I may have got a little carried away splitting wood this morning – I no longer have any strength in my hands, nor any fine motor control. (There are those who would argue I never have had fine motor control, actually.) But it was totally worth it. The tangible evidence of success and progress, in the form of a huge pile of split logs. The immense satisfaction of the sheer physical violence involved. Swing, swish, whack, crack!
It was that intense sense of progress and achievement that really struck a chord. The huge pile of split wood, and the rapidly shrinking pile of wood to be split, gave me a real buzz. Being a parent rarely gives that immediate, tangible reward. That sense of having made immediate progress. Of course, there are plenty of other rewards – those sticky kisses, seeing your kids play together and care for each other, the endless cuddles. But those tangible signs of progress – that feeling of having got a lot done today – there aren’t many of those built in to parenthood.
I can’t speak for lots of parents, of course – I am not lots of parents, although it sometimes feels as though I am trying to be! – I am only one mum, and can only speak for myself. But I wonder if that is part of what drives parents back into the workforce. Leaving aside money and mortgages, I wonder if it’s that sense of achievement that is what leaves people feeling as though parenting “isn’t enough”.
Certainly while working at Oxfam, even though it’s ‘only’ volunteer work, I have revelled in the chance to work on something tangible, with clear signs of progress. Plus, of course, the social aspect of having co-workers, and of being appreciated for what I do. While appreciation isn’t lacking in parenthood (“you’re the best mum in the world!”), it is not the same as genuine adult appreciation of your skills and contribution. It is too easy to be the best mum in the world (it often involves chocolate, although this morning it was a mandarin).
Having identified the problem, I have no idea how it can be fixed. Perhaps parents appreciating each other more is part of the solution, but it may simply be that a balance between work and parenting will always be a healthier mix for some people. It is certainly working for me.