There's nothing worse than the sinking feeling you get when your kids come home from…
To follow in our week of “firsts”, this is also my first official blog post. It feels a little weird, but here we go!
So as Maria said in her post, I took off last week from work to stay home with the kids, giving her some uninterrupted time to brainstorm the possibilities of the next chapter in our life while also getting a well-deserved breather from what has been 5 1/2 years of non-stop child rearing. During this week, I agreed to take full responsibility for the kids, including meals, snacks, school, laundry, cleaning the house, dealing with pee on the floor, pee on the clothes, and pee in the beds. Here are some things that I learned during what the boys coined “All-Boy-Week”…
1) This job is really freaking hard
- The first thing that struck me was how a day could go so quickly, yet feel so never-ending; how I could go a whole day and get seemingly nothing done, yet be so totally exhausted afterwards. Maria warned me of this, but I had no idea how true it would be. She started me off the week with a list of daily deliverables, including no more than 2-3 things that needed to get done every day. I remember thinking “surely, I will be able to get done more than this”, and proceeded to make myself a whole other page of the other things I was going to get done. HAHAHAHA…hahaha…ahhh. Not so much…that list still sits on the counter nearly untouched as a reminder of how drastically expectations of productivity needed to change for me.
- The second thing that hit me was how mentally jarring the “psychological environment” was. At work, in addition to productivity which I already realized was a lost cause, I often measure success by how well I am able to apply control to a situation. I am usually able to influence people to work well together, and to adjust process variables with predictable responses to find an optimum solution. I quickly found that with three little boys, control is an illusion and predictability is a joke. Resistance was futile, and at one point, I had to completely reset my expectations for success before I ripped my hair out in frustration.
- Leaving the house for anything totally sucks. As with most kids, our three rascals have varying degrees of difficulty with “transitions”. This is never more evident than when we are trying to get out the door, which seems to be their favorite time to deliver their ultimatums. “Hey guys…time to start getting ready to go in two minutes!” “OK Dad…” 5 minutes later…”Alright guys time to go! Lets get go potty and wash our hands” “Wait til I’m done doing this one last thing” …”No, I gave you the two minute warning, lets go” “No! Not unless we can go to the park”. “It is 25°F. We are not going to the park. Besides, that has nothing to do with going potty”. “You never let us do anything…your so mean. I am just going to sit here”. Uggggghhhhh. Every little thing becomes a nonsensical negotiation with the maniacal little masterminds. I should also say here that I despise being late for anything. That first day, we nearly missed the drop-off time at preschool, and ever after, I started prepping the kids 30 minutes before we had to leave. I remember the last day of our experiment, we got into a good old fashioned blow-out where I totally steam-rolled the poor little guys into the car because we were behind my timeline. After 15 minutes of screaming, yelling, and general gnashing of teeth to get us out the door, we ended up getting to school so early that the doors were still locked…OOPS! I definitely didn’t have this figured out after the week was over. Honestly, I am a little bit of a homebody, but if this was my job full time, I am not sure that we would ever leave the house.
2) I needed a system…FAST!!
- With my normal mode of operations totally blown out of the water, I went into my second day knowing that I needed a big-time change or I would not make it through the week.
- My first move was to adjust my expectations. That list of extra jobs that I was going to get done around the house? Gone. Those thoughts of banging out everything on Maria’s list in the first day? Gone. If I kept those lists around, they would only make me feel lousy. My primary objective became survival, all else be damned.
- The second was to make a commitment to “keeping the kids’ buckets filled”. I found that if I was to going to get any cooperation with the kids, they needed to be filled up with as much attention as I could give them. We spent lots of time playing on the floor, building with Legos, jumping in the leaves, even engaging in the forbidden potty talk. By the end of the week, Ben’s favorite flavor of pancakes was “poopy tooty pee splat pancakes”. OK…maybe I let that go too far, but what can you expect with 4 guys in the house? Boys will be boys after all 😉 This seemed to work out pretty well, even if it was at the expense of not cleaning out the gutters.
