Before I had kids, I thought I was busy. I honestly believed working 40 hours every week, practicing yoga, and grocery shopping left me with no time for all the other things I wanted to do with my life.
Okay, you can stop laughing now.
Four years and two kids later, I have a much clearer perspective of what it means to be pressed for time. I work – both for a paycheck and to prevent my house from looking like the aftermath of a riot – from the moment I open my eyes in the morning until my head hits the pillow at night. I get to play with my kids here and there, too, but play often takes a backseat to the other things on my to-do list.
I know who I am. I get agitated and don’t work well when the house is a mess. When the living room looks like the ransacked clearance aisle of a toy store and I’m wearing sweatpants because all my favorite jeans are in the wash, I’m not a joy to be around. When projects are piling up at work and I have writing to do but I’m giving into my toddler’s pleas to join him in donning a superhero mask and cape and run around the house, I feel like a fraud. My kids can sense my frustration. It makes them anxious, and I don’t blame them.
I’m okay with the way I am, but society – especially the segment of the population that loves to shame moms for “doing it wrong” – isn’t. No, these folks want me to let the dishes rot in the sink so I can savor every moment with my kids. They want me to quit my job so I can be more “present” with my kids. I’m guessing they probably want me to go all Montessori on the playroom and teach my kids a second language, too.
And do you want to know what I think about that? Let’s just say that if I rolled my eyes any harder I wouldn’t be able to get them back into place. I wonder if those perfect parents can even see me down here (sitting on the couch with a beer) from up on their high horses.
It’s not like my kids get ignored all day. My 3-year-old son goes to full-day preschool – which he loves – while I stay home with his smiley, easygoing little brother. And while I do find myself giving in to snuggles and acting like a fool just to see his four-toothed little grin, you’re sadly mistaken if you think I spend all day playing peek-a-boo.
I’m a work-at-home mom, which means I spend a good chunk of my day staring into the bright screen of my laptop, crunching numbers for my corporate job. I also write for my blog, volunteer in the community, cook every morsel of food my family consumes (or at least that’s how it feels), wash/dry/fold the laundry, run errands, take the kids to their doctor’s appointments … you get the idea. With a supportive husband who’s also a great dad, I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I know there are so many moms out there doing it all by themselves or having to work full-time to pay the bills when they’d rather stay home. I am both heartbroken for them and in awe of their strength. But counting my blessings doesn’t make things any easier.
The idea that society keeps a long list of often contradictory expectations of mothers is nothing new. Moms are given (mostly unsolicited) conflicting advice on the daily, and it can leave us feeling ragged and confused. There is no escaping the reality that there are simply not enough hours in the day to cover all our bases, but I think it’s up to us to decide which bases get covered and which ones don’t, and then to be at peace with that decision. To have faith in our ability to make the right choices for ourselves and our families. To give our critics a quarter and tell them to call someone who cares.
Listen, both of my parents came from broken homes with limited finances. Neither had the privilege of going to college right after high school, so they jumped into the working world and put in long hours just to make ends meet. My dad worked 50-60 hours a week managing a grocery store. My mom studied her butt off in nursing school (with two kids at home, mind you) and graduated with honors. She worked the night shift at the hospital and stole naps when she could during the day. They must have been bone-tired but still managed to take care of my sister and me. They knew what they wanted: to give their kids a better childhood than what they had. And they chased after that goal every day.
They probably didn’t realize it at the time, but they were setting an example of hard work and sacrifice that would stick with me forever. I want to pass those lessons on to my kids. I want them to see me work hard. I want them to see me going after my dreams so that someday they won’t feel guilty for going after theirs.