I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do…
Labor Day is as good a time as any to reflect on the challenges working parents face. I find it difficult to simply celebrate Labor Day without also recognizing how my job creates opportunity for sin in my life. While my confessions are my own, they might resonate with the experiences of other working parents. I love my job and I love being a mom. But I would be lying if I said that it is easy to live out these two vocations. I screw up all the time.
I confess my irritability.
When I am stressed out, the people who suffer the most are my husband and kids. I get cranky. I lose patience easily. I scream “Brush your teeth and get in the car, now! You’re making us late!” I rush us through dinner time conversation so that I can get to that stack of papers that won’t grade themselves. I miss opportunities for down time with my husband because I tell him “I have work to do.” So we don’t watch that movie together, or sit out on the patio and look at the stars after the kids are in bed.
I confess breaking day care rules to avoid canceling class.
This one is terrible, and I’ve done it more than once. I dropped off a feverish kid at day care, after giving her an extra dose of Infant Advil, just hoping that the Advil wouldn’t wear off until after my second class. Yes, I knew she was sick. Yes, I knew it would be better for her and for the other kids in the day care if she stayed home. But I thought that being a good teacher meant showing up to class and staying on the syllabus schedule. Students are paying gobs of money in tuition, so don’t I have an obligation to show up to class? At least this is how I rationalized it.
I confess my failures of self-care.
I confess that I usually eat lunch at my desk. And sometimes I forget to eat. Usually, if it is 4pm and I have a headache, I’ll remember that I haven’t had anything to eat since that coffee & toast at 6:30am. And even then sometimes I keep working, because I think “Crap, it is already 4! I have to leave in 45 minutes! I’ll eat in the car on the way to pick up the kids.” This is lousy self-care. I also don’t exercise nearly enough. I’m so proud of friends who go to the gym regularly. But I don’t make the time for that. I also tend to put everyone else’s doctor visits before my own, which means that my kids are all up to date on their vaccinations, doctor, and dentist visits, while I ignored a toothache for months until I finally went to the dentist and she told me I needed a root canal. Self-care fail.
I confess that I feed my family junk food.
Monday: Chicken nuggets and frozen peas. Tuesday: Tacos and beans. Wednesday: Mac-n-cheese and frozen broccoli. Thursday: Chef Boyardee. Friday: Pizza. And gummy vitamins each night to ease my guilt. I wind my way through the Costco frozen food aisles in search of easy meals that my kids will eat without complaining. (And, to point above, easy lunches I can store in the community freezer at work). We are detached from the joy of food preparation and become utilitarian. We don’t go to bed hungry, but we also don’t go to bed well fed. When I think of the effort it would take to make healthy meals from scratch, I tell myself I don’t have time.
I confess that I have used my kids’ screen time as me-time.
Sometimes that Peppa Pig or PJ Masks show provides just enough time for me to change out of my work clothes, go to the bathroom, throw dinner together, and pour myself a glass of wine. My daughter has started to tell me about products that she sees advertised on television. Which means I’ve let the program run on too long. Pediatricians warn that anything more than 20 minutes of screen time can be harmful for kids. It shapes their moods and their imaginations. It can stifle their creative play. They sit too long when they should be active. I know all of this, and yet sometimes I let the TV stay on too long because it makes my life easier, for 23 precious minutes.
I confess unholy attachment to my iphone.
Email has become increasingly important in my workplace. On January 1, 2016, I took my work email off my phone as part of a New Year’s Resolution. My resolution lasted five months. It was great while it lasted. I slid back into iphone dependence when I taught a summer course in Paris, France, and needed to be accessible to students in case of emergency. But it has been hard to go back to my pre-summer habits. If I’m perfectly honest, I like feeling the sense of control I have when I am up to date on my emails. I’ll hear a notification chirp and think, “Another email” and part of me thinks I feel more important as a worker because I have this reminder that I have a job and email to check. But notifications can happen anytime– when I’m driving, when I’m at the park with the kids, when we’re having dinner. A friend reminded me recently that many people will email with a sense of urgency– “Fix this, now!” and it feels good to fix something for someone. But often these are not real emergencies. Do I really need to let me work life interrupt my life outside work?
Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault…
I love my job. But managing life as a worker and life as a mother is a real struggle for me. I can only imagine how much harder it would be for working mothers who don’t find personal fulfillment in their jobs or who continue to struggle to make ends meet. Yet even though I have this sense of privilege in that I enjoy my job, I also know I can do better. I could aim to start off with a goal of one homemade meal a week and work it up to two. Less television, more puzzles. Maybe that lunch time yoga class at the workout facility on campus. Maybe then I will be less cranky.
I know I am imperfect. Of course I am. But what I want to raise up for reflection today is the fact that sometimes it is precisely my attempt to be a “good worker” that leads me to sin. I need constant reminders: of God’s grace to heal and forgive when I make the wrong choices; of strategies for balancing two important vocations; of the need for communal discernment about ways to challenge how our workplaces creep into the rest of our lives in unhealthy ways.
As I think about Labor Day, of course I think we should celebrate all workers and the dignity of work. We should remind ourselves of the importance of labor unions, collective bargaining, safe working conditions, just wage laws, and other movements grounded in Catholic social teachings that emphasize the dignity of work and the importance of social stability. But we should also think about how to resist when too much is asked of us professionally. I’m still trying to discern what counts as “too much.”
I ask Blessed Mary, Ever Virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.