by Brooke Blanchard
My grandmother – a lifelong New Yorker – was as tough as she was warm. She lived through the depression, lost her brother in the South Pacific, married and raised 3 daughters, and worked for decades as a school teacher. When I was in college, I regularly visited her apartment for dinner and would often be on the receiving end of lectures that, much like her personality, could seem at odds with each other.
Most often she lamented extensively about my single status. She advised me to sit in the lobby of the Columbia University Law School with my hair down and act like I was lost. A nice law student would surely come to my aid, and marriage (and children) would soon follow. She said this with complete sincerity and unfeigned urgency. One evening however, she sat down next to me and told me that no matter what, I must always vigorously pursue interests and work outside of my marriage and children. To a 19-year-old, these sounded like conflicting priorities that couldn’t co-exist together. Today, I know they are conflicting priorities. But they can coincide via a complicated juggling act.
Millions of men and women struggle everyday to balance hands-on dedicated parenting with successful professional pursuits. The decision to pursue both can be personal, financial necessity, or both. In doing so however, life can become a one-person game of Twister; contorting your body into absurd and uncomfortable positions with a hand and a foot in different spheres of life, all while trying not to topple over. It’s a constant push and pull that more often than not makes you feel like neither side is getting a fair shake. A deadline is missed and a toddler is yelled at for no reason other than stress.
Enrolling your child in a co-op preschool is just one way parents can be more hands-on and involved in their kid’s life. And while it is incredibly fun, it can also put a lot of time management pressure on those who also have to work. It’s another circle in the game of Twister. Whether you work full time in an office, part time at home, or some combination of both, fulfilling your co-oping responsibilities and keeping it as a priority in your life can be difficult. Not to mention the feelings of guilt it creates when another parent needs someone to step in and you consistently decline due to a prior professional commitment.
This is not to say that only working parents struggle with conflicting priorities. I’ve met incredible people at CCNS. Men and women who have jobs, who manage their household and other kids, who take care of ailing family members around the clock, and who are still figuring all this stuff out. Everyone has a story that is compelling and filled to the brim with hard decisions, anxiety, and fulfillment. As a mother of two with no childcare, a part-time job, and an evening gig as an adjunct professor, I felt inclined to focus on the issue of working and co-oping because I live it.
Working and co-oping can be a challenge. Sometimes it works out just fine. Sometimes it does not. Both are perfectly acceptable, and families will endeavor to do what they believe is best for them. Perhaps, in between complaining about not wearing my hair down enough and inspiring me to professional and financial independence, my grandmother could have warned me about how challenging it would be to balance the priorities of family and work. However, knowing her, if I had asked how to do it, she would have looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Figure it out hon.”