The other night while tucking into bed, one of my kids asked, ‘Mommy, can we just stay home with you from now on?’ In the snap of a finger all of the guilt of being a working mom and trying to balance the two worlds in harmony came back. It had been at bay since working from home because I had a little more flexibility in my schedule and they were starting to get older but his little quivering voice brought it all back.
For many of us we don’t start out our careers considering the impact kids will have on it or what impact the career will have on kids. I think because often you start your career prior to your family you dream about them separately sure you know the paths will cross but you don’t really think of them in tandem. On the career side, you start out with plans and aspirations. What you’re going to accomplish, who you’re going to help, how you’re going to contribute. You might know you’re going to have kids too but they run in two parallel universes. You’re an amazing, strong, independent (enter your field of choice here) who is a leader in her field in one version. You’re a snuggly, teach the tough lessons with compassion, raise the kids every parent wants to have mom in the other. For some reason so many of us start that way. Expecting the absolute best of both worlds. It isn’t until you actually get pregnant that things start to dawn on you how hard the balance is going to be and how much others will play into it.
You spend months getting asked questions about if you’ll keep working after you have the little one (even once you’ve established a track record returning after maternity leave). Then as you get closer to actually having the baby you need to train other people to basically take your place. Amidst the constant explanation that you plan to work and have much to offer you essentially need to also demonstrate that you’re dispensable for 6-12 weeks. You have the guilt of ‘leaving’ them for your ‘long vacation’ as so many call it. When you return to work and drop kids off at day care there is the pain and guilt of leaving someone who’s been completely dependent on you for their entire life to date in the care of someone else. This doesn’t get easier with time as they get older and are able to reach out and call to you to take them with. There is the guilt of not being able to be the afterschool pick-up especially when a project or favorite prize is lost or broken on the bus. Then there is the guilt of missing the daytime programs and rushing around after work to practices and games, not nearly as prepared as some of the other parents.
Not all of the pain is with your kids or on the personal side either. There is guilt for not being the first in the office or running a few minutes late because the little just couldn’t let go that day. Then guilt of leaving ‘early’ during a meeting because daycare will close before you get there if you don’t leave now. There is fear associated with every call from daycare you get during the day. Some for the call itself interrupting the day and again because it might mean you need to leave. You feel as though there is a detriment to the company, not to mention your career growth, for not being able to travel or work overtime. If you are killing it at work, hitting all the goals and surpassing expectations, odds are they’ll ask you to take on further responsibility. Cue even more guilt as you either have to turn it down or try to find another way fit more time, focus, and energy in for work.
The pain and stress can become unbearable for us at times. It can cause us to question decisions and choices that stunt our growth as a result. All in an effort to be there more. I’m wondering though if that is even really the goal. We do everything we can to just make sure we’re there for our family. What if simply being there isn’t actually what our kids need? What if there is a way to get value from the time you’re apart that will serve them now, and later in life? What if you intentionally flipped the script for them so they viewed work not as something that takes Mommy and Daddy away but as a way to share our gifts with others and let them know that they can do the same? Let me remind you of a few things I needed and learned from my working parents.
Responsibility. Guess what, I wasn’t the kid who forgot her jersey or needed to call her parents panicked because she left my homework home. I made a plan whether it was to carefully carry things on the bus or work with a friend who had a stay at home parent, and had my stuff ready to go.
Resilience. When things got hard or scary I didn’t always have the option to call mom and dad to bail me out. What I did have was time with them in the evening where I could work it through and process it with them. Having the time to reflect and cool down from a heated situation probably benefited both sides from time to time.
Make my own fun. On days off school my sister and I would get board. There was no one there to suggest games or crafts to keep us engaged. We instead learned ways to keep ourselves occupied which is an increasingly important skill that I don’t think we would have learned with an ever present activity director.
Everyone pitches in. I sometimes wonder how my kids would accomplish anything if I wasn’t following them around repeating it. However, having two working parents who truly had no interest in working all day and then doing all the household chores means that we learned to get some of them done independently. All of us working together to check off the to-do list now meant more time later for all of us to have fun together.
Share the gifts. Maybe you have a gift to instruct, to create, to build, to join people together, to research, or anything else, those gifts aren’t meant to be kept hidden they are meant to be shared and grown. Your kids have their own gifts too, finding ways (like daycare, school, camp, activities, sports, and yes eventually work) to share them and continue to grow them is a value I hope is instilled in all kids.