Working Hard or Hardly Working

I had a meltdown this morning. A full-on ugly-cry meltdown.

It was about many things — money, debt, parenting, ALL THE FEELS — but mostly about me being overtired. Like a child, and since I was a child, I have always been the type of person who gets emotional when she gets tired. But one of the things that BDH and I discussed mid-meltdown was working.

It is interesting, the perspective we have about how hard others work and what constitutes “hard work”.

Years ago, BDH and I made the choice that I would quit working in the corporate life I loathed and instead become a full-time mom. It meant halving our income, but we figured it was more important for someone to be home with our kids than to have all the material stuff. But then, first with infertility treatment and then adoption, we found our debts began to pile up, while our income increased less quickly, with raises and cost of living and whatnot.

So the coming of the holidays and the thoughts of spending, plus some other personal circumstances coming into the discussion, made me come a little unhinged this morning.

BDH works hard. VERY hard. He works long hours, and with soccer, he’s not able to be home all that much during the week. And he’s tired on the weekends, but he tries his best to be present and do the Dad thing and spend as much quality time with Stinkerbelle as he can. And I know that he works these long, hard hours so that we can afford to live the life we chose, here, and with me at home with That Girl.

So I try very hard to bear that in mind, in everything. I spend almost nothing on myself in the course of the year in terms of material things. I shop in clearance sections online and take advantage of sales to shop for others. I try to shop for groceries with a budget. And our house needs a lot of work, but we can’t afford it, so we try to make it work as best we can.

And I try very hard not to talk about buying stuff, except in the abstract, “wouldn’t-it-be-nice” and “when-we-win-the-lottery” sense. Because I am acutely aware of just how hard he works to give us all the comforts we have, and how much it hurts him when he thinks he’s not able to give us all the extras we could dream about.

So, this morning, I was melting down, and insisting it was nothing, because I didn’t want to sound like I was complaining, or ungrateful, or unappreciative of all his efforts. But we got to talking, and in the course of talking, BDH came to the conclusion that I was overtired.

Overtired, he said, because I am working too hard.

I disagreed.

There’s a scene in Love, Actually that I relate to, where Emma Thompson’s character Karen says,

The trouble with being the Prime Minister’s sister is, it does put your life into rather harsh perspective. What did my brother do today? He stood up and fought for his country. And what did I do? I made a papier machĂ© lobster head.

I see others around me, friends, peers, whatever, making gains in the world — particularly since I walked away from big salaries and job titles and all that, in favour of, you know, NONE — and I sometimes feel like what I am doing has no worth, or that I have nothing to contribute in social situations, or that we will never get ahead financially. It is easy to lose perspective in a job like mine, where you are alone with a small child or a computer most of the time.

You begin to lose sight of where your value lies.

But BDH never does, and this morning, he started talking about what I do in the course of the day. I get up with Stinkerbelle and get her breakfast and dressed and ready for her day so that BDH can get ready for his. I get her to school and then rush home to do a couple of hours of work, paying work, before I go back and get her after school is done. Then lunch — mealtimes are still an ordeal, at least an hour of cajoling and pleading and begging — some school-skills stuff or playtime with Stinkerbelle. And if she’s tired or has some quiet time maybe I can sneak in some work or housework in the afternoon. Then it’s cooking and dishes and getting dinner on the table. Another hour or hour and a half of dinner, and getting the kid into bed. Then if work didn’t happen during the day, it happens at night. Along with maybe some laundry.

He said I work hard, really hard, doing a job on top of my work taking care of Stinkerbelle and the house. And that I sell myself short.

I had never really thought about it before, from someone else’s perspective. I guess, from the outside, it seems like a lot. It doesn’t feel like it, mostly because I spend my time dwelling on how poorly I feel I am doing at my job as Mom, and not really celebrating or appreciating the good I do with her. And my paying work is bringing in a little bit of money, but it’s such a far cry from the salary I used to make that I really devalue it.

And I shouldn’t, because we really do benefit from the extra cash. Just like I shouldn’t devalue what I do with Stinkerbelle because she really does benefit from having a parent home with her all the time. And that we are very fortunate to be in the position to be able to do so.

It was a good discussion to have, even though it was first thing in the morning, and I was a crying mess, and Stinkerbelle was the usual Four Year Old Drama Llama, all while BDH was trying to get out the door to work. As BDH said, “The women in my life are having ALL THE FEELS this morning.” It gave me some clarity on an aspect of my life I had lost some perspective on, and while other issues I was upset about still have to be worked on, it certainly helped.

It took awhile longer for the sting to leave from behind my eyes, and the feels to abate, but by mid-afternoon I was getting my groove back. I am grateful for BDH’s support in so many ways, but this morning was really important to me. Whenever I feel like what I do is less than other, it’s nice to have someone who has an appreciation for how hard it can actually be, and that he appreciates that I am working hard, as opposed to hardly working.

And to remind me that I should, too.

4 thoughts on “Working Hard or Hardly Working

  1. I think our culture makes it difficult for those of us not getting up and leaving the house and going to a job every day to feel like we’re working. Even if you’re working at home, like I did for a few years, people assume that you’re not “really” working and that you can just work whenever you feel like it and can take off whenever your want. I know I had people say as much to me when I worked at home, even though I had to get up at six a.m. to make my noonish/1 p.m. daily deadline or not get paid.


  2. Oh Cinn – never doubt what you do isn’t hard work. It is! The hardest job is being a stay-at-home momma and one who works part time too…hard stuff…the only thing that is harder work is marriage.

  3. I know where you are coming from. I didn’t have a high-powered corporate job, I was a simple office assistant until I lost my job last month. I have been home since last October with lay off pay and feel completely useless at home. My son is almost 10 and is in school until 16h30 every day. I am a bad housekeeper and it hasn’t improved since I’ve been home….I start cleaning one closet and then get bored and go off to start some other de-cluttering area but really don’t get into it.

    What I miss most is the day-to-day contact with adults and generally with people with whom I had created good relationships.

    You made the best decision for your family at the time. Perhaps when Stinkerbelle is older, you can go back to work full-time. I am hoping something comes up for me but Italy is in full-crisis and it seems 50+ trilingual women are not what the market is looking for. So…I have to find something to bring in some moolah cause when lay off pay ends, we will be in trouble….it’s almost impossible to survive on one measly salary in Italy.

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