How I Ruin Everything

I go back and forth thinking I’m doing an okay job balancing work and family, and then sure that I’m not. And this week’s proof of my failure to thrive was in the mail, proclaiming to everyone in the school community that I’m not within 50 yards of making it work.

Do I mean “rush down the stairs last week while brushing my teeth to help with a dispute gone wild, abandon my toothbrush in the kitchen, and brush my teeth with the kids’ brushes at midnight, for a week, because I’m too tired to fetch my own” failure to thrive? Sure, but also “ask my kids to find my keys or phone every morning because I seriously can’t keep track of anything” failure to thrive? Yep. And “let my kid curse like a sailor because I can’t seem to find consistency, in anything”? Uh-huh. That, too.

A bit of background: my dear little boys are finally in the same school. We are two months into a two-year phase, the only one of their lives, where they’ll be at the same school. And it’s heavenly. One drop off. One set of events. One community thoroughly disappointed in my level of commitment.*

*I’m assuming that disappointment. I might be projecting, just a wee bit, since I’m completely disgusted with my level of commitment. But I’m pretty sure the other parents, teachers, and staff have noticed, too. I see the way they look at me…smiling and waving. Making small talk. They clearly hate me.


When my oldest started kindergarten five years ago, I cried the first day. I was in the classroom twice a week. I knew all the kids’ names by the end of the week, and they wrote me thank you notes when the year ended. The second child, who started kindergarten this year, got none of that. I drop him, greet the teacher, and all but run out of the schoolyard within 2 seconds of the bell ringing.

It helps that the second guy is very independent. (Probably because he hates me, too, though that’s another post.) It also helps that I’m rushing off to a job I enjoy, where I feel I’m doing valued work, and where I am cobbling together a flex schedule that lets me be with the boys every non-school hour. Or, at least, every non-school hour of my days. On their dad’s days, I work longer hours.

And that’s where some of the ruining comes in. I don’t mean the part about me ruining the kids because I have shared custody. That’s just to easy a target. I mean the part about me ruining everything else while I try to work full-time, be with my kids full-time, make shared custody as painless as possible, keep the house from appearing on an episode of Hoarders, and sleep at least 5 hours a night.

So what’s the big deal? What did I screw up this time? The news from the school comes home Thursdays. Thursdays are a dad day, and after school the sitter whom I gladly accepted as a hand-me-down from my brother and sister-in-law picks them up, feeds them, and takes them to soccer. Their dad brings them to my house at bedtime. So I see them for just a few minutes before bed. And the morning, though long, is pure chaos. I try to remember the Thursday folder of news from school, which the kids empty and put on my place at the dining table to read and sign. And I thought I was doing a good job of reading everything and keeping up with the announcements.

But I missed the school directory form. The completed directory arrived this week, replete with phone numbers and email addresses, physical addresses, and nicknames. My kids are each listed as only a name. No contact information for new friends to text for a playdate. No multiple ways to email us if one of the kids rescues an old lady from an oncoming bus, no information on how to call us if one of the kids punches another kid in the nose.

Yes, all of those are likely.

It was the last in a string of “I didn’t know that” or “did they tell us about that in advance?” instances last month, and I completely deflated. I felt invisible, in the way that most working parents tell me they do, excluded from events that happen at noon, at the mercy of cobbled together carpools and caretakers and school holidays and early-release days.

So when the directory showed that I’d missed the boat yet again, I chastised myself for letting things fall through the cracks. I chided myself for not committing the way I used to.


But I’m just as committed. It’s just that I used to commit to a different balance of children and work and writing and art and health and house. Now that the balance has shifted, I feel off my game, insecure, unstable. I’ve completely ditched health and writing, and am close to criminal in the neglect of the house.

The “I don’t know how to do this” feeling of newborn, of tantrums, of preschool questions, of eight-year-old attitude problems should be gone by now. But instead of living my life around being an intensely good parent, I’m shifting my priorities as they need a little bit less.

The learning curve is a different kind of steep. It’s the learning curve of going from undergraduate work to grad school. You know how to do all the things, but the level of intensity is higher.

