Sunday, November 6, 2011

How to Try on a Big Decision

All of my advice on making a big decision came from a person who didn’t have children. Now that I have a child, I can see how my decisions affect this new life that I’m responsible for, and let me tell you, it does complicate things. I don’t think my prior advice is invalid, but I feel like it doesn’t account for this feeling of responsibility for a child’s experiences and development.

So, as a giver of advice on decision making, it turns out I have been a huge hypocrite for nearly two years. For two years, I have been avoiding a decision about work and staying home with my son. I have been avoiding this decision by trying to do it all: I stay home and take care of him during the day, and I do my freelance work at naptime and at night, after he’s in bed.

When my workload isn’t that heavy, this feels totally manageable. I spend a few hours each day on work, and then get to bed at a reasonable hour, with enough time to talk to my husband and even read a bit.

But when things really get rolling, burnout approaches very, very quickly, and suddenly I’m cranky, tired and just feeling overwhelmed. Then, just when I think I can’t take any more and something has to give, work slows down and I feel like I can continue on.

But even when things slow down, I recognize that I am just avoiding a decision. For our family, day care isn’t the right choice. I intend to homeschool/unschool my son, so why would I send him to preschool? He is the most amazing person on the earth in my eyes, so I find it very hard to pay other people to spend time with him, when I feel like they should be paying me for the privilege of hanging out with him! (I’m only half-joking!)

Still, with much agonizing, I’ve decided to hire a babysitter to come to the house for a few hours in the morning, starting once a week, to see how it goes. The agony is not because I worry about him: The babysitter is also a mother, a smart cookie (she was homeschooled) and is very mature and responsible, not to mention the fact that she also practices attachment parenting, as I do.

The agony comes in because I perceive time in a very expanded way, which makes the day-to-day feel more weighty, I think. I often envision myself, twenty years from now, reminiscing about my son’s adorable little hands, his enthusiasm for his trains, the particular timbre of his little baby voice, and I know that I will be so pleased that I soaked up every moment. I recognize that this is a season of my life, and that it will pass, and I will one day have all the time in the world to do freelance writing, if that’s what I should choose.

But then there’s my desire to remain engaged in my work, as it is satisfying, it certainly is a help financially (though not absolutely critical to our survival) and it is something that if I give up now, I wonder if I’ll be able to pick up again. I also think there’s the matter of my son recognizing me as someone with an identity outside of mother and wife.

All of this swirls in my head at night until I’m so confused and exhausted that I just drop off to sleep.

The point is, I’m trying on a decision. I will see how taking a few hours to do work during the day and during his waking hours will be. I’ve already envisioned everything I can envision, and I am stumped. The intellectual process I’ve described can only go so far in certain instances, and this seems like one of them.

Now, I will have to experience the decision, and, more importantly, see how my son experiences the decision. If he’s happy and there are no ill effects, I can feel more comfortable with this decision. If, on the other hand, he seems moodier, clingier or is restless in his sleep, I’ll have to reconsider. (Same goes for me: If I am moodier, clingier or restless in my sleep, it may not be right for us.)

What allowed me to try on this decision was the realization that very few decisions (though there are some, and they are biggies!) are completely irrevocable or do irrevocable harm.

If this decision to hire a babysitter and get some more daytime hours for my work doesn't feel good after a real trial period, well, then, I’ll know which decision is the best one for me and my family. Likewise if it does feel good and me and my son and husband are happy and doing well. 

It’s true that some decisions are easier to try on than others. Moving, for example, is more difficult than hiring a babysitter! Marriage is a decision, yes, but it is also (supposed to be) a lifelong commitment, and one I believe should not be approached with a “let’s see how it works out” attitude. So, there are some decisions that you can try on, and others that must be made with the intuition and leap of faith approach.

But, for those smaller decisions, or the big ones that lend themselves to a trial run, it’s so good to remember that you can take the step and see how it feels. And that it’s OK if you need to change your mind.

It’s also important to realize that, when you make a decision in good faith, there is no “wrong” decision. In any moment of deciding, you make the best decision you can at the moment you make it. Sometimes it turns out that you were missing crucial information about yourself or others, so you stop, take a deep breath, and reevaluate. And if it turns out that yes, this decision you’ve made isn’t working, you make a change and start on a new path.

Remember, your peace (and/or your child’s peace) is more important than protecting the ego that might be embarrassed at having made a human mistake.

If you are in the grips of paralyzing indecision, as I was, and you think you have a decision that is try-on-able, pick a path and start walking down it. You can always turn around and find your way back to where you are right now.

Peace to you,

p.s. I will update you all on how this decision I’ve made works for me and my family. Only the experience will settle this particular question for me, so we’ll see how it all goes!

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