As a millennial parent (albeit, from the poorly named subsection called “geriatric millennials”), I admittedly get a lot of parenting advice and inspiration from social media. I find myself following more humorous, relatable parent content on Instagram than I do actual people I know, and I joined several Facebook groups for parents of preemies and those whose kids had Intrauterine Growth Restriction. I recently came across a suggested group for Stay-at-Home Moms of Twins, and was immediately interested — as I’m always game for anything to help us tame the increasingly wild beasts who live in our house.
But just as quickly, I paused in clicking “request to join.” Am I a stay-at-home mom? I work from home. And I have an assortment of my kids with me most days. Does that count?
I ultimately decided to check out the group, and my initial hesitation was confirmed as I read through the posts: These folks certainly share some commonalities, but my life looks wholly different. So many posts centered on tensions between the moms and their working husbands, or were soliciting advice on the best twin strollers on the market or ideas for large-batch smoothies for toddlers.
Where were the posts about toys to occupy your twins during Teams meetings? Or solutions to sync up naptime so Mommy can actually open her laptop?
When parents wear multiple identities simultaneously, they’re often doing so in a world that is just not constructed for those juggling so many hats. The lines between work and home have certainly blended in recent years, but for far too many parents, the expectations haven’t ebbed. Parents are still largely expected to work like they don’t have kids and to raise those kids like they don’t have another job. And that leaves the increasing number of us straddling those traditional lines between stay-at-home and work-outside-the-house parenting often on a very wobbly tightrope.
Storytime and shopping gone wrong
A few weeks ago — knowing kindergarten is coming soon — I planned a “pre-K hooky day” for Jackson. I stayed up late getting work done ahead of time for the next day, and fairly seamlessly switched between emails and meetings and dog walks and snacktime with the three little ones. Proud of myself, I decided to sign off from work for a bit, get adventurous and take the trio to a library storytime we’d never checked out (quaint, in nature, but it took a solid 40 minutes of “Jackson, get your shoes on” and “August, stop bashing your sister’s head against the floor” just to get out the door).
Just a few minutes into the event, I felt wildly out of place. Even though the librarian announced at the last minute that storytime would be held outside, I was surrounded by parents laying out their big, comfy blankets, slathering sunscreen on their kids, popping on sunglasses and baseball caps. Here I was with the double stroller and Jackson standing in the grass, all three fair-skinned kids gearing up for a sunburn, and I wondered if these parents keep their cars fully stocked for outside adventures at all times.
When the stories and songs started, most of my fellow parents dove right into the singalong, helping their kids stomp their feet, clap their hands and do special dances; I smiled awkwardly at everyone and was brought back to my Catholic grade school days of moving my lips to hymns I didn’t know. How do they know all these songs? Is there some storytime Spotify list I’m not clued into? Is this actually a cult?
And the snacks…perfectly portioned fruits and veggies with spreads and dips in Tupperware, juice boxes, wet wipes for dirty hands. Here were my little hangry hooligans in their pre-lunch hour salivating with no snacks of their own in sight. My solution? We hit up the McDonald’s drive-through across the street on the way home.
That feeling of ill-preparedness often plagues me. Last week, I took Avery — who was battling a virus that, mixed with severe reflux, meant frequent vomiting — for a quick trip to Walmart after dropping her brothers at daycare and before returning home to “work.” Given our early morning of projectile puking and sibling fighting, I was impressed I had even gotten that far! Until she projectiled a voluminous amount of formula on herself, me, the cart and the floor of the cereal aisle. I frantically rummaged through my purse and came up with a dirty tissue that I used to mop us both up and half-heartedly pat the puddles on the floor before fleeing to the next aisle.
I probably should have brought along a diaper bag, full of wipes, (clean) tissues, a change of clothes, snacks — all the things you should pack for an outing with a toddler. But that morning, while getting the trio ready, I was trying with my other hand to edit a story, respond to emails, and make our food shopping list, all so we could get back in time for a meeting. When you’re a parent working at home with kids, the space in your brain that should go to things like packing diaper bags is constantly filled by other tasks.
And the parts of my brain that should be devoted to work are equally muddled. As much as work distracts me from being an on-the-ball parent, parenting during work has the same effect. I’ve spent numerous Teams meetings with my video inexplicably turned off so my coworkers didn’t know I was in my bathing suit, and also with my laptop propped next to a baby pool while covertly wiping away tears as I’m battling one, two or three tantrums and simultaneously trying to pretend to look professional. Jackson has full-on mooned my entire team, I’ve changed many a diaper off-camera, and I’ve been violently run over by a Power Wheels in my living room while giving my daily update to my co-workers. Mentally, my proverbial work diaper bag is often not only packed and forgotten, it’s just completely empty.
And that’s not a feeling I’m comfortable with; I’m someone who tries to always bring my A-game, as a parent and an employee, but being both and with so much overlap means I may be delivering top marks to one area of my life but scraping by in the other. However, parents today are functioning in a world where carrying these multiple identities all at once is just how it’s supposed to be. And you just have to figure out a way to not fail.
My particular parenting experience is being shaped by my at-home job, but so many other parents have similar dichotomies: caregiving for little ones and elderly parents at the same time, all while working; feeling the pressure to have enough money to take their kids on summer vacations but not being able to get away from their high-paying job long enough to do so; being unemployed but expected to churn out bake sale items, sports club fees, and picture day costs. The expectations for parents today are extraordinarily high, yet the means to help them reach those heights are sorely lacking.
The solution? Short of widespread societal evolution on perceptions of parenting and modern work, parents today might just need to pack a little more grace for themselves than they would normally like to. I used to think I would be the celery sticks and apples and sunscreen and “Little Bunny Foo Foo” mom; and here I am as the McDonald’s and sunburns and side-eye for the singalong mom.
But in reality, the kids don’t care. Even if we’re ill-prepared, unpacked, messy and stressed, as long as we’re tuned in and putting them first, they’re getting what they need. Parents today are trying to do it all and be it all, but we don’t need that in order to still be all our kids need. I may not be the mom with the big, comfy blanket at storytime, but my kids won’t remember that — what they will hopefully remember is that they got to soak up the sun and enjoy time cuddling in the grass with Mommy. And they’ll definitely remember McDonald’s.