It was a typical weekday evening. Our family had just finished cleaning up from dinner and Sweet Pea was quietly playing with her ‘babies’ in the family room. I sat at the kitchen table to look through the pile of papers that were sent home from school that day. Having just turned 2 years old, Sweet Pea had recently graduated from the infant program at her childcare center and was now in ‘Discovery Preschool,’ aka- the 2’s program. Sitting in front of me was a huge envelope, bursting to the seams with examples of all the activities Sweet Pea had done throughout the infant program- it represented her growth from 5 months old through her second birthday.
As I sifted through the contents of the envelope my heart caught in my throat a little and I started to tear up. There it was– evidence of all the great and wonderful activities my daughter had participated in since she started school and I started back to work. Painting with tempura paint, with sand, with watercolors, and with food. There were projects involving crepe paper, construction paper, and feathers– using not only brushes but also items such as corks, sponges, fingers… and sometimes her entire body. There were also pictures of Sweet Pea role playing, dressing up in various costumes, playing in all sorts of sensory-rich activities. The artwork was there as a testament to the amazing care and education Sweet Pea received, many times with a description of the activity and picture of her creating the artwork attached. I should have been thrilled.. and I was. I still am. However, my first reaction was to cry.
My first reaction was a sense of loss.
I am not sure what I should call it so I will name it ‘A Certain Kind of Working Mom Guilt.’ This is not guilt per se… it isn’t about me feeling guilty that I work outside the home and Sweet Pea goes to school. It is more a sense of loss that while I am working outside the home, Sweet Pea is having many amazing, sensory-rich, fun experiences… and I am missing many of them. It is the feeling that I am missing out on the magic of seeing my beautiful little girl blossom into the person she is going to become. The sense that miracles happen in the ordinary and our ordinary is relegated to a few hours in the evening during the week and the weekends.
Am I the only Mom who works outside the home and feels this sense of loss? I really don’t think so. However, sometimes it doesn’t seem like it is socially acceptable to own up to these feelings.. almost as if by admitting that we are missing out on something special, we invalidate our decision to work outside the home. Or conversely, by admitting this feeling but continuing to work, we forfeit any right to complain. Well, neither of those choices are acceptable to me. I love my daughter with all my heart. I work outside the home, not just because I need to, but because I want to. I do feel a sense of loss, a profound sense of loss, regarding the experiences I will not share with her– and there is nothing wrong with that.
Ultimately, it all boils down to choices and perspective (doesn’t everything?). When I poured over Sweet Pea’s educational portfolio, as soon as my eyes started to tear up, I reminded myself that there are many benefits to my working outside the home. Parenting and child rearing are not a zero sum game or a wacko dichotomous universe where there are only good and bad choices, black and white decisions. Just about every decision a parent will make has pros and cons (which is why I loathe ‘Mommy Wars’ almost as much as I detest the smell of toddler diapers), and there are as many valid parenting styles as there are parents.
Yes, it absolutely stinks that I am not able to sing every verse of Sweet Pea’s life story with her as a duet. However, if I am going to be honest with myself:
- The care and education she is receiving really is top-notch. Ultimately, it is the fact that she is having these experiences that counts the most– not whether or not she has all of them with me.
- If I were to stay home and be Sweet Pea’s full time care provider, there is no guarantee that she would have had this many great experiences to date. Seriously… I know there are some amazing Moms out there, who are fantastic about filling their kid’s days with crafts, nature walks, music, etc… I am not saying I would not strive for that pinnacle of Mommy awesomeness. I just know that I would probably not be as consistent as the romantic, idealized movie of my life as a ‘stay at home’ Mom.
So, is that it? Do I just resign myself to the notion that Sweet Pea will have these great experiences, and I will miss out on all of them because I work outside the home? Of course not! I don’t think being a Mom who works outside the home means you miss out. Just as with all of the other decisions you make about how you will raise your kiddos, you have a ton of influence. You are still the Mommy! You will always be Mommy. It doesn’t matter how amazing your child’s childcare is, the emotional connection your child has will be with you!
Your child doing an art project at school is just that.. an art project. However, if you do the same art project with your child at home, it is not just a project, it becomes a cherished memory. Isn’t that awesome? How do you capitalize on that? Well, remember those evenings and weekends I mentioned earlier? I treat that time as prime ‘memory maker’ time. It is special because I choose to make it special. I may not be able to do 20 craft projects a month with Sweet Pea… but I can do four or five. I may not be able to take daily nature walks with her, but we can do something special just about every weekend- like visiting a park, museum, or seasonal festival.
The thing is, if I viewed my time away from Sweet Pea only through the lens of what I was missing out on, I would be devastated. Instead, the reality is that because our family treats the time we have together as sacred, we tend to make the most of it, and in the process, many memories are made through the shared experiences we do have– enough memories to have a profound impact not only on the life of our little girl, but on the life of Mommy and Daddy as well. In the meantime, I am thankful that Sweet Pea has the opportunity to experience so many wonderful things at school. Perhaps I will even use a few of their ideas as inspiration for my own Mommy-daughter crafts. So, pass the paint and paste! I have some memories to make!
Thanks for reading!