- The third was to create priorities for anything else that was on the list. These fell into three buckets. The first was “Must Do’s”. These were things that if they did not get done would have “serious” consequences…feeding the kids, getting them to school on time, etc… Come hell or high water, these were getting done, and any spare time that I had was first spent getting them out of the way. Sometimes, this resulted in dinner being done at 3pm, but what the heck…it is better to have to reheat the meal than it is to beat back the ravenous wolves that descend when dinner gets behind. The second was “Should Do’s”. These were things that had some time sensitivity, and we would really like to get them done, but the world wouldn’t fall apart if they didn’t happen. These were optional activities like swim class for our youngest, vacuuming the house, cleaning chicken eggs, etc… I was often able to get most of these done, but it was liberating in some ways to specify that they were not necessary. The third bucket was “Nice to Do’s”, and they were just that. Anything that was totally optional, but would like to eventually get done. I did not often make it to these, but again, it was nice to have them there so that if I was blessed with 15 minutes of quiet time, I could knock something off quick. By the end, this seemed to work reasonably well…I didn’t miss any of those must-do priorities, and I was not feeling so bad about missing the optional ones.
- If this were my full time job, I would probably have taken to creating a weekly “dashboard”, where for each day, I could lay out goals in each of these buckets, and assess performance in each bucket with a red/yellow/or green. This could give me a way to feel good about getting the highest priority things done, even if that was all that I ended up getting to. I would also include a section for notes, where I can add anything that worked really well, or specifics about what made things fall apart. Over time, the thought would be that I could start to see trends that could be used to further improve the system. We’ll see…I may still try it out as a family tool.
3) Seeing things from the other side…we’re all in this together
- They say that you can never really understand someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes. I will not claim that I totally get the struggles that Maria goes through after only a week of Mr. Mom, but it has given me an all new appreciation for her, especially considering all of the other things that she does food preparation wise to make sure that we have the healthiest food possible (making homemade bread, yogurt, granola, etc…). I am so blessed to have such a strong, amazing woman at the helm of our homestead. I know now that this strength has been born of necessity, and I will never underestimate its depth.
- Our most interesting observations “from the other side” came from the dinner table. Arguably, one of the most stressful times in the house during a normal week is dinner. We are both fried after long days, the kids are seemingly crazy (mix of tired and hungry), and none of us have any patience. Inevitably, I end up getting short with the kids when they continually act up at the table. Maria gets frustrated that I have lost my patience after only 10 minutes in the house and I get frustrated that she is upset at me for trying to help by taking over on the discipline. One night during our experiment last week, the roles were totally flipped, and it was interesting to see the other side of the table. It turns out that we are both more quickly impacted by shenanigans when we have been out of the house all day and are not used to the constant barrage of the kids. The kids are also less likely to respond favorably to any discipline coming from whichever adult just strolled through the door, as they have not had a chance to reconnect to a point where normal adjustments become effective again. Regardless of how missed the adult is that has been gone all day is, their reintroduction to the house is yet another disruption to the system that requires some level of transition…definitely something we need to work on.
- After 7 years of being married, we have definitely fallen into “roles”…there are things that have become Maria’s jobs and things that are mostly Joe’s jobs. While there is efficiency in this compartmentalization (not everyone needs to know how to do everything), there are times when it is important to remember that we are both supporting the same common goals, and every now and then, it is nice when we can pick up each others’ slack. For example, in the last week, I have done quite bit more vacuuming (formerly a Maria job, which I now know she strongly dislikes) and Maria has made it a point to go out and get eggs/feed the rabbits (formerly a Joe job, which I have gotten really tired of, especially now that it is dark by the time I get home).
Overall, this experience of staying home with the kids for a week was awesome. It was great for me, as it helped me put into perspective the importance of work-life balance and remind me how important my family is to me. According to her post, it was great for Maria as well…it is awesome to see a twinkle in her eyes again, reminding me again how much I love her, and how important her happiness it to all of us. It was great for our relationship, helping us to see things from the others’ perspective, and enabled us to further solidify the shared goals that we have in our life. And it was great for the kids…they are already asking when the next “All Boy Week” will be!! We’ll see…maybe it will become an annual tradition, though I definitely need some time to recover first. I have to say that a quiet office never felt so good as it did that first day back 😉 All things in moderation, I suppose.