I am both an At Home Parent and a Working Parent. This sounds impossible, right? And if our tendency towards black and white labelling of people and situations was to be trusted, it would be. But from my vantage point in the grey-middle, it’s easy to see that things are not nearly as simple as we’d like to believe.
I work 50+ hours a week, as does Campground Papa. The Campground Kid is awake for maybe 85 hours a week, and she is at daycare for about 21 of those hours. She comes to work with us for about 25 hours a week (our work is at our house, so the line is a bit fuzzy on this one. Our work also has a playground, so it’s not as boring for her as it first sounds). We are all at home and off work for 2 days a week, and Campground Papa and I have about 2 hours to ourselves between finishing work for the week and picking her up from daycare.
Within each day, we flex around. We alternate pick ups and drop offs at daycare; we swap around bedtimes and sleep-ins; we take turns cooking. The Campground Kid “helps” Campground Papa on his work tasks; I take her for walks; we both take breaks to play tea-set or marble-run; I watch Dinosaur Train with her; Campground Papa sets her up with magnatiles and then does chores; we both try to keep her entertained in the office and laundry; we both frequently fail. When it’s quiet at work, the juggle is relatively easy; when work is busy, it’s not easy at all; when The Campground Kid is out of sorts or overtired, it sometimes feels impossible. But we muddle through it together.
I don’t entirely know what the point of posting this is, but I do know that when I was an At Home Parent, I used to think the life of a Working Parent was hugely different to my own. I didn’t necessarily see it as harder, or as less hard, but I did think it was an almost fundamentally different experience.
Now, I don’t see it that way. I see a lot of different experiences. I see different levels of juggling and different levels of time away from kids. I see different levels of monotony and different levels of satisfaction. I see different levels of calm and different levels of stress. But none of these levels correspond neatly to “At Home Parents” or “Working Parents”; they vary with hundreds of individual circumstances and personalities and experiences. I see those black and white extremes blurring into the grey-middle, and I think that grey-middle contains most of the interesting stuff.
And I think this is true of many other labels that we place on parents too. Sure, some people exclusively breastfeed or exclusively formula feed. But many (most?) people do a bit of both, and I think how much they do of each is never the most important thing about their relationship with their baby. Some people sleep train and some people co-sleep, but some people do both (that would be us!) or neither or just whatever works in the moment to get everyone some sleep. Some people are natural birth advocates and had c-sections; some people want all the drugs and arrive at the hospital too late for any pain-medication at all. I am infertile AND a mother. (etc. etc.)
It’s not that I think the black and white labels are useless. They have their place. It’s just that I think the individual stories in the grey-middle are a whole lot more interesting, if we take the time to listen and share.