, and the things that you do give up will be the things that weren’t that important anyway.” At the time I found this idea comforting.

Now I feel like it was a lie.

Since having my baby, and perhaps to a greater extent, since returning to work, I have given up several things that I would definitely say are important to me. The thing I don’t like about this statement is the way it can be flipped to blame me for my own poor priorities. It seems to tell me, “Well, since you’ve given those things up, that must show that they weren’t that important to you, or you’d have found a way to make them happen.”

Really? I’ve stopped exercising and I never get to sleep. Is that because I don’t care about my own health and sanity? If you don’t count my audiobooks, I’m reading at the rate of about a single book a month. Does that mean I’ve suddenly lost interest in novels? This blog got pretty far behind schedule. Was that because it’s not important to me? I rarely see my friends, so obviously I don’t care about them. I still nourish writerly ambitions bigger than this blog that I’ve done nothing toward achieving. Evidently that doesn’t matter to me at all anymore, since my priorities have shifted.

Cogan Dec 2013 005

These things that I gave up have in common not less importance, but the fact that they require large chunks of uninterrupted time, planning, time from home, sustained focus and/or mental energy. I never consciously chose to sacrifice these things, but they gradually fell away because I couldn’t find a way to make them fit.

And on the other hand, I am finding time to do a lot of things that I don’t find important in the grand scheme of things. I am able to do these things because they’re easy, convenient, and undemanding. For example, I read a lot of articles online and keep up diligently with my facebook feed and all the things my friends share. These things aren’t really important to me, but I spend my time on them because they’re easy to fit into the small moments I can steal away from my work and family life. They’re relaxing and don’t tax me mentally.

I wondered whether this is a mom problem or a parent problem, whether it’s a gendered thing. Because if it is, then I can call bullshit on all of it, make my husband help me more, and find sweet relief in coming closer to egalitarianism. But when I compare myself to my husband, I find he’s going through pretty much the same thing. He also only makes it to the gym about once a week, even though he currently feels more discontented with his level of fitness than I do with mine. His friends are probably even less understanding than mine are. His buddies are not interested in cute babies the way mine are, and the things they used to do together are pretty baby-unfriendly. He doesn’t read or write; his hobby is video games. And he’s told me that he also finds it hard to immerse himself in a game because he has only a few minutes to play, or he has to listen for the baby. Of course, sleep is the one area in which I’m definitely suffering more than he is. He somehow finds the energy to stay up almost two hours later than I do every night, and he has yet to weep from sheer exhaustion. All I can do about that is shake my fist at biology for giving me two lactating breasts and him none. So the good news is that my husband and I are already doing a pretty good job splitting things as equally as possible. The bad news is that there’s no room to improve, no task I can push off on him without tipping our scale too far in the other direction.

I know this is a first world problem, and I’m mostly just railing against the 24 hour day and the 40+ hour work week and the brevity of the human lifespan. It’s also a sign that I’m still adjusting to working parenthood, and need to work on my time management. Of course “having it all” doesn’t exist because life necessitates trade-offs, as much as we all wish it didn’t. Saying yes to one things means saying no to another, and if you try to say yes to everything then you only end up half-assing it all.

So I’ve recognized that there are several things in my life that I want to prioritize better, even though I haven’t been giving them enough time lately. Maybe now that I’ve finally caught up on one of these things, the blog, I can start to consciously set aside time for the others as well. It may mean reconceptualizing time so that I can accomplish things that I currently believe require hours free from interruptions in a few stolen minutes here and there. Julianna Baggott, who I greatly admire, talks about how her writing process is like this; she has 4 kids and has published books that amaze me in their quality and sheer number. She’s an amazing role model for a writer with kids, and I need to start taking advice from people like her. Of course, that means I need to change my routines to make these things I do value a part of my life again. To make this possible, I might have to do things like babyproof the room with my computer in it–or get a laptop. And it probably means I have to wean myself from the facebook drug. But I could miss baby pictures from people I haven’t seen in ages! What if I’m not up to speed with the latest rage-bait news about homophobia, creationism, and rape culture? How will I survive without reading Buzzfeed articles about 90’s nostalgia?


