Going back to work — guilt, guilt, guilt!

So this is how my mornings usually go this summer: I get up before the whole family, do my morning stuff, go to my desk and start work.

One daughter eventually slouches in wearing only a bathrobe, flops down silently and sits there for a minute, still waking up. Eventually she speaks. “What are we doing today?”

What the girls got up to while I was working....

I turn from my computer and outline the day. Unless I say, “Brownies with ice cream all day with 10 of your best friends”, her response is the same. A queenly, fatigued “boooring.”

Later, the other daughter comes in, after having lurked in the yard for a while, watching the cats and avoiding brushing her teeth. She opens the door brusquely and says one of two things, “Can I watch TV?” or “Can I call Lydia/Faith/Kaela?”

My response is measured and calm to each girl. I turn from the computer, smile, call them over and hug them. I remind them, if necessary, what time it has to be to call people, what our rules are about media and ask them to think for themselves whether or not they have any screen time left. “I’m bored,” is often mentioned. Sometimes, “It’s all your fault” is also brought up.

I remind them, in a short, child-friendly sentence, that it’s their job not to be bored. I refrain from discussing the great outdoors that surrounds them, how many games/crafts/books await them in their very own rooms THAT WE JUST BUILT THEM. I point out that while they are welcome to stay silently in my office, the longer they try to bargain with me, the longer it will be before my work is finished for the morning.

More of what they figured out for themselves...

Eventually they do go out and figure out something. What they figure out is not perfect – we are in a process. I have landed some much-needed freelance work. I haven’t had outside commitments like this in their entire lifetimes. But we’re muddling along ok.

What’s not working is what’s going on inside me. In terms of activities, this summer is not that different from previous years. What’s different is that I’m less available. My mind is partly elsewhere as I re-start a career. And my inner calm is skittering around like water on a hot griddle.

In a word, I’m GUILTY. I’m betraying them. By having a part of my life that is not completely flexible for them. No matter what people say about how it’s appropriate for kids to see their parents working and satisfied, my heart is not buying it.

And at least one daughter is not buying it. When people ask her how her summer’s going, she does me the courtesy of at least shrugging, rather than saying her favorite B word. For her, it’s another adjustment after a profound change — the renovation — that she wouldn’t have signed up for.

That forms  the heart of each morning’s panic: I want my girls to get it – to understand everything that’s happening and most importantly, to understand me!! Get me right now so we’re all happily on the same page. Forget that junk about kids being on their own paths, learning to delay gratification, knowing the joy of achieving for themselves. In the hearts of all mothers, isn’t there this wish to fulfill all our desires by fulfilling all our children’s desires? Whatever you want, darling, I’ll do it! Each and every little thing, and to hell with the consequences!

Oh. Right. I guess I am the adult here. Not only would such exquisite spoiling be impossible, but yes, it might, ahem, be some pretty horrible parenting. I turn back to my computer and leave my girls to their boredom but “it’s” still there, unsettled, unresolved, unsoothed.

It seems I’ll just have to do the same thing with my heart – put the monthly bills under its nose and leave it to find its way to trust, daily, that everything’s ok.

The final result -- Yum!

Have you gone back to work? Did you and your kids have feelings about it? How did you figure it all out?

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4 Responses to Going back to work — guilt, guilt, guilt!

  1. Always a pleasure to read Cynthia Marshall in the morning. The *kids* are now young adults out and moving around in their own worlds, but I do remember a tug and a wrench at both apron and heartstrings when I’d return to work after maternity leave. By the time number three arrived, it was sort of old hat for all of us and the kids’ schedules and ours seemed to morph into one small corporate time clock. Dinner would happen. Tub time, stories, bed. Me, shortly thereafter. Guilt not so much. Anguish, certainly. I’d get these calls from daycare that sent me to the ladies’ room in tears. “Morgan has a fever of 102. He looks wan. He won’t eat.” In the first year of his life we had a half dozen trips to the ER for croup, which later turned to asthma. Those were the days I wanted to chuck my briefcase, get off the plane, and bunk in with my babies. I remember being perpetually exhausted, never feeling as if I’d given my all to the office or home front, and having nothing left for myself at the end of the week. I figured this was what I’d signed up for. Motherhood. Now that they’re mostly out of the nest, and I’m no longer carrying a briefcase or hopping on planes as much, I have time. All those “what I’d do for two hours by myself” moments are here. And I’m still asking, what will I do with my two spare hours? Like you, I’ve chosen freelance writing work. Add that to summer gardening and golf, the dog, painting, and visiting with other aging moms, I feel engaged, enthused, and inspired. Talk to me in January.I’ll be missing the kids by then, and looking back at the exhausted years with fondness.

    Find the *now*, Cynthia, and embrace it. I love the photos of your well-strewn kitchen counter. This is a mother’s life and I love looking at yours. (-: XO .

    • growingmygirls says:

      Ack! I’m so glad, for now, that I’m not running off with a briefcase, and yes, I’m feeling like I have little time for myself ever! I’m figuring that out, but I think there’s little chance of finding a good balance during summer vacation. But we are having fun 😉 What I really feel, as an older mother, perhaps, is that I just long to slow down, to just sit and read, take a long time to talk things out or cook slowly, just let my brain stop popping like popcorn! But it probably is so good for it. Thanks — I’m always looking for the now and sometimes I find it….

  2. Tonia says:

    Awww, the Big G. Guilt. My 3 kids are grown now but I think I was drenched in my struggle with guilt for the 25 years I spent raising them. Guilt if I worked outside the home; guilt if I stayed home. Guilt if I gave a consequence; guilt if I let them get by with something. Guilt if I took too much time fixing a nice meal; guilt if I fixed macaroni and cheese. I think the struggle with guilt IS a mother’s life. You’ve captured it. Why can’t we be content with the “good enough” model?

    • growingmygirls says:

      I’m liking drenched. That’s kind of how it feels and how it has felt from the beginning — am I doing it right? Now? Someone is doing it differently — oh no! I think I am quite settled now with being good enough — just wish I knew what it really was!

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