For years my kids have been arguing over which one of them I love more. One day, my daughter is sure my son is the favorite. The next, my son is burying his face in pillows because without a doubt he knows I love his sister more. Each time I reassure them: I love them both the same. I appreciate they have different strengths and acknowledge those strengths, but in terms of love, they have equal pieces of my entire heart.
Which is why when they approached me one sunny, quarantine afternoon, after they’d been playing alone in the backyard for a few hours, while I’d sat and worked on my computer a few feet away, I expected more of the same. (Well, really I expected them to ask me for a snack or for permission to now return to their screens). What they said instead struck that very uncomfortable mom guilt chord that exists in the depths of my heart.
They said: You love your computer more than you love us.
I turned away from my laptop, which was open with three different documents and about eighteen tabs, and told them, no, of course I don’t love my computer more than my children.
“But you’re always on it,” came their reply. “You’re not playing with us. You’re always working.”
Another ouch. Another direct, painful yank at that mom guilt cord.
I assured them that they were my world, that I loved them above all else, and, unsurprisingly, they followed up their initial mom guilt attack with requests for snacks and screen time. I let them. When they’d gone back inside, I sat for a moment, staring at my screen, which had now gone dark.
Obviously I don’t love my computer more than I love my kids. But I’m sure it feels that way to them. Before the pandemic, I did most of my writing in the hours they were at school. Most of my computer time was when they were busy with teachers and friends and lunchrooms and recess. Since we started quarantining and homeschooling and living in a world that seems to turn upside down a few times a day, my computer time comes only after they are done with their school time.
Which means instead of driving them around to activities, listening to the latest playground gossip, and being engaged in our afternoon, I’m telling them to go play while I become fully engrossed in my laptop screen.
Part of that is inevitable. I added “homeschool the kids” (or, more accurately, crisis-school the kids) to my already overflowing to-do list.
But also, to be honest, I have buried myself in my work a little bit. I have taken on extra freelance projects and added a little extra pressure to deadlines. But not because I love my computer more than my kids. It’s because working—effectively putting on my “writer” hat—is the only way I can take a break from wearing my “mom” hat, without guilt. Or, it had been without guilt.
I have no partner to tag me out. There’s no other adult to take over bedtime on those days when homeschooling has left us all irritated and angry. There’s no one to give the kids lunch while I take a long shower and decompress. It’s only me. With two kids. In a pandemic.
They are struggling with homeschool, like kids around the country. They are missing their friends and sports and normal. They need all the things kids always need, plus so much more in these impossible times. They need me to be wearing my “mom” hat all the time.
But, I can’t wear my “mom” hat all the time, as would be required in a pandemic when there is nowhere to go and no one to see. I can’t continuously wear the “mom” hat without a break. The hat gets too heavy, too hard to wear for too many continuous hours. But also, taking that hat off, and wearing no hat, during a pandemic, when there is nowhere to go and no one to see and that’s terrifying for two kids, feels wrong.
So I’ve been diving into my work, alternating between “mom” hat and “writer” hat, because surely there can’t be any guilt with switching to my “writer” hat. My kids understand I have to work, and I’ve even convinced myself it’s a good thing they are seeing me in my “writer” hat, because it’ll cultivate in them (maybe, hopefully) a work ethic and an understanding of how much effort it takes to actually chip away at your goals.
But that line, “you love your computer more than you love us,” stuck with me, echoed in my mind for days.
Clearly, somewhere along the way, switching between the two hats, using my “writer” hat as a break, was a mistake.
Maybe, instead, when the “mom” hat became too heavy, I shouldn’t have immediately replaced it for the “writer” hat. Maybe, instead, I should have been honest with the kids and told them that I need a little while to zone out (on my computer or with an actual book) because I’m human and helped to teach them how to exist without wearing a hat, at all—normalized just taking time to be, rather than always doing. Because there’s value in learning how to tirelessly drive toward your goals, but just as much value in learning how to take a breath and make space for the present. And I’d forgotten that in this pandemic.
So I took off my “writer” hat, left my “mom” hat to the side, and I sat with the kids, with their snacks and their screen.
Or maybe my kids are craftier than I realized—and knew exactly what to say to get me to agree to snacks and screen time.
Maybe, somehow, both are true.