Life Is Exhausting And Not Just For Parents

shutterstock_102621281__1393618815_142.196.167.223I’m not quite sure why I thought it would be easier than this. Maybe I was brainwashed by years of feel-good family movies and sitcoms. Family life isn’t supposed to be this hard, is it?

I read a post today in The New York Times called Getting Up In The Night Is Your Wife’s Job. It’s basically a young dad’s response to his mother when she seems confused by the fact that he wakes up to tend to his child in the night. Grandma comes from a different generation that thinks it’s always a mother’s job to do such things. It’s weird to think there are people who still even feel that way.

The father’s sentiment was sweet and true; both parents pretty much sign on for round-the-clock duty when they have kids. That’s how it should be. Not just for the division of labor – but for bonding purposes. My husband gets up for our kids in the night and it’s one thing they always miss when he is away. It wasn’t the sentiment of considering parenting an equal job that stuck with me, though. It was these few paragraphs:

Six years later, I still get up with my children. We have two of them now. I work in education, which means I have a white-collar education, but earn a blue-collar wage. I am an academic counselor at a traditional bricks-and-mortar university, sometimes I teach for that same university, and I teach two, sometimes three, classes at a time for an online university.

I get up early, and when papers are in, I come home late. Some days I don’t see my kids.

Mel’s busy too. She pregnant, a full-time mom of two, and a part-time student. I often come home late to find her in sweat pants, hunched over a keyboard, eyes bloodshot, both children asleep on the sofa, a movie on the TV.

This just depresses me – because it makes me realize how hard we all work. These paragraphs sound exhausting – and I read them through my own bloodshot eyes. And don’t think I’m just talking about parents, either. My sister works roughly eighty hours a week and my brother-in-law does the same. I’m not even sure how they could insert children into that life, although I know many, many people do. We’re all working our butts off.

When I really wrack my brain and think about it, I don’t know a single person who doesn’t feel completely overworked. I’m talking about people at many varying income levels, too. I can’t remember the last time I met someone who didn’t have nearly every minute of their day filled with varying obligations. Is this just adulthood – or is it really getting harder and harder to get by?

I’m glad this father comfortably shares parenting efforts with his wife, but is there a light at the end of the tunnel? A “white-collar education and a blue-collar wage” rings disturbingly true for way too many of us.

(photo: Blend Images/ Shutterstock)

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  • Crusty Socks

    “A ‘white-collar education and a blue-collar wage’ rings disturbingly true for way too many of us.”

    Nowadays, it’s not enough to have just a Bachelor’s… In many fields a Master’s isn’t even enough. Also, there are varying degrees of “higher education.” Merely having a degree doesn’t mean much, it’s where you get your degree and how you use it to leverage your position that matters far more.

    My parents pushed me hard… sometimes, coldheartedly hard, but looking at where I am on the social-economic ladder, I thank them everyday for it.

    • Véronique Houde

      The biggest problem to me is that universities most often don’t cater their programs to actual market needs. They build programs according to what they feel will earn the most money in research, and accept the amount of students, not according to what the work market needs, but according to their own clauses. So in most cases, you graduate from University with a completely worthless diploma that will absolutely NOT teach you how to do the job you want to do.

  • Bic

    Thank you for including all of us in this and not just parents. I appreciate it, especially this week.

  • K.

    I take your point, that the middle class in America is getting squeezed, but I don’t see this particular couple as a great example to make that point.

    If you decide to have children when you are adjuncting/junior faculty in the humanities and your partner is still a part-time student, then I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be financially stressed. It’s unreasonable to think you won’t be.

    I am in academia—I get the wage crisis for adjuncts (BELIEVE ME, I get it), but at the same time, the father’s sentiments nevertheless sound entitled to me. I mean, with all due respect to this man’s educational contributions, he might as well be saying, “I am an aspiring jazz pianist, my wife is a part-time student, we have two kids, and it’s not fair we aren’t able to afford daycare and put a downpayment on a house and that between my need to practice, nighttime gigs, and my wife’s part-time job and classes, we don’t have enough time with our kids.”

    Yes, you are correct that people earning minimum wage should not have to struggle in the ways that they do—but that’s very different than making specific choices about your career and having unrealistic expectations about what kind of lifestyle that affords.

    • Harriet Meadow

      You’re right. Everyone who wants kids should just make a bunch of money. =)

    • K.

      Nope–don’t believe I argued that. Minimum wage (and therefore every income bracket above it) should be a livable wage–for parents and non-parents, and it’s not. That’s a problem.

      This couple, however, does not appear to be representative of that reality. They instead represent a class of people that might be in a lower income bracket, but are nevertheless *quite* advantaged in other ways, such as access to education (and higher ed,for that matter) and the ability to CHOOSE a certain career path that IS white collar. The entitlement aspect that I was noting is the fact that privileged people (and I define privilege more by economic mobility rather than the actual money you have or came from) tend to have a delusion that they should have job satisfaction AND a preferred lifestyle without connecting one with the other. The reality is that doing the job you want to do does not guarantee you’ll get to live the life you want to live. This man made choices that don’t make sense to me–it seems pretty deluded to think that you can be a contract staff at a university in something like academic counseling and your wife can be a p/t student and that you can support two kids WITHOUT being financially and emotionally overextended. Now, maybe he SHOULD be paid better, but that’s a different article. If you have the choice to choose a certain career–which is why I said this has to do with white-collar privilege, not blue-collar and minimum wage workers–then you have to look at what the realities of that career is. You should not go into a career that IS low-paying and/or highly demanding of your time (justifiably or not) and then complain that you don’t make enough money or have enough time.

      By all means–do what you love. But don’t mistake doing what you love with having everything you want.

    • Mandy

      I get this. I ma high school teacher and every day I see the entitlement they have been raised to believe they deserve. “You didnt give me an “A”?! But I FINISHED it! ” as if showing up to class is enough , regardless of the quality of work. The kids I teach turn into grown ups who expect the same entitlements , just on a bigger scale.

      so like I said, I get it . And Im willing to bet a whole bunch of other readers might not

  • Guest

    If my MIL said that I’d be a little pissed. Thankfully, I’ll most likely be staying home when we have kids so I’ll take nighttime duties (at least during the week) especially because my husband is a very, very mean person when he is sleepy.

  • No Idea: Daddy Blog

    Maria: I wrote the essay you mention in this post. I just wanted to thank you for writing such a wonderful response to it.



  • MamaLlama

    I’m always shocked that any articles that discuss ‘work’ outside to home garners such few responses. Agree on all points. Now working in public education, and watching many parents where neither parents works but instead receive public assistance is starting to make me a bit jaded. I started to type examples but know they will come off condescending you actually see it in action.