“Congratulations Mom. I’m really happy for you because I know this is something you’ve always wanted to do.” My ten year-old son greeted me at the back door and hugged me. “But I’m a little sad because I know it means you’ll be really busy too.”
Earlier that day, I had signed a publishing deal to write a book, and my son was right, this was a lifelong dream coming true. “It’s just a few months out of your long life,” I told him. “You’ll be okay.” And I meant it at the time.
On a high after closing the deal, I felt confident that:
1. My kids would be just fine with me holing up in my home office mornings and weekends for the next six months while I banged out the first draft of the book. After all, my husband takes the lead on managing our kids’ day-to-day lives anyway; I’m the primary breadwinner and he is the primary caregiver.
2. I was modeling healthy adult behavior for my children by pursuing my dreams.
3. I could manage to write a book, work full time and still have some family time (as long as my elderly parents stayed healthy).
I had some experience with the first two points. Once while volunteering on a Senate campaign, I worked the phone bank six nights in a row. I explained to my kids that I thought it was the right thing to do because sometimes we need to give our time to causes that are bigger than us. They said they understood.
The last point turned out to be true—I did finish my book, but not according to my plan. For starters, my parents didn’t stay healthy. I had to coordinate emergency room care, a rehab stay, home health aides and physical therapists while I was writing. And I discovered that no matter how far behind on my deadlines I fell, I couldn’t say no to my kids’ soccer or basketball games or to family skating on Saturday afternoons.
But even though I was present at events, I still missed a lot. I missed cuddling on the couch, family game nights, tuning in to what was happening at school. Once, during a conversation with some other mothers, I faked it when they started talking about a field trip our children had just taken. I knew nothing about it—not even that it had happened or where they had gone.
Times like that made me question my decision to pursue the book. As I sat in my office writing, ironically, about the challenges mothers have balancing career and family, I felt working mother guilt for perhaps the first time ever. This wasn’t something I needed to do in order to put food on the table, but it was something I needed to do for me. And while I felt guilty about saying no to my kids more than I had ever wanted to, I felt guiltier that I needed something more than my family to fulfill me. Isn’t motherhood supposed to be enough? And I knew, that even with this insight, I wouldn’t have turned the deal down.
And so I wonder what long-term affect my choices will have on my children? What kind of parents might they someday become because of me? Will they grow up and feel a pull to be involved in something bigger than their own day-to-day lives? Or will they overcompensate for their overextended mother and put all their focus on their home life? Maybe, they’ll strike a healthy balance between their personal and professional lives. And, just maybe, I will too. Maybe I already have.