The other night we had 30 minutes in which to get some tasks done. I asked one kid to practice piano and the other to get Monopoly ready while I quickly loaded the dishwasher. And then their dad came over to take one of them on a date (we trade each week taking one kid on a date so they get solo time and so it’s not always one parent with two kids) and the little guy cried that he didn’t get a chance to play with me because I “take too long doing cleaning things and don’t play with us or do anything fun.”

That is probably true for most parents. We have a lot of tactical, practical, boring, time-consuming work to do. But committing to multiple clients as the only adult in the household means I really don’t get much time with either child. I’m home before school and after school every day specifically to be with them. But it feels as though there aren’t enough hours in the day.

I don’t have a good chance of getting more hours out of the week, so maybe I should cut back on work or on expectations. Or maybe I’m still learning, and that I’ll figure out how to do everything I want, everything I need to do, and all the superfluous extras, including being accurately represented in the school directory. Some day.


Or maybe this is just the way it is. Hanging on by a thread, doing my best, disappointed by the results but still ahead of the game, when I’m really honest.

Is that just about how you feel about your life? Or am I the only one?


28 thoughts on “How I Ruin Everything

  1. Hahaha! Isn’t it standard when you have kids? I keep forgetting to take my boy to beavers, then last night we showed up half an hour late because if forgotten again… I don’t even have an excuse?! Shame on me… Urgh! 😘

  2. Dude, you sound really hard on yourself. Your kids play the piano AND monopoly? Without throwing the pieces all over the room in a rage? You are WINNING.

    My kids are both too young for school. I’ll see how it goes when it’s time for them to go.

    • My kid is sent to go play the piano when he’s beating up his brother, because I prefer those sounds to shrieking. And the monopoly one throws everything…EVERYTHING…but I like the stories where I fail on small things because I need a hair shirt. It’s the way I roll. 😜

  3. You are doing a great job. Don’t beat yourself up! The fact that you are home before school and after school to specifically be with your children shows that you are a great Mom and you put your children first. The fact that you can do a job that you enjoy and can therefore be independent makes you a happy person and a happy Mom makes happy children. Enjoy your children and enjoy your job. the juggling will improve with time. We all drop the ball sometimes. I remember when I took my three children to visit a friend who also has three children and I only left with two. Keep going and look to God for extra strength and wisdom.

    Jenny Young

  4. I am the same. I have 4 children + husband and most of the time I am doing too many things at a time. Also I am a bit chaotic as I never plan things. I often forget to sign papers or get things for school so I have to do it the very last second. I also have forgotten my oldest sons birthday once, because we where in such a rush in the morning (I felt terrible after I realized). I am sure there are a lot of parents out there, who are the same!

    • It’s probably wrong to make myself feel better by comparing myself to others, but I’m probably going to justify my major eff ups by saying that, at least this year, I didn’t forget any of my children’s birthdays. This year. Not promising anything for next year.

  5. Well, again I think we might be living in parallel universes. We’re in a new school, in a new location this year, which, overall, I love, EXCEPT I keep screwing up. I’m working more from home, so my office attire is often less-than-professional (yoga pants & a messy hair bun), and welcome to the south, these moms doll up for morning drop-off. Strike one. So, two months into the school year, I realize I haven’t received a class contact list for my first-grader, though I did get a generic letter summarizing October activities. I decided I should go through the giant stack of papers I’ve been…um…avoiding. And there it is. The form I was supposed to turn in the first week of school. I quickly emailed the room mother, apologized, told her we had moved here two days after school began, but that I’m happy to help out (send something in…) She responded promptly and said she’d add me to the list. She also mentioned that her kid loves my kid, and that she had also met him and commented that “he’s quite a character” leaving me wondering what on earth he did this time — this kid has no filter. I talked myself down and was feeling better until I checked my inbox and discovered she had “updated” the contact form and sent an email to the entire parent list saying now that we have W’s parents’ info, the list is complete. She even titled the damn message “WD’s (my kid) Parents’ Contact Info.” Could she be more subtle?! Whatever. I’m over it. We all do the best we can. The next week, W’s teacher sent me an email telling me how helpful W is and how good he is with one little boy in particular, who has some anxiety issues. When I asked my kid about it, I learned that the anxious kid is Room Mom’s son! Go figure, though I certainly can’t judge a poor kid with anxiety since my own panic sets in every time I pull into the school parking lot. I am the world’s worst school mom. I was great in preschool, but real school is another beast altogether, and I usually feel like I’m failing miserably. I’m in awe of parents with more than two kids. I’m at my max with school stuff, and I only have two. Great to see you back!

