When my children were little I needed to work. Although they were achingly adorable, and I loved them fiercely, they were also completely vexing. The endless hours of tantrums, cheerio spills, and Olivia theme song relentlessly blasting from the playroom had me climbing the sticky, peanut butter smeared walls. I felt I needed to use my brain, engage in adult conversation, and put on a blouse that wasn’t stained with breast milk. I found part time work at a photo lab, developing 35 millimeter film three days a week from 5-10.
For 15 hours a week, I traded in the diaper bag for a real purse, and got to do something besides coax a one year old to eat vegetables. With a fresh swipe of lipstick, and pants without dried boogers stuck to them, I interacted with humans who could wipe their own bums. I learned some interesting things, exercised my cerebrum, and nurtured my creative streak.
I got to be someone else than Mom.
Fast forward 14 years later, and I mean FAST, and all I want to be is Mom.
No longer working only 15 hours a week, I now, like most people, work full time in order to have internet connection, food, and buy stuff on Amazon. I’m a single mom often strapped for cash, so I pick up extra hours writing for online publications and a local lifestyle magazine. I enjoy my work, for the most part, yet often feel overwhelmed and wistful, especially when I miss yet another track meet because of my hours at my main job.
When my boys were little, I was knee deep in diapers and cracked nipples. The hours stretched on, seemingly forever. Except for the weekly playgroups at the local church, I was alone all day, and up all night with two difficult toddlers. I felt isolated, stressed and bored. Although I was busy raising active sons, I could feel my brain turning to mush. There is only so much Olivia a person can watch before their brain starts to fry.
But now all that’s behind me. And what is left is two fine young men who will soon be leaving my side to begin their own lives. Two young men who can talk politics, appreciate The Beatles, and help me carry groceries from the car. Two young men, who still need parenting and a ride to play practice.
Of course these young men can still be vexing. There are F bombs, piles of laundry, and furniture flipping fights. There are questionable Snapchats, Fortnite obsessions, and someone is always going over their data. But there are also real conversations. There are tender moments when my son sidles next to me and puts his arms around me. There are hugs so tight, they take my breath away. And there is time ticking away in that inevitable way it does, inching me closer to an empty nest.
The time we have with our children is fleeting and swift. One day you are wearing nursing bras and the next your son is sporting underarm hair. It’s funny how the roles reversed. I used to hide in the bathroom for a few minutes of peace. Now, it’s my children hiding from me, unless they need a ride to the mall. As a mom to older kids, I want to soak up every moment I can before they head off to college. This poses a challenge when you hold both a full time and part time job. Often, I put in a 9 hour day on my feet, only to come home to tweak some paragraphs that my editor suggested. I do this on my phone, so I give my children the impression I am constantly on my phone, which bothers me.
Recently I’ve taken to editing while in the bathroom.
Then there is the topic of supervision. It’s true, I no longer need to worry about them accidentally ingesting soap, or keeping a baby gate up so that they don’t tumble down the stairs — but there is a new set of worries that come with having children who are a few years away from voting.
I’m uncomfortable leaving my children alone for long stretches of time. They are capable of being on their own for awhile, and make use of the stove safely, as well as the Domino’s Pizza App, but teens still need an adult presence. I vividly remember the antics I got into as a teenager between the hours of 3 to 6, before my mother got home from work, and can’t help but think moms should be allowed the right to have a flexible enough job that they can effectively parent teenagers just as well as they parented their babies. Companies need to put a value on family life and offer alternatives to mothers, and dads too, who are raising human beings.
Teens require a lot of guidance, and often finding the balance between work and motherhood is fraught with difficulties that rival when our children were infants. Yes, teens need their freedom, but I still feel stress and anxiety at the onset of summer, knowing I’m going to be at work for nine hours, and the kids will be home in an empty house with no one telling them to get off their phones or unload the dishwasher.
I try to be proactive before the stress and anxiety strike. I’ve adopted quality over quantity as my mantra and try to make the evenings I am home as family centered as possible. We do Wednesday movie night each week, and try to do one activity on Saturday that does not involve Wifi. I also hoard my PTO so that I can take two weeks off in the summertime to be with my boys.
But still there are roadblocks I encounter. I’m often dismayed at the lack of support mothers are given in the workplace. As progressive as the US is, we really straggle behind in our empathy and help for working mothers compared to other industrialized countries. This insufficiency can cause huge strains on a traditional nuclear family, let alone a single mother like myself.
It’s not surprising that guilt and stress are so rampant among American moms.
It’s not uncommon for mothers to decide to take time from work when their children are small, but the truth is, teenagers are in great need of their parents as well. Keeping up with extracurricular activities alone could be considered a part time job. Shuffling back and forth to practice and clubs, volunteering to cook or decorate for school plays and dances can be hectic, so it’s essential workplaces should be flexible and understanding. This can be especially challenging if your supervisor doesn’t have kids. And if you don’t have a strong network of family close by to pitch in, a mom can end up feeling alone, depressed and very overwhelmed.
I’m enormously grateful I have a job, and love that I get to freelance on the side. I’m certainly not proposing mothers give up working — after all there’s only a certain amount of that Fortnite music one can take — but I am proposing American employers and companies put a value on parenthood, respect motherhood, and strive to help women manage the balance between work and children.
No matter what age they are.