“and be a joyful mother of children”
-Zohar, Tehilim 113:9
Recently, I was working on a time intensive project and was at my office for particularly long hours. This did not go unnoticed by my children, especially Abigail, who is not yet one year old and is used to having me (with so much joy btw) cater to her every need. Even in her pre-verbal state she communicated that she found my schedule unacceptable. She’s a wonderful baby, typically happy, and usually she’s very easy. However, her Scorpio moon did not take my absence well!
When Abigail was cranky because I was not home as much that week, that pulled at my heartstrings. In fact, a lot of moms share with me that they are plagued by guilt and feel torn between their families and their careers. These situations create an opening for doubt, leading you to consider if you are spending your time as you should, questioning if you are giving your family enough time or if they are missing out because you are giving of yourself in other big picture ways. Worry, fear and guilt can lead to feeling like a terrible mother who is missing out on some of her children’s formative moments.
In What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self syndicated columnist and best-selling author Cokie Roberts recounts that when she was a young mother in the late 1960’s the unspoken expectation was that mothers stopped working and stayed home with their children. Cokie felt that it was important for her to continue her work for the sake of her sanity. I love the letter that she wrote to her younger self during the ‘baby mayhem’ years (her words).
Is this a life sentence? Will you spend the rest of your life with jelly stains on your knees? Will your kids ever sleep through the night?
Being a mother of two tiny kids frazzles you because the utterly banal is, somehow, profoundly important. Nothing could be more mindless than wiping noses and pouring apple juice–yet you know there’s no bigger job. For so much to hinge on so little is brain-numbing…Now you’re supposed to put toys away and clean out the tub as if your children’s entire future success hangs in the balance?
This kind of absurd mismatch between day-to-day motherhood and the emotional charge it carries can be a little scary. Your kids, like all kids, are a pain in the neck sometimes. As a regular person in your regular life, you really don’t get angry. But as a mother you’re shocked at your capacity for anger with your children. Instead of childish misbehavior, their transgressions seem like terrible reflections on you as a mother.
Here’s my advice about anger, chaos and isolation. First, beware the dangers of extrapolation in motherhood. Despite his impressive tantrums, your willful son will not throw himself on the floor of grocery stores, screaming for candy, when he’s grown up. Just because your daughter cant seem to stop talking now doesn’t mean she won’t ever. Also, understand that this won’t last forever. Don’t feel oppressed by it. These are very short years in the scheme of life and you will live through them.
You’re trying to fit everything in at once, working for a TV station and a magazine. But Cokie, you’ll be in the workplace for fifty years, literally. There’s no need to be doing it all at once. At times you do have to, but there are times when you don’t. You can leave the work world–and come back on your own terms.
One more thing: There will be compensation! Your children will grow up to be charming and caring people–who will produce adorable grandchildren. Your willful son will someday have an extremely willful daughter. One of your daughter’s sons will talk incessantly. And guess who will have patience for all of that and more? You.
Hang in there.
Like Cokie, I have always continued with my work throughout and after each pregnancy. In my mind, there is no conflict between my work and my children. These are not opposites or ever in opposition, in fact, our projects are like our children. Of course you take care of your children and just as you don’t neglect one child for another, there is no need to neglect your passions and goals. Instead find the balance and create clear priorities.
I’m sure your next question is ‘how do I do this?’ I often use the analogy of wanting to sit shotgun, everyone gets to sit in the front seat, but its a rotation between children, a project with a tight deadline or even time for yourself. In my opinion being a great parent starts with making sure your children know that they are deeply loved and also being a good role model for them. Not only in practicing what you preach, but also in showing them that you have goals and passions that also require your attention. Giving yourself permission to follow those dreams teaches them to live that way themselves. Whether this is your approach to parenting or not, one thing is certain, all of the energy, time and brain power spent on guilt and what you could have done better or should have done differently, can be spent actually doing and being.
Rank the following in order of priority:
your kids, you, your husband
If you are like most women, you said:
- the kids
- your husband
So many parents (moms in particular) have their priorities precisely backwards.
How do you really want your list to read?
My list: You must first be self-interested (and by this I don’t mean self-centered).
Happy wife, happy life, happy Mom, happy home.
That’s a difficult one for a lot of women. We aren’t usually taught to put ourselves first. In fact, this is a culture of shaming women who put themselves first with words like selfish, narcissistic and self-indulgent.
NOW, that said, yes, some days my needs come last. I make that decision myself, with free will, when I know that it is more important to me to completely and solely attend to the needs of my family that day. The problem arises when it ceases to be the exception and putting yourself last becomes the rule.
In practice, establishing priorities is about establishing boundaries. Real boundaries. For instance, my husband and I get very little alone time during the week, so when we connect on date night we are firm with our kids, saying, “I love you but this time is for just daddy and mommy.”
This is the example that I want to set for my children. I want them to see me, doing the things that I love and loving them at the same time without conflict or guilt.
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Write a letter to yourself. Tell yourself to dust off a forgotten project, reignite an interest in something that you used to love doing or really commit to a goal that you have always wanted to achieve but told yourself you didn’t have time for. Or give yourself permission to NOT worry about your projects and goals right now, that this is one of those times that you don’t have to do it all at once.
Don’t forget to thank YOUR mother!
We never know the love of a parent till we become parents ourselves.
–Henry Ward Beecher
November 2, 2023
October 5, 2023