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Parent Guilt

I arrived home tonight around 6pm. After a 40 min commute I picked up my three children, made dinner, cleaned up dinner, supervised the making of a Valentine’s box and painstakingly assisted my youngest child in writing out his classroom Valentine’s to ensure he spelled each name correctly, per his request. By 7:45pm, I kind of just needed to sit down and shut down for a minute. However, I’m convinced my youngest child was born with some type of special power that allows him to sense the moment I need to relax. As soon as I sat down he came running out of the bedroom begging me to throw a football to him as he practiced his footwork over the agility ladder he’d asked for for his 8thbday. I found myself torn, guilty and somewhat ashamed, as the reality of me as a tired human being began to win out over the fantasy of me as an energetic, fun-loving mom.

I intellectually know that I have unrealistic expectations of myself. I also know that it’s ok for me to feel tired after a full day of work and parenting. I would tell any of my clients that it’s completely normal to want to lie down and chill out for a little while at the end of the day. In fact, I would encourage them to make sure they did that on most days because it’s simple and good self-care. I know all of that. I even believe most of it and I still feel guilty.

Fast forward 12 hours. After trying to sleep with two kids in my bed (one sick, one stubborn), I end up spending most of the night on the couch. I cook a warm breakfast and manage to get two of three children on their buses while the third, who is home sick from school, heads into the office with me. During my 40 min morning commute her stomach starts to bother her. She’s a little whiney but generally attempts to deal with it with as few complaints as she can manage. I arrive at work to attend a meeting that could have taken place without my physical presence. Half the time I’m tuned out thinking to myself, “what am I doing? Why did I drag her into the office with me? Why didn’t I just call into the meeting?” The reality of the situation is that the work meeting wasn’t important enough to sacrifice my kid’s comfort and my kid’s physical condition wasn’t bad enough for me to feel like a piece of shit mother because I brought her there. But there I am. Stuck in the reality of both realities. My drive and absolute need to be successful at my career to support myself, and my children, is in constant competition with my desire to be a present, compassionate and nurturing mother. (In fact, as I’m typing right now and attempting to work from home, my 11 year old is explaining to me the overlap between Glee and The Flash.) We’ve all heard employer’s say, your children come first, but the reality for most of us is: if our kids come first too often we will lose our jobs and if our jobs come first too often, we will lose a solid relationship with our children. It is a constant and sometimes maddening, juggling, balancing and magic act to pull off on most days. It’s constant motion and flow, what is right one day may be different the next, the variables at play are many and most parents feel obligated and driven to be attuned to all of them almost all of the time.

And the reality of that? Well, it’s impossible.

When faced with impossible situations and expectations most people do one of two things: become hyperviligant and obsessed or paralyzed and shut down. When society decided to tell women we could have it all, society forgot to revamp the system. In a time (and for sure geographical location), where it seems to me, that the demands of parents (academic, extracurricular and social) have increased to become a full time position in and of itself, society forgot to send labor a memo saying we needed more time off, more opportunities to work from home, higher wages and 3 day weekends for sanity’s sake alone. Family life in suburbia seems to require that one parent be at least flexible or home full time. The cost of living requires that most have households where both parents work.

Fast forward another 24 hours. After putting my last child on the bus this morning I walked back into the house to grab my bags. I paused at the door as I walked in and surveyed the destruction of one morning with three children. After a long night of stress and worry over about being a good enough mother, I found myself looking around our messy house feeling pleased and comforted by a home well lived in. Not a perfect home, not always a clean home, not perfect children, maybe not even clean children (I know for sure one of them did not brush his teeth before going to school) but well lived in and well loved.

It’s not always about what we do or how we do it that changes our lives, but more often the angle at which we look at it.

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