“Sunny Day, sweepin’ the clouds away, on my way to where the air is sweet.” These upbeat lyrics from the Sesame Street theme song Sunny Day reflect my current feelings on what others may deem ‘part-time parenting’. It did, however, take considerable trial and error to get me to this point. I have learned to reject the guilt laid at my door about not spending every waking moment with my preschooler. Some people call it “part-time parenting” while I simply call it “living” but yes, it certainly has taken a while to get to this point.
Only now have I come to an understanding and finally I can utter the words “I’m actually not a bad mum”.
The alternatives to ‘part-time parenting’ just aren’t practical for my family. I know this because when I tried the full-time ’round the clock gig, it ultimately led us to a crash course in “How to survive when shit goes horribly wrong”.
For a time, our household was on a familial version of the Springfield Monorail. Dishes piled up, done covers were lucky to be pulled up and I could be spotted at the supermarket in tracksuit pants complete with play-doh stuck in my hair. Finding an equilibrium while juggling multiple needs is a challenge all parents face and to be honest it’s been a while since my multi-tasking abilities were optimal. Now though, despite the odd harsh judgment on our ‘long day-care’ arrangements, our family is back on track.
Through the trials of full-time parenting, I became acutely aware of ‘mummy guilt’; an emotional rollercoaster, rendering you a paralyzed, nervous wreck. Hyper-vigilance and helicopter parenting were two symptoms of mummy guilt that I identified in myself. I’m not a psychologist but I believe they stemmed from personal efforts to control external factors when everything else felt utterly hopeless and I just didn’t have enough hands to get the jobs done.
Most mums I have spoken to have experienced ‘mummy guilt’ to some degree. Some mums just appear to hold themselves together (externally at least) better than others. The truth is, at one stage or another, we all feel inadequate as parents. When it comes to raising our precious gifts, questioning our decisions is natural. Still, there’s no need to beat ourselves up with could have, should have, would have. Like, could’ve been naturally awesome at this gig and taken it all in my stride but just wasn’t. After all, the thing about parenting is it’s a crash course and you just don’t know how you’ll cope until you are quite literally thrown in at the deep end.
My family’s current arrangement is far preferable to us cleaning up the mass destruction left behind by an excitable toddler in tandem. Instead of wasting emotions on fruitless guilt, I embrace having the energy to brush my own hair, and I instead dedicate time to play (there is much singing and dancing with Master 3). I believe our current arrangement makes me a far more fit and fun mum. Particularly when I reflect that parenting is indeed a marathon rather than a sprint. I will have every moment of the rest of my life to live with a Mum hat cemented firmly to my head. Not that I’m complaining that little cherub lights me up with his artwork presentations, enthusiasm for AFL and lego castle making abilities.
Even on days like today when I get a phone call from childcare that he has spear tackled another kid who had taken to tormenting him. (Looks like someone inherited Mummies temper and as a fierce underdog a natural sense of social-justice and maybe just a little taste for bully’s blood) I love him unconditionally. He’s my little person and my external heartbeat.
In terms of domestic duties and parenting I’m no longer frazzled around the clock and can now engage my son on a deeper level than: “Please eat your breakfast and try not to spill it everywhere.” My son now has a mum who does not lament the chores and looks forward to coming home for games and cuddles. I love to hear about his activities and what he is discovering about the wide, wondrous world. He now has a mummy who is excited for him to turn five, so she can facilitate him joining sports and clubs and dare I say Auskick to compliment his sporting prowess and swimming lessons. See you on the sidelines, ladies….
With long day-care arrangements in place, our household has finally made the transition to “come and play, everything’s A-Okay”. ‘Part-time parents’ make sacrifices, be they financial or otherwise. Child-care must be paid for somehow (perhaps by dipping into those hard-earned savings).
However, if, at the end of the day, you are not in tears of despair over everything that has gone wrong, the sacrifices can be worth it. The old clichés “happy mummy, happy baby” and “happy wife, happy life” exist for a reason. And, after experiencing the trials of post-natal depression, I can attest that sound mental health is seriously underrated. And the opportunity to be an individual person with your own needs, wants, desires and even *gasp* hobbies… yep, that is important.
The cold hard truth is not everyone enjoys the routine of preschoolers complete with changes, feeding, cleaning, bathing, endless games of snap and beyond. Yep, bam, right there… I said it! I don’t miss cabin fever either. Parents are diverse, so despite what the literature says (which I wouldn’t know because I haven’t read it), I don’t believe a one-size-fits-all model of parenting works. Certainly not for our family anyway…
Some people may look down on me for articulating my home truths, but I refuse to let them get the better of me. If there are mums out there in similar predicaments, my advice is that no one knows your family like you do. Don’t let the “you should” guilt get in the way of practical decision making. ‘Part-time parenting’ is not for everyone, but at my end, it’s the key to happier, healthier living. I now reject the mummy guilt and notions of what I SHOULD be doing, as opposed to what we NEED to happen to stay healthy. After all, in our home it’s now: “a magic carpet ride, every door will open wide, to happy people like you — Happy people like… what a beautiful, sunny day…”