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My Husband Takes the Kids Every Weekend

This is the story of Ann Howard, a San Francisco mom of two who tries to fit a job as both a fine artist and graphic designer into her often-frantic life as a stay-at-home-mom.

"My two kids are 5 and 3 -- the eldest, a boy, is in kindergarten and the youngest, a girl, just started pre-school. By the end of the week, they are exhausted. That's when bad days are most likely to happen.

Yesterday my daughter woke up at 5:30 a.m. screaming. She woke up her older brother, who normally sleeps until 6:45. He immediately started yelling, "Get away from me! Don't look at me!" and stomping around the house, throwing his toys. I've learned the hard way that there is little I can do when he's acting this way. I just focus on staying calm and gentle, putting one foot in front of the other. It was a long morning, but he, my daughter and my husband all still got in the car at 7:20 to do school drop-offs. Phew.

That same afternoon, my son needed to complete his weekly homework assignment -- to read a book then draw a picture and write a sentence about the book. It was his first homework -- we should have started on it much earlier in the week, but I didn't understand how it worked yet. When I told him he couldn't watch TV and had to do homework instead, he fell apart. He was lying on the floor, screaming "I can't do it!" His sister soon followed suit. I finally gave in and said that he'd do his homework later with his Dad.

I'm with the kids on my own most weekday afternoons. I feed them, bathe them, and get them in to their PJs. When my husband gets home between 6:30 and 7, he reads them books and puts them to bed by about 7:30. On this night, however, my husband walked in and had to do homework. I basically shirked the whole thing on to his shoulders. The change in routine set my son off again.

That afternoon, part of me wanted to yank my son by the arms and put him in his room and yell at him. At one point I did kind of push him; I was furious because he pushed his sister, then yelled in my face. I sat him on the stairs in a time out and was pretty rough with him during the process. It was not pretty. I've learned the hard way that if I yell at the kids or show any kind of physical strength toward them it comes right back at me, if not in that moment, the next day or the next week. It teaches them to be a bully. It's hard because my parents yanked us around and yelled and all that kind of stuff. It's a challenge to stay calm, for sure. I try to remind myself to take deep breaths when I'm close to losing it. I'll shut myself in the garage and just breathe. Then the kids come bang on the door and scream and I feel kind of bad about it but I have to just be away from them for a minute.

Every night when my husband gets home I go upstairs and decompress. I'll slowly clean up the kitchen, read the paper, or just sit and have a Campari and soda. Since I'm with the kids a lot during the week and my husband only gets to spend a half-hour or an hour with them at a time, he takes them for most of the weekends. We have breakfast together -- the weekends are the only times we eat together -- then he and the kids go on some sort of adventure. That's when I get to go to my studio and work on my art, for about four hours each Saturday and Sunday. Otherwise, I'd never be able to keep that part of my career going.

My personality is go full force into everything I do, whether writing an email, designing a newsletter or vacuuming the floor. I constantly have to ask myself, "Do I really need to go all out with this particular thing?" Usually the answer is no, but it's hard to rein myself in. I'm learning to strive for mediocrity. And that it is better to be less busy. I always wait 24 hours before answering any request, whether it's an art exhibit, a graphic design project, or a school event. I'm saying no' a lot more than I used to. Even though "No" can be damaging to my careers and my checkbook, it means a happier family and a happier me.

Occasionally I feel guilty that we don't do more as a family together, but this arrangement of me with the kids more during the week and my husband on kid duty on the weekends truly works best for everyone right now. The kids have a blast, Dad gets great time with them, and I get uninterrupted studio time.

It's been a rocky road but my husband and I have somehow done a good job of working as a team. Our goal is to make sure no one bears too much of a brunt so we can each enjoy the process and our kids as much as we can. It's a very calibrated weekly routine we've got, it could fall apart at any time because someone's in a bad mood or someone's sick or one of us gets really busy at work. The most important thing I've learned from parenting is that it's all about change -- the good stuff changes as much as the bad. It's a roller coaster: some of it is scary, some of it is exhilarating. Throughout it all, you just hang on, and in the end it all works out."

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