While cooking dinner the other night, I overheard my children playing house. Our four-year-old was the mom. “Mom, come watch me play this game!” my son yelled from the other room.
“I can’t watch you play. I have to work all day, and into the night, and then in the morning," came my daughter's reply.
She then continued to push a baby stroller around the house with an air of ultimate self-importance.
I know what you're thinking: All the years I spent building a career while my children were babies had come back to haunt me in one single instant.
Only you would be wrong. I rolled my eyes and flipped her the bird behind her back.
I’m a working mom, and not only do I not feel guilty about the time I spend away from my children, I believe they benefit greatly from it in many ways.
Tony and Diane have been a huge part of our kids’ lives and an endless source of support for us. It takes a village and they are the part of the village that tells us if our children’s behavior, illness, and actions are within the normal range or something to be concerned about. They're the part that shows up at our kids' little league games, that drops off birthday presents on our doorstep, and supports all of my children's passions.
Daycare has also given our youngest two children the opportunity to develop strong relationships with other kids. Our daughter is headed to school this year and because of the time she has spent in daycare I no longer worry about our shy kid struggling socially. She’ll miss her daycare besties of course, but has all of the tools she needs to make additional friends.
I mean, I’m not curing cancer or anything, but my career is important to me. That may sound selfish, but the simple truth is that my children will meet a lot of people in their lives who are simply working for retirement, counting the minutes until the next weekend or vacation day, and putting their time into a job that gives them nothing but a paycheck in return.
I want my kids to chase their passions, to live their big crazy dreams, and there is no one better to set this example for them than me. If I can teach them nothing else in life, it will be to pursue the path that makes them happy.
This has been one of the biggest challenges for us, but also one that I am extremely proud of. There were years that my husband devoted long hours to support us while I built a massage therapy practice and had more time to take care of the house and kids. As the practice grew and became more demanding, he took a more flexible position to be more available for those duties. Like every family, we’ve learned that what works for now might not work forever, and we may trade these positions again many times over the next 40 years.
And because there is very little time left in each day, we’ve thrown out traditional roles at home for ones that suit our strengths. My husband is far more detailed-oriented than I am, and a much better planner, so he does all of the packing for our family trips. I’m slightly less awful at managing money than he is so I run our finances. Our kids will grow up seeing that mom cooks while dad does the lawn care, but they will also see that dad does laundry while mom pays bills. Everyone feeds babies and changes diapers and pretty much no one deep cleans, so I’m assuming that they will eventually find their way to a great housekeeping service.
Okay, so watching my daughter march haughtily through the house saying she was too busy working to play with her kids isn’t exactly what I had in mind when I choose to pursue a career, but the good news is that our boys seem to be picking up the skills they will need to be great dads.
From an early age, they have lovingly taken care of dolls; feeding, changing diapers, burping, and soothing. They dote on the infants in their lives, from the babies at daycare to our newborn niece. Our kids are still very much at an age where defining gender identity is a big deal – girls wear pink in our house, despite my objections and evidence to the contrary – but the social constructs they are working so hard to figure out never spill over into their expectations of parenting. At daycare, Tony cooks, cleans, and takes care of kids. At home, dad does the same, in addition to homework and coaching. There are no “dad jobs” or “mom jobs,” just the job of being a parent, which falls on whoever is available at that moment.
It’s not perfect and it certainly hasn’t always been easy. Neither of us grew up in two parent, two career households and there have been a lot of times when navigating who does what has simply been ugly. But the bottom line is that while we both adore our kids, neither of us feels cut out to be a stay-at-home parent. So we continue to find new paths to make our lives work and I hope that one day our kids will benefit from watching us compromise, encourage each other, and work together to support our family. In the meantime, I keep a middle finger poised and ready for anyone who suggests I work too much, offspring included.