Recently I happened upon this article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wendy-sue-swanson-md-mbe-faap/i-love-being-a-working-mom_b_3156152.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003, and it got me thinking. I admire the author's dedication to her profession and her desire to make a change AND to instill that desire in her child. Yet, it really didn't hit home with me, and not just because I will never be flown to the Netherlands to do a TED talk or any other sort of public speaking. I feel like she missed the real-life, day-to-day reality of being a working mother and how awesome that can be. In fact, I think she missed the boat entirely. I think her viewpoint is definitely doctor-centric, and I don't think it speaks to women in other lines of work. Being a working mother, for me, has little to do with charging my child with social responsibility and is in no way connected to what I actually do for a living; it has everything to do with providing me with the balance that I need. I suppose my outlook could be considered selfish, but I believe raising a healthy child starts with being a healthy parent.
As working parents, we miss out on some things. Asher is one of two kids in his mommy-and-me class who attend with a nanny. Lately, he has been singing a color song to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star", unbeknownst to me. For days I thought he was just singing gibberish until Becca joined in the other afternoon. Mostly I feel gut-wrenchingly awful about this. It's hard enough knowing that your child spends most of his day with another person, but it's even worse when you have clear evidence that someone else understands your kid better than you do. On top of that, I worry about judgment from the stay-at-home parents in Asher's classes. I would love to meet his friends' moms, but I honestly worry about what they'll think of me, the absentee mother who lets a nanny do all the dirty work. The secret of working moms that a lot of stay-at-home moms don't know is that we see them as a higher order of mother in some ways--part of us wishes that we could do that ourselves, but the reality is that we know that we couldn't be kid-focused all day long--and we're pretty sure they look down on us.
On the other hand, I know that I am a better parent because I'm not parenting every minute of every day. At work, at least to a certain extent, the part of my brain that is fixated on scheduling and enforcing rules and, essentially, trying to create order out of chaos turns off. I can focus. I can think. I can have adult conversations. I get to learn about what's going on in the world around me. These are things that only happen at naptime when I'm home, and I notice that when I go too long without turning off the parenting part of my brain, the caring, loving, fun mommy part of my brain starts checking out. In order to be the emotionally connected parent I want to be, I need to not be a parent for a good part of the day. I need to have the freedom to connect to other parts of myself.
That said, there is a fine line between working enough to stay in touch with those parts of my brain and working too much. Earlier this year, my work schedule had changed so that I was working fewer days but those days were each unbearably busy. I came home exhausted and checked-out. It's a matter of finding a way to giving enough time to each part of me without any part taking over. When I notice one part dominating at the expense of the others, I know it's time to change things.
Being working parents certainly teaches our children a lot about the world and their role in it. I like to think that, by seeing his mommy work as a physician and his daddy run a web development company, Asher will learn the value of hard work and not take what we have for granted, that he will learn how to work ethically and treat people (clients, patients, colleagues) with respect, and that by seeing what we do professionally and how it evolves with time, his mind will be opened opportunities that aren't necessarily the 9-to-5 cubicle grind. More importantly, though, I expect that he will learn to take care of himself in a more holistic way. He will see the struggles we have to keep a balance between work and family and the mindfulness it takes to realize when balance is lost. He will also learn the importance of understanding and respecting his own needs. He will understand that in order to care for others, he first must care for himself.
These are all lessons it has taken me years to learn, and I constantly have re-examine myself and adjust things accordingly. The hardest and most important lesson is that no one can really "have it all" in the more traditional sense, and trying to do so just brings pain. You must identify what's important to you and what you need to be happy, and then you must work to make those things a reality. Then you will have it all, and so will your kids. It really doesn't matter one bit what your employment status is.