Something’s Gotta Give: Balancing Parenting and Social Justice Work

Something’s Gotta Give: One Day of Parenthood and (Social Justice) Work

It’s 6am when sound starts to trickle through the silence—voices on the radio followed by the waking murmurs of a toddler. You press snooze and snuggle under the duvet, giving yourself ten tentative minutes of stillness. Seven minutes pass before a tuneless toddler song, and an older voice mumbling about cereal, make you decide to give up and get up.

The first two hours of your day are love and logistics. There are soft, squidgy cheeks to nuzzle, nappies to change, breakfasts to prepare, clothing to wrestle on via promises and tickling and mild threats, teeth brushing to coordinate, schoolbags to pack, arguments to diffuse. The kids give you kisses and tell you that you are the best superhero. They also wail loudly at you because sharing is hard, they need cuddles and will not let go, and you cannot tell them it is the weekend like they want it to be. There is snatching and clinging and shouting, and wilfully forgetting how to put shoes on.

“If everyone contributes when they can and recuperates when they cannot, the energy can sustain long enough to move things far enough.”

You have to give yourself attention too. Tepid coffee, granola, a quick hot shower, a pee with the door shut and kiddie riots directly outside, your favourite trousers already worn three times this week, odd socks, a sort of matching top. You are soft and clean. You experience a moment of contentedness before something your partner said or didn’t do, or is saying now, rips up your vibe. You try to breathe in calm, but it evades you. You pile out of the house with your brood, totally tense. Your internal dialogue flits to the classes and books and rituals that will give you the centeredness and compassion you need. You feel hopeful, but worse.

On the bus ride to work you notice there is so much to do and it takes so long to get to the start of it—you’ve already been busy for over two hours. You are a list writer because the mess in your head needs solidity and clarity, or it is too much. You have given yourself so many notebooks in your life, intent on filling them with prose and poetry, but all you can write are work related lists. Life admin in the margins. You pull out your latest notebook, Moleskine and brimming with purpose, and start listing today’s emails and tasks. You also list ideas and projects that deserve time, if only you had time to give. Your creativity is held captive on these pages. You get off the bus two stops early to walk, breathe and listen to Beyoncé. You stamp your stress into the ground and take in the autumn light. This kills time you could spend at your desk, but feels sustaining and vital.

Your day is fast flowing. You make coffee and work through your inbox, trying to balance this whack-a-mole task with space for your projects. You are continually co-opted into conversations that make you critique and re-imagine the world. You laugh hard and often. But attacks on your community co-opt you almost as much, and despair can suppress the mood like storm clouds gathering across a clear sky. Today has brought a setback. Twitter is abuzz, emails fly around. The situation is responded to—calmness and tenacity are pushed into the public sphere, pain and frustration felt behind the scenes. 

There is so much that has not been done as you leave in darkness. Endless tabs open in your mind with a sense of pressure like a storm before rain. You feel helpless and agitated and like you want to learn more and do more and be more. But when you are involved in movement work, building for social justice, this is the worst aspiration to have. You know energy comes from the different knowledge, different actions, different people at work. If everyone contributes when they can and recuperates when they cannot, the energy can sustain long enough to move things far enough. You think about the people around you, and you know you are winning together.

By six in the evening you are standing in the kitchen holding a tired toddler and stirring the contents of pots with one hand. Everyone wants dinner, but the kids change their minds the minute they get it. You negotiate with them while they tug at you and climb on you and mount irrational arguments and shout and sing. There is cacophony and mess for thirty long minutes. Everything relents when the older one manages to haggle some chocolate against your better judgement. You give the kids a piece each and the toddler stares and grins at you as they chew, like you shared your best secret. You give another piece just to watch their face again.

You are tired but living with the kind of privilege that allows you to end your day with Netflix and tea. There’s a slight unease as you wilfully opt out of reality, snuggling up with fictional worlds that don’t challenge you. You can’t watch the news because you will go to bed crying for the kids and parents and carers society is kicking to the curb. No one told you about the sad rage at injustice that parenthood brings. That you have to choose carefully when to give in to it, knowing how to keep yourself safe.

As your energy finally gives out, you stare into the night and will your mind to quiet down to sleep, and for sleep to stretch on unbroken. The moon hangs in the sky like an occult warrior, bright and steady. You find a strange comfort knowing it always returns to keep a calm and luminous gaze as everything moves under it.

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