Every time I’m away from my child for a discernible amount of time, I’m inevitably asked this question:
Wow, I bet you really miss him, huh?
Well, no. No, I don’t.
I’m a working writer who is fortunate enough to stay at home with her child while I carve out a (debatably) respectable career. I have a calendar full of deadlines and standing conference calls and editors who believe in my ability. I also have a 1-year-old son who loves to play and read his First Words book and believes I’m the only who can sufficiently rock him to sleep.
Sometimes my career requires moments away from my son, whether it’s in another room writing an article to meet a deadline, or it’s in another state, being flown to visit a clinic or meet a person or cover a story for a few days.
And every time I do something that doesn’t involve my son, I am asked if I miss him. People tilt their heads to the side, ever-so-slightly, and effortlessly lift their eyebrows while asking me how I could possibly handle time away from my child.
I do the “right” thing and say it’s hard and that I can’t wait to be home, and some of that is true.
But really, I want to tell them that it isn’t hard at all. I want to say that I love my job, and I love the opportunities it provides me, and I love doing the thing I love to do, especially when it’s just me and that thing.
I want to say that when I’m in the middle of an article or walking into a meeting or sitting down to dinner with an interviewee, I am not thinking of my child at all—not even a little bit. I am thinking of the task at hand, and when I’m in the thick of the thing that makes me feel alive, I’m content knowing that I am creating something for myself.
I want to say that, yes, I even look forward to the time I spend away from my child. It’s not because he can be overwhelming or exhausting, but because I like doing other things that don’t involve him. I like filling my life with a career and friends and projects that only I can complete. I love spending time with my kid, but I love spending time away from him too, doing other things that I can’t do when he is around, like, sometimes, my job.
So, no. I don’t miss my child.
And as mothers, I can’t help but feel like we’re afraid to say that we love what we do when what we do doesn’t involve our children. Fathers go to work and are hardly (if ever) asked if they miss their children while they’re in the middle of their workday. Yet, a mother is supposed to lament about the decision she has made to work and be a mother, and she is supposed to spend her time wishing she was back at home with her child because she would be a stay-at-home mom if she could. She just can’t, so don’t judge her for working. She is doing what she has to do for her family.
Well, that’s not what I am doing. I don’t have to work, I choose to work. I’m not just providing for my family, I am providing for myself. I am building a career that fulfills me and makes me proud of my abilities and accomplishments, and I don’t think that’s a thing I should ever have to apologize for.
Of course, from time to time, the guilt works its way into the soft parts of my brain. A voice intervenes and tells me that I’m being a horrible parent and a selfish mother and setting my son up for failure and a lifetime of resentment. It’s the same voice that tells me I am fat or that I am lazy or that I am not doing all that I could be doing. It’s the evil voice, fueled by fear and inadequacy. And I do my best to tell that voice to take a hike, but of course, that voice is powerful, and it doesn’t always listen.
And yes, sometimes I miss my son when I am not around him. But those moments don’t happen when I am working. Those moments happen right before I see him or right after I have said goodbye. It’s less a feeling of longing and more a feeling of impatience: I just can’t wait to see him again. But when I am gone and I am working, I’m focusing on my other love. My job.
So, when you ask me if I miss my son while I’m away or when I’m working, I will nod and say the right thing, but I won’t be telling the complete truth. Because the truth is, I find love and a sense of accomplishment outside of my son, too.
And mothers, there’s nothing wrong with that.