I was talking to Christina the other day about how I never go for so much as a movie with Amit, because I feel so guilty about “dumping” the kids with someone and going off for a movie.
The rationale is like this. My own mother was a stay-at-home mom. She worked as a teacher for a bit, but then her working hours coincided with our school timings, so that didn’t matter. Whenever we were home, she was home. And pretty soon, she stopped even that, and she never worked outside the house again. So in a sense, my “ideal” of parenting is a stay at home mom.
“Ideal” in quotes – because looking back, I’m not sure this was the best thing for my mother. And looking at myself over the last couple of years since I became a parent, I don’t think it would ever be something I could do for any longer than I already did. So stay-at-home mom is not a real possibility for me, and I’m not sure it is an ideal any more either.
However, it’s not so easy to get rid of norms established in one’s growing up years. Somewhere in the deep dark recesses of my mind is the stubborn conviction that a “good” mother stays at home with her kids <em>and likes it</em>. And from this stubborn conviction is born an unshakable guilt for being a self-serving mom who thinks she must – for the sake of everyone’s peace of mind – pursue a career that takes her away from home and kids for the best part of the day, every working day. Working, far from being a financial necessity or something I do for the sake of the family, is seen by me to be a selfish indulgence, something I do purely for my own self!
Now I’m confused. First, I work because I need to – purely from a personality perspective. I don’t take well to being idle, nor, really, to doing mundane household chores.
Second, I work to earn money.
Third – probably in this order – I work so that I am a role model to my kids, so that they grow up to a working mom and don’t believe that all dads work and all moms stay at home. So that they understand the dignity of work and the value of money.
Is this selfish? Do I need to see this as something I’m doing just for myself and therefore punish myself by never doing anything else for myself, like an occasional fun outing with husband and/or friends?
So yes, I have this nagging guilt and I think I better sort out this guilt and realize that my working is good for all of us in more ways than one and that I should just stop carrying this extra baggage around.
But, in discussing this with Chris – and here’s where friends make all the difference; if I hadn’t spoken about it to anyone, I might never have realized this – in discussing this, I realized, it’s not just about guilt and punishment. It’s also about what I <em>want</em> to do, and even more importantly, about who I want to be.
My sister used to be a school teacher in a school that had a lot of rich kids. What she often spoke about was how these rich kids come from families where nobody really has any time for them. So they throw money at their kids, and then go off and live their lives as though they owe nothing else to their kids. You know the sort – if you haven’t come across them, you’ve at least read of them or seen them on TV.
I don’t want to be that woman. I don’t want to be the mother who ensures her kids are well taken care of while she goes off and lives life as if she’d never had kids. I <em>don’t</em> want the carefree life I had before I had kids. I don’t want to leave my kids to friends, parents, in-laws, daycare, or maids, calling in every so often to check that all is well, while I immerse myself in work, fun, or anything else that keeps me away from home. I don’t want to give them every good thing that money can buy, and deny them the one good thing that money can’t buy.
On the other hand, I can’t be that other woman over there either – the one who cheerfully forgets all she ever was and all she ever did and all she ever wanted and becomes a mother to the end of all else. The one who so immerses herself in her children, her family and her household that after 20 years, there’s nothing left of the person she used to be. The one who ends up bitterly frustrated and resentful, because her children never live up to her expectations because she never realized that her expectations were for them to do all that she never could because she was too busy raising them.
What I want to be is this woman, here, who works, but doesn’t put it at the top of the priority list; who spends her free time with her family and enjoys it; who occasionally takes a couple of hours or a couple of days, or even a whole week or two to do something completely self-indulgent and does it without any sense of guilt. I want to be the one who achieves what is important and doesn’t fret about what isn’t and who makes the most of the evenings and weekends with the family without wishing to do a lot of other stuff that excludes them. Most of all, after all we went through to even get our kids in the first place, I don’t want to be the one who leaves the raising of her kids to other people. I want to be the one to know what’s going on in their lives – who didn’t come to school, who had a birthday, who got a star, who cried – I want to be the one they tell that stuff to. I want to be the one they talk to and learn from and ask questions to and turn to the moment they are upset. I want to be the mother – not all day long, true, but still not anything less than the mother.
Yes, I know – I want to find balance, that’s all.
That’s asking for the whole world on a platter, isn’t it? But then again… if you don’t ask…