While I always welcome more time with my kids under “normal” circumstances, I was somewhat relieved to see my 6 year old off to school this past Monday morning. I know many parents feel the same way after the intensity of the holidays. I felt guilty about feeling that way and I mentioned it at our first New Sabbath Project of 2012. While I am a huge advocate for work-life balance, I found that five weeks at home quite suddenly – first with just one, then both kids – no support, a husband at work, and expectations that I too needed to find paid work (try doing a job interview with a 2 year old crying in the background) – as is currently the case – while keeping up the house and everything that goes along to it – a shock to the system. It felt just as out of balance as being at work long days, having little to do with my kids. I was craving some intellectual stimulation that came with adult conversations and work-related topics.
One of our guests remarked that perhaps many of us simply like our work lives more than our family lives BECAUSE it’s so hard to raise children – and that’s why we spend so much time at work. He hadn’t intended to offend his own wife with the suggestion – but he did. While another guest suggested that men – being the bigger earners generally – which is in itself another story – don’t have the luxury to contemplate work-life balance, I disagreed with him. It’s not about a love of work but about the difficulties that come with raising children in isolation – without communities of women to support each other – unlike the days my mother was home. I would never romanticize the days when fewer women worked outside the home and the lack of choice that came with that. But over the last 5 weeks – at home alone with either one or both of my children, I realized I was suddenly launched into a culture where childcare workers are the majority – and have understandably built communities based on geography, culture and language – and have no interest in spending time with mothers, despite the friendships formed between the children. So, not quite welcomed into the paid childcare worker group and finding so few stay-at-home parents you know well enough to spend time with or connect. Facebook doesn’t exactly cut it in terms of building real, in-person relationships where you look out for each other’s children. It seems no one – including me — is around long enough to invest time and energy into building these relationships. I guess we can’t blame people. But, under the circumstances I’ve described, I can understand why many women opt for paid, out of the house labour.
It’s not that we aren’t trying to build community in our own ways. I’ve been organizing kids’ classes in my home for years while working flexible hours or part-time. In that all that time I have rarely met parents except over email. Even those classes could be seen as part of the over-scheduling of our children and ourselves that rarely lead to relaxed time and unstructured play. People come in, pay a fee, and leave when it’s over.
Some other guests from our last Friday New Sabbath project said their new years resolution was to expand their sphere of people with whom they spend time. Our communal dinner, according to them was a good start. They say they’ve always preferred to stay home but realized that without a dedicated community building “project”, their circle of friends , old and new remained relatively limited. Interestingly, when it came time for blessings our female friend spoke of the people she passed jogging in the park that morning – people who decided to smile back at her as she ran past. It actually stood out and was therefore, worth acknowledging. Sweet but somehow sad, really.
Still, when I talk about putting this together each week, the question I get asked over and over is “how” to do it. One friend and frequent New Sabbath Project guest said that all she could imagine doing on a Friday night (aside from being hosted at our place) was lying down on her couch and doing nothing because she’d gone so hard all week at work. I told her to keep it simple and have friends bring some good wine and a little bit of the food. I told her it wasn’t easy for us and that we had taken some breaks over the years when things had gotten too over-scheduled. But I can’t help but thinking she perhaps missed the point. Perhaps we’re all missing the point.
We’re too busy and too disconnected to connect. Fear telling us we won’t be able to do it – make new friends, make dinners, connect to our neighbours or our larger communities – building walls instead of removing them. May we all take more time in 2012 for opening our homes and joining others – even last minute. Make and share food – smile at strangers – and use time WITH new friends to acknowledge special moments.