I was interviewed the other day about my involvement in advocacy on behalf of college students who are also parenting. Apparently a story is being written about the six+ years I've been a part of a group that does things to help remove barriers to student parents' access to the full University experience. We've done some awesome things; I'm very honored to have been a part of it all.
The interviewer asked me about the conflict between the demands of parenting and the demands of being a student, which got me thinking: I've been stressed out for most of Twelve's life. Between the stress of being a college student and the stress of being an underemployed college graduate, there were maybe a couple of years of regular life - total.
This makes me sad.
On the one hand, it's good for children to learn that parents have other important priorities in their lives and that we do not always practice perfect parenting.
On the other hand, it's lousy to be reminded of all the times that you haven't been the parent you want to be.
Thanks a lot for the guilt trip, interviewing story-writing dude! (He is actually a great guy - his daughter just graduated from Twelve's school and we got to chat a bit about that.)
As I've made decisions in the last several months to work less and be home with/for Twelve more, I've really been conscious of the effect that stress has on our interactions since she's become an adolescent. When I've been worried about money or trying to get a paper written or studying for an exam, I just didn't have as much emotional energy left for her. When she senses that I'm stressed out, I think it affects her behavior now in a way that it didn't in the past. I can't quite put my finger on the difference, but it's almost like she's getting defensive and fighting back, or something.
Structuring my life so that I can be home a lot this summer and after school next year just feels right. It means that I will be able to respond to whatever parts of Twelve's life that she wants to share with me (according to my research, these will become fewer and fewer from here on out). I'll have time to supervise school performance more closely (sigh). I may even postpone the pursuit of a tenure-track professorship - assuming that's even what I want - until after high school (gulp).
All of this is absolutely an exercise of privilege, of course, and I'm intentionally as conscious as I can be of the way luck, systematic privilege, and my life skills and choices have worked together to make this possible at this time. I'm looking at it in the same way that I did the decision to send her to Waldorf kindergarten: I'm not going to not do it because it's something that's unavailable to so many others. I'm going to do the best that I can for my daughter, period. Hypocritical? Maybe. Pragmatic? Yeah. Welcome to the space between the principle and the reality.
Also, this sets back my plan to buy a new(er) car by at least six years, so if you want to be a sanctimonious pedant, go do it somewhere else.