Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Family Work: A Physics Lesson

Yesterday I wrote about Laura Stack's 2nd pillar of personal productivity, which is Priorities.  (Stack's book Find More Time:  How to Get Things Done at Home, Organize Your Life, and Feel Great About It is the current focus of my Tuesday Life Management 101 discussions.)  According to Stack and her Personal Productivity quiz, "priorities" is something I'm fairly good at.  

But from where I sit, it feels like my "priorities" are keeping me from getting things done.  

I know full well that family would not be mentioned prominently in the mission statement of the man with whom I share my life, were he to fashion one.  But it is at the top of mine.  It is an important part of how I see myself, of who I want to be in the world.  But it is not the whole picture.  And it is the rest of the whole that fills my calendars and my to-do lists, and dominates my weekly lists of achievements.  

I fear that this post could turn out to be yet another dreary rehash of pre/post/quasi-feminist observations about women's continuing difficulty in blending "work" and family.  But despite the Second Wave Feminism that predated my wifing and mothering, and all the career advances, the "sequencing," the "opting out" of stay-at-home moms and recent "back to work" lures that have shaped our relationship to mothering and other work, many of us, myself included, still have trouble giving family work the respect it deserves.  It shocks me to have to admit that, even though mothering in particular was a focus of much of my earlier academic work, I still don't get the physics of it.  Specifically, I function as though I don't recognize that it takes time.   On some days, some weeks, some months and years, a lot of time.  

So why do I expect to fit it in around the rest of the things I try to do?  Why does it merit only interstitial status?

Partly, I suppose, because my culture tells me that I could be parenting much more efficiently, with the energy and attention left over from my more worldly activities--in my spare time.  And it seems that so many other women manage to do so, and with seemingly stellar "results."  By rights, I should be mostly done raising my three kids.  But I'm not.  By rights, the younger two shouldn't face so many obstacles at this stage of their lives.  But they do.

Granted, much of what they still need from me is difficult to schedule.  Their crises can't really be booked ahead.  But at least I need to stop judging my daily accomplishments by a standard that discounts this very real, and time-consuming work.  It would be good, too, if I could stop blaming myself for their difficulties, not all of which are the result of my imperfect child rearing.  

It is likely that the priority I place on family, and in particular on supporting my sons as they scrabble their way into a presently unwelcoming future, will continue to interrupt my progress on other fronts.  If my mind is where my heart is, this will be better than okay. 

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