Didn't we almost have it all?
By Dana Tuszke
A few weeks ago my son had his first "snow day" of the school year. Granted, he's only in preschool, but he was still excited that he got to stay home and hang out with his mom. As luck would have it, I didn't have to work that day and little Dawson was thrilled.
"You don't have to make money on your 'puter today?" he asked.
"Nope! I get to stay home and play with you!" I told him.
We spent our day playing Candy Land and Chutes & Ladders, and then we watched Bob the Builder until I couldn't stand it. We pretended to be pirates hunting for buried treasure, we imagined we were astronauts on a trip to the moon and then we took a trip to the library to check out some books on Dawson's favorite subjects; trains and insects.
It was a perfect day. I wasn't worried about deadlines. I didn't fret about the unfolded laundry or the dishes in the sink. I didn't answer the phone (unless it was very important, of course) and I unplugged from the internet (and boy was that torture).
I cannot count the number of times Dawson told me he was "having so much fun!" He was so happy just to have my undivided attention. And that's when I felt the guilt.
I try very hard to spend quality time with my son. I do my best to find activities we'll both enjoy, as well as do the things he likes, too. But as a work-at-home-mom, it can be difficult to manage my work time with my "home" time.
On the days that Dawson is in school, my work life is a easier to manage. On the days that Dawson is home with me things are chaotic, and the TV has been a babysitter far more than I like to admit. Of course, I choose educational programs whenever possible, but I still feel like I'm poisoning the child's mind. Honestly, Yo Gabba Gabba scares me sometimes. So does Wubzy, but that's another story.
I enjoy my job and I feel lucky to bring home a paycheck while working from my living room. I'm happy to have my little guy home with me, too, but I still wonder if my son feels like I don't spend enough time with him -- after all these are the formative years, they say. (Who are "they," by the way?)
Out of curiosity, I asked my husband if he feels guilty for going to work every day and not spending a lot of time with Dawson.
"No, I don't feel guilty," he said. "Work is work. I've got to do my job to support my family."
"But do you ever wish you could just stay home with the Doodlebug?" I asked.
"Of course, but men are raised with the notion that they are the ones who must work hard and be the breadwinners."
It was that remark that got me thinking about how I was raised. When I was a young girl, my mother was a stay-at-home-mother. She didn't get a job until I was in 3rd grade, and that's only because the economy in the 80s sucked so terribly that my father couldn't afford the mortgages on his home and business on his income alone.
My mother was raised to believe that women stayed home with the kids. In fact, she quit her teaching job just before she and my father were married. She has a strong work ethic (she was raised on a farm and had to do chores), and probably would have continued teaching, but when I was born there were very few daycare centers and she didn't always have family to rely on for child care.
My mother did what she had to do; whether it was raising her kids and maintaining a household or getting a job to support her family. When she did go back to work, her children were in school and she says it was much easier for her because she didn't worry about who was caring for us while she was working.
When my youngest brother was born several years later, my mother finally felt that nagging feeling of guilt for leaving her baby to go to work. She was fortunate however, because my father was self-employed and able to bring my brother to work with him if needed, and sometimes Grandma would step in when necessary.
I know that every parent's situation is different and we all make sacrifices for our children, but wouldn't it be wonderful if we could have our cake and eat it, too?
When I was in high school I dreamed of being a business savvy executive, raking in the dough and taking exotic vacations as a reward for 80 hour work weeks. I dreamed of climbing the corporate ladder. I also dreamed of being a mother to four beautiful children who looked up to their CEO Mom because she was financially successful, she contributed to the family dynamic and was able to provide them with all that they needed and wanted.
At that time in the late 90s, women were told they could be anything they wanted. We were told we could "have it all" -- the big house, fancy car, perfect marriage and happy children -- but in reality "having it all" is just a fairy tale for adults. Somewhere down the line we need to give up one dream in order to make another one come true.
Being a parent is hard work. I would even go so far as to say it's the most difficult job I could ever have. But, then I wonder if the actual work of a mother (or father) is more difficult than balancing motherhood, a job, marriage and managing the household.
I try to put myself in my husband's shoes. Does he find it difficult to balance his career with marriage and fatherhood? Does he worry about Dawson when he's at work? Is he thinking about all housework that needs to be done when he gets home?
"I don't have time to worry about anything but my work," he says. "But I do think about my family and look forward to spending time with them when I can."
So maybe it's just a woman's nature to worry and over-analyze every little thing. Maybe we feel guilty because we struggle with finding balance between what we have to do and what we want to do.
Can we really have it all? Maybe, but do we even want to?
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