I ended up having a long, somewhat upset talk with Kevin the other night, and we sorted it all out, but I’m trying to figure out how to make it comprehensible and also how to improve things going forward, so let me try to talk it out here.
The basic problem:
a) I am very very busy, and at any given moment, there are a dozen different things I’d like to be working on. I love my work. There is a lot of it. I want to do a lot of it. I suspect cancer and increased sense of mortality has contributed to my trying to accomplish all the things. I get pretty stressed out from feeling like I’m falling behind.
b) Simultaneously, I feel like I haven’t been giving enough time to people I care about the last several years, and I feel stressed and guilty about that — for Kevin and Jed and the kids primarily, also for other close friends, also for casual friends, community members, etc.
c) I also would like to chill out more for myself, but that’s very hard to do when I feel behind on things.
Honestly, I think, speaking purely selfishly, what would help me the most with all this is if people were willing to be with me while working and helping me with my things.
For example, if Anand wants me to come play video games with him, I like doing that, but I have a hard time carving out time without feeling stressed about it. If he’d spend an hour helping me with yardwork first, then I could happily spend an hour playing video games with him afterwards.
I’m feeling, on a family level, like we’ve sort of failed, Kevin and I, in not setting up more group chore habits. We all have chores in the house, and the kids generally do theirs with a minimal amount of prompting these days, but we end up doing a lot of it separately, when we could be, say, dealing with laundry as 2-4 people in a group, and chatting while we do, and it would be much more pleasant.
The way we do it now is much more flexible and gives everyone more autonomy, but it also means we’re mostly on our own for it, and it can be a little lonely, and also, more of the labor burden falls on me and Kevin than it probably needs to.
I was a little despairing the other night, talking to Kev about this at 2 a.m., and saying it was too late to redo those family habits at this point. He doesn’t think it’s too late, but Kavi’s already in high school and her life is getting busy, and Anand is also very good at amusing himself most of the time these days, and I dunno. We’ve tried on occasion to institute family chore time in the past, and it’s never stuck as a regular thing.
Maybe we should try again, but I spend a lot of my time trying to set up better systems, and often they work well — when I’ve tried one over and over and failed at it, it’s hard to believe it’s worth trying again. Kevin says he can be the one to try to set this one up. Maybe that’ll work. I dunno.
Another related aspect of this has to do with communication and loneliness. When I’m working, I’ll often have a device going with a podcast or TV show — it helps me focus, half-listening to the thing, and also keeps me entertained through tedious tasks.
BUT, the downside is that if someone wanders into the room, they’re almost certainly going to assume that I’m engaged in my media, and that I don’t want to stop it to talk to them.
I actually care very little about the media most of the time, so part of what might help is being more explicit about that, about getting used to asking each other if we’re particularly into what we’re watching / listening to, or if we’d be open to switching to something communal instead, or just chatting? I think Kevin and I are going to work on that with each other, at least.
And wrapped up in all of this is a sort of prioritization thing — why should my feeling like I have all this work to do mean that other people have to help me with my work in order to spend time with me? They shouldn’t, clearly. And yet, I’m not sure how to get past the tension that comes from my feeling behind, enough that I can put all the work aside and just spend time with them. I know it’s not fair to expect them to do labor just to hang with me, and yet, that’s pretty much what I want (maybe need?).
The family is all very good about helping me with specific things when I ask them to (the kids only complain a little), but that gets wearying on my end — I feel like I’m bothering them and making them work to help me all the time, and so I try to give them small things that they can get through quickly and get back to their own time.
What I’d love would be for them to wander in to wherever I’m working and ask, “Can I help with that?” Sometimes the answer would be no, but often it would be yes. And then we could chat while cutting marshmallows or whatever, and it would be lovely. I think.
And for friends who want to hang out with me, and know I’m busy, and hesitate to bother me, I don’t necessarily need them to help with my work, but if I know they’re fine with my working WHILE we chat, maybe while they do their own knitting or whatever, that would be so great.
Gah, this is all somewhat of a jumble in my head still. I’m not sure writing it all out helped, exactly. Maybe a little.
EDITING TO ADD: Okay, I think some of these comments helped clarify things for me.
