When I had my first child more than a decade ago, I did not give much thought to the challenges of being a working mom. I actually looked forward to going back to work when my maternity leave was up. I dropped my 3 month-old son off at daycare, in the caring hands of very sweet and loving women, and did not look back. In the days and weeks following my return to work, many other mothers asked me how I was handling the transition and wanted to know how many times I had called the daycare to check on my son or how frequently I was crying. I look at them quizzically.
Was there something wrong with me? While I adored my new little precious baby, I was kind of enjoying my return to my pre-baby life and was getting on with the business of being a working mother.
After my second son was born three years later, I landed my dream job at Working Mother magazine. I had been a huge fan of the magazine even before my kids were born and I was excited to work in an environment that was focused on and committed to working moms. Shortly after I joined the company, my boss and I were driving to see a client and she was sharing with me one of the many ironies of parenthood. She told me of her challenges with her children – both teenagers at the time – who were losing interest in spending time with her. She pointed out how when our children are young and demand much of our time, we believe they need us the most. In fact, when they are older and want little to do with us is when they need us the most. So many women choose to stay home with their children during their infant and toddler years and return to work once their children are in school. The reality is that the time most beneficial for us to be around for our kids is really when they are teenagers and are pushing us away. “Bigger kids, bigger problems,” so many people told me. I could hardly understand what my boss was talking about with a 6 month-old and nearly 4 year-old at home. How could they need me any more than they do now? She laughed and said “you’d like 30 minutes away from your children right now and I’d like 30 minutes with mine. I will never forget that. Especially now that my children are beginning to want to be with me less and less.
Many years have gone by and I no longer work at Working Mother. In fact, I chose to leave my full-time corporate job several years ago for the reasons that my boss pointed out that day. I was beginning to feel the need to be around my children more as they were moving ahead in elementary school because I was seeing their lives becoming more complicated. Getting home at 7pm and leaving at 7:30am meant that I had very little time to influence them, nurture them, support them and guide them. Suddenly, homework was an issue. Now, they had schedules for sports and other extracurricular activities and it was becoming increasingly more difficult to transport them places with just my husband (who was already working from home full-time) at the ready. I knew it was time for a transition for me because, while they did not think so, my kids needed me – and I needed to be there for them. I did not think much about my changing role because I still had the same independent mindset that I had when my children were babies. I still wanted to have “me” time and I did not feel any compulsion to hover over them. I know myself well enough to know that if I spent too much time with my kids, we would all be very unhappy. However, I did not want my time with them limited to 2 hours per day because they needed much more from me. We had to find a happy medium and we did.
So, we fast forward the clock to today. As a family, we have settled into a new normal with mommy and daddy both working either from home or locally, with mommy taking sporadic business trips and being with clients a few days per week but mostly available. My life is still very busy because, as a type A, I am always looking for more projects to fill my day. If I do not have client work, I volunteer my time. I sit on two boards, I have friends I like to spend time with, I exercise three or four times a week and I have hobbies. Suddenly that 9-5 job with commuting seems like a walk in the park.
This week I had a little – well, maybe a big – eye-opener. Last night, after I spent the day with a client in the city, went to kickboxing and then came home to force down some dinner before chatting with a colleague about some challenges from day, I realized both of my children had either not started or not completed their homework. It was 9pm and definitely time for bed. My younger son decided he wanted to attempt to do some of his homework before bed and my older one just abandoned it and said he would finish it up in the morning. To top it off, my younger son showed me a paper from class that identified him as “star of the week” which was set to begin on Monday and now it was Wednesday and we had done nothing. I was mortified. Where had I been? Why was I not checking in on my kids? I had worked out every day, had a dinner meeting, had work calls every night and an assortment of other matters that I had tended to yet I had not noticed that my children were spending their afternoons and evenings playing xbox and not attending to their schoolwork.
While I have avoided getting caught up in working mom drama and guilt for many years, I was suddenly in the midst of an emotional downward spiral. I felt really horrible that I had fallen asleep at the wheel and neglected my responsibility of parenting my bigger kids with bigger problems. Then I started thinking about all the things I had forgotten to take care of while I was “selfishly” attending to work and other matters. My younger son’s costume for his show was due in a week and I had not yet even begun to deal with that. I realized that I had not even had a conversation with my kids since Monday – how did that happen and why hadn’t they noticed either?
Mother of the year, that is me for sure.
So, I did what any good mother would do. I punished them. I took away their xbox privileges, removed additional electronics from their weekday lives and instituted some new policies around homework. But, truth be told, I am punishing myself the most. I feel guilty and neglectful and, while I know that it is not the end of the world and it happens to everyone, I am committed to doing better. I am not prepared to give up my work or my “me” time but I am prepared to struggle with the battle my boss told me about all those years ago. I need to be more conscious and committed to getting that time with my children now that they are far less interested in giving in to me. I am going to demand and prioritize my 30 minutes a day. Maybe then I can throw away my thorny MOTY crown.