11 thoughts on “Parenting Sacrifices and Priorities

  1. I love this post. It’s definitely not true that you make time for everything that’s important. Sometimes you don’t have the choice. I really think that having a little baby means that you inevitably end up (temporarily) giving up a lot of things that are important to you, for the sake of the things that you HAVE to do. Sometimes responsibilities and personal priorities are so not the same thing. And sometimes they are. It’s nearly impossible for me to work at home, with the baby wanting to type too or wanting to play or wanting to pull my hair and give kisses, but that doesn’t mean writing poetry isn’t important. It’s just not going to happen this way, right now.

  2. I saw one of those “inspirational” (ugh) pins on Pinterest that said “You have the same number of hours in a day as Beyonce. Think about it.” And it made me irrationally angry, because Beyonce may have the same 24 hours as me, but she also has a billion dollars and can outsource all the chores/inconveniences and focus 100% of her time on the things she wants to do or accomplish. If I had unlimited funds and a staff of people handling my every need, I could probably be insanely productive too. The Beyonces of the world are the exception, not the rule.

    I’m trying to formulate my thoughts around this “it’s your fault you don’t have enough time – if it were important to you, you would find the time” cultural message being gendered and directed toward women, which I think is related to the ongoing discussion of women “having it all” (like, you could “have it all” if you were just more disciplined and managed every millisecond of your time perfectly). I know that many (probably most) men feel like they don’t have enough time for everything, but I don’t see that they get blamed or shamed for it to the same degree that women do. I’m not being very articulate this morning, but hopefully you get the gist.

    • Yes! Boo on “pinspiration”! Beyoncé has more hours in her 24 hour day because she doesn’t have to do things like clean, grocery shop, run errands. Time is money, and money buys time–time to relax and enjoy your child and make yourself insanely hot and time to turn out an awesome album.

      Thank you so much for pointing out the gendered nature of the time management/prioritizing conversation. You are so right that men don’t get the same pressure to have it all/do it all, or the same blame for not prioritizing correctly if they aren’t able to do everything they want to. Part of it might be that women are assumed to have responsibility for more things–women, not men, are judged on the cleanliness of their houses and the behavior of their children, for example, in addition to holding down a job. Women are supposed to keep an immaculate house, cook and craft like Martha Stewart, kick ass in the workplace, dress fashionably and keep in shape, maintain relationships with friends and family, be well-read and keep up with current events, raise loving and talented children, enjoy a happy marriage and great sex life, AND keep themselves balanced and fulfilled with a hobby or two. And if a woman can’t do all these things, it’s assumed that she’s just incompetent at time management and needs to learn to multitask better, or she’s consciously choosing to prioritize certain of these items over others (and therefore it’s ok if her marriage is suffering, or she has no friends, because she chose not to value those things, and the other things she does have, like her kids, must make up for it). The expectations on men are not the same.

      At the same time though, those expectations for men are changing, especially for parents. Maybe in a way things are just as bad for men who are trying to be equal partners because this conversation isn’t even taking place for them, and they’re making sacrifices too. My husband could probably complain about giving up his hobbies, exercise, and friends too, but he might not even have the vocabulary to do it because he hasn’t been reading about and observing other men making these trade-offs his whole life, the way I have. But if this conversation were to start happening among men, I doubt that there would be the same level of blame and shame we see among women. They would be too busy congratulating themselves and each other for being good dads. Maybe we should learn from the men.

  3. Excellent post. I remember reading that comment last year and feeling the same twinge of frustration. As my dissertation research has sat crumbling in the basement for the last two years, I’ve asked myself “Is this just not that important to me?”. The answer is complicated, and in fact, as you’ve pointed out, the word “important” isn’t a particularly helpful word to describe my life activities. Keeping my house clean feels unimportant (in the grand scheme of things), but as the money for a housecleaning service doesn’t exist right now, I prioritize it over writing because of some mixture of guilt and necessity. And, yes, like you I find time for things like trolling social media, which enhances my life very little (in fact, it usually makes me more dissatisfied) but fills in tiny gaps of time and makes me feel somewhat connected with the world.

    Writing just about anything, for me, has always required whole, solitary, uninterrupted hours–typically surrounded by a pile of books, a space heater, and junk food. Even now, I wait until Nora is sleeping to write emails. I hope you’re able to craft a writing/reading life out of those stolen moments. I’d love to hear how it goes (and hear any wisdom you have to pass along).

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