    • You sweet darling…I can only imagine how I’d obsess over the quite a character and the “our parenting loser finally submitted info” email. But I don’t think she meant either unkindly. Your son helps her son, and other parents are probably glad to have your info.
      It’s all too much.
      (By the way, hand your husband the stack of papers you’re avoiding. They’re his job now.)

  6. This just doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. So… I guess my life is going fine. I don’t even know if DC1 is in the school directory or not. If he’s not, I certainly don’t think that anybody is judging me for his omission, and if they are, so what?

    • And this is why you’re invited to my house every evening at 5pm to talk me down. My kids are healthy and happy and make friends. My job is awesome. My divorce is kind and gentle. My intentions are good.
      Done, right?

  7. I think it’s important to point out how extremely gendered this is. Would a man feel the same sense of a lack of commitment? That he was doing something wrong? Would he feel guilty about having a career? Would he feel like he was doing it at the “expense” of other things? Would he be expected to carve out time around lunch to be a “room parent” or whatever? Doubtful. I don’t think he would be expected to give a second thought when important client work came up that required skipping out on something at the school and I don’t think he would be expected to feel any sense of guilt when balances shifted. Don’t beat yourself up, is what I’m saying, to echo others! Entrenched gender inequality is part to blame here, not you. We all forget paperwork from time to time. It says nothing about your ability as a parent, workers, citizen, human, etc.

  8. I became a single mother this year, too, and identify with pretty much all of this. I pretty much did it all when I was married, too, but this is a different kind of doing it all. For me, “this is gendered” is possibly useful when it comes to guilt or feeling judged (because yes, screw that), and much less so when it comes to the very real problem of time scarcity. I don’t struggle with the idea of working, or of having my kid in daycare, but I do struggle with the fact that right now, the scales are not weighted in a direction that’s particularly good for us and the life I want us to have. All I can do is begrudgingly accept that it’s a fact of life, a tough season for now. And leave the dishes until she’s gone to her dad’s.

    • (I should say–I get the spirit of Raye’s comment, and especially appreciate the last two sentences. I’m coming more from a place of not believing that the gendered examples of ‘what a typical man would think/feel’ are something to be held up as something to strive for, so really just thinking about the limitations of this perspective.)

    • Paper plates are the guilt-free domain of single parents. And grocery delivery. I could kiss square on the mouth the people who launched grocery delivery in my city.

  9. Great Post! I applaud you for being so open and positively raw. I can certainly relate to some of what you are experiencing! Don’t be too hard on yourself, as they say, sometimes the hardest critic is yourself! I just started my blog today and am excited to share my experiences of Motherhood and coming across this post definitely gave me a smile because I know I am not the only one who struggles with being too hard on themselves! Keep up the great work!

  10. I’m still giggling about the beavers. I wanna drop myself off at the beavers.

    Glad you’re back on blog Nappers.

  11. I know exactly how u feel and mine are now 18,20,and 21 it never ends. They go from preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle school, highschool and college…dates, deadlines don’t end and my 20 yr old son still asks if I will buy him underwear and socks and send him to his school

  12. This post actually makes me so happy! Not because you’re failing (which, by the way you are not!) but because it’s exactly what I am going through right now. I’m only back in work for one week now, after having my first baby and I was hoping that this guilty feeling would subside, but it seems like it never really goes away! I just wrote a new blog post yesterday on the same thing!
    Oh well, at least I won’t be the only one living with perpetual mummy guilt. Chins up, working mum’s of the world – we’re all doing fine! xx

    • Oh, the guilt. I intentionally waited for a long time before I went back, because I really did want to be home with my boys when they were little. The guilt is much easier now because they’re old enough to understand and to manage. For each family, what’s right is just what’s right. And for me, always being convinced I’m failing at parenting despite being good at other things just feels right! ;-)

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