We all know there are a million different ways to completely scar our children and set them up for a life of five-times-a-week therapy sessions and crippling insecurities and intimacy issues, right? What I mean to say is—we all know we’re doing it wrong, don’t we?
After all, there are a million articles out there admonishing us that we can’t have it all (what were we thinking?!) and that if we don’t breastfeed until our children reach adolescence we don’t care about their nutritional and emotional needs and that if we don’t let them cry it out—if we dare pick them up from their cribs when they whimper—we are guaranteeing that our children will grow up to be needy, insecure wrecks who won’t ever be able to wipe their own butts.
I guess, my point is, that there are a million different debates raging out there wherein parenting is an either-or proposition and if you pick the wrong path, you might have messed up your child’s future. Permanently!
One of the hottest topics, to put it mildly, is always that of the stay-at-home versus the working mother. This is one of the perfect storms of parenting topics because it involves issues like economic privilege, class differences, childcare dilemmas, a mother’s responsibilities as compared to a father’s, and—most importantly—GUILT.
Rather than enter into this debate—one that I don’t think has any easy, able-to-be-condensed-in-an-essay answers—I will only say that recently, after years as either a stay-at-home or (very) part-time working mom, I have just started working full-time.
The factors that propelled me into full-time work are many. For one, it was purely practical—I need to make more money, to buy things like . . . food! It was also professionally smart—after a couple of years of freelance writing and editing, I had the chance to move into a full-time writing/editing position. And it was personal—how could I not take a job that I coveted so much and had worked for when I one day hope to advise my children to follow their own professional and creative dreams?
At no time did I pause to consider whether or not I could “have it all.” Maybe because I have never “had it all?” Maybe because I have always considered myself lucky to have the many, wonderful things that I already do? I don’t know.
I do know that I consider myself lucky to be starting a job that I really wanted at a time when many people are unemployed and under-employed. And I also know that the moment when my 7-year-old asked if this meant that I would never again go on another school field trip with his class tempered my initial employment excitement. And I know that after my first day at work, when I came home to happy children who had already eaten a delicious dinner prepared by their awesome new babysitter, that everything would be fine.
But I also realized that it would be hard to adjust to not being there to make my kids dinner. By the second day, I found out that it would be hard to know that someone else would be teaching my boys how to perfect their backstroke. By the third day, I realized that it would be hard to see all the art projects lining the walls that I hadn’t been there to help with. (I also realized that our new babysitter was even more incredible than I could have hoped for.)
This is all OK, though. It is OK that I’m missing some of the things that I’d always been there for. Now I appreciate all the time that I do have with my kids even more. I almost have more energy for all of their enthusiasm and antics than I did when I spent the whole day with them.
And how are they adjusting to the new schedule? In some ways, that’s been the most intriguing aspect. I was worried that they would resent the time away or that they would not be able to understand that this job was something that I wanted badly. I also didn’t know if they could reconcile that my longed-for profession was not more important to me than they were. Instead, I have found that both of my sons have been excited for me and understand the situation better than most adults do.
In the words of my 7-year-old, “I miss you a lot. But you like your job. And you have to do what you have to do. You’re still our mom.”
And that’s what really sticks with me. I am still their mom — their full-time mom. Even if I now spend 10 hours a day away from them, it doesn’t make me any less of a mom. They would never think to place the guilt on me that a whole culture of parenting experts attempt to do with think pieces on the damage inflicted by the choices parents make. My kids know that I love them and am doing my best for them and for myself.