Part of the problem is that many things that used to be my hobbies have, over the last few years, morphed into Serendib House (cooking, textiles, small press, etc.) = a small business, with several part-time employees, aka, a job. (Think Martha Stewart, on smaller scale.)
It’s not yet a job that sustains the family economically, and it might never be — but it could evolve into that, and be the job that pays for the kids’ college, or lets me quit my day job and eventually write full-time. And even if it fails at that, it’s certainly a job that Kevin and I have discussed and take seriously as part of my work, to the extent of investing tens of thousands of dollars of family money into printing cookbooks, for example.
Serendib House is basically a start-up, as if I’d started a side gig opening a restaurant. And it may not break even for five years, or turn a profit for longer than that, and that’s fine — that’s part of starting a small business, you expect start-up costs.
And I’m perfectly comfortable expecting kids to do age-appropriate things to support the family economy, whether that means Kavi watching her brother for an hour after school until we both get home from teaching, or having her come along to help me with set-up for a weekend bazaar event.
I don’t see that as different from expecting Anand to take out the trash or empty the dishwasher — these tasks are all part of the family economy — everyone contributes according to their abilities.
So I think I need to have a sit-down with the family to make sure everyone is on the same page here, that we all take Mommy’s small business seriously, and treat it basically the same as her professor day job. (Kevin already does, but we haven’t really discussed it with the kids that way.)
Even if it looks like I’m just enjoying a hobby, and even if the task I’m doing is something that’s been feminized and therefore minimized culturally in terms of its worth, like sewing.
I think everyone will be on board with all of that, actually, and it’s mostly a matter of articulating it, so I don’t feel like I’m asking favors when I need help with some aspect, and also so they know to pitch in without asking, the same way Kevin (and Jed) take on household responsibilities.
Okay, here’s some of the community service piece. I put in an average of 20 hours / week on community service right now, which is stepped down from the 30 hours / week I was doing a month ago. I don’t think I can step it down more without seriously compromising the work for one or the other.
SLF: I run a non-profit, the SLF. It has been in low-key mode for 15 years or so, but a few years ago, we made the decision (once I’d recovered from cancer and my kids weren’t small anymore), that it was finally time to start doing more of what we’d started out wanting to do. The scope of the project is potentially global, and it’s basically my legacy work — this is what I want to leave after me when I die, the culmination of 30-50 years in literary arts. Unfortunately, we were just ramping up when COVID hit, which slowed us down, but we’re still making progress, and are now at a point where we have two half-time employees and have started getting broader community support; I think in 3-5 years, it’ll be in stable enough shape that I can hand it off entirely and it will continue to grow.
School board: I didn’t plan to run for office again this cycle — between the small business and the SLF (and my day job as professor / writer), I had decided to prioritize career for a few years, and come back to public service later, if there seemed a need. But then the pandemic hit, and when the last local election rolled around, it was unclear whether there would actually be enough people even running for school board, which might’ve put us in a bad position with the board needing to appoint multiple people. This was particularly unfortunate given that we were reaching the culmination of a decade-long racial equity initiative. So I decided to run, and was elected, and now serve, but it is extremely time-consuming. We just passed the last step in that equity initiative, and I admit, I’ve thought about stepping down and letting the board appoint a replacement. But there’s a potential cost to that, and right now, it feels like a last resort. I’m a queer woman of color, and there aren’t a lot of local similar people available with the resources to be able to serve on the school board, unfortunately.
So I think where I’ve gotten to with the reframing of this is:
– Dad works 40-60 hrs / week (in a flexible but demanding job)
– Mom works 80 hrs / week (in two flexible but demanding jobs)
– Mom also does 20 hrs / week of community service
– people (family, friends, etc.) would like more time with Mom, and Mom isn’t sure how to do that without compromising work or service responsibilities
To clarify, I’m not looking for advice on how to reduce my work and service responsibilities. Kevin and I have been working on that for many years, outsourcing, etc., and you are extremely unlikely to find solutions that we have not found yet.
My question is, GIVEN the work and service responsibilities above, how do I
a) keep from feeling guilty about not having more time for family and friends?
b) strategize more effective ways to spend time with them when possible?