There are many reasons why I choose to work, some financial, some personal. I’ll also freely admit that part of it is because I’m not good at being a stay-at-home mom. While I’ve accepted this part of myself, it doesn’t mean it comes free of guilt. I have tons of it.
The thing is, I’m not good at entertaining them. I’m not at all adept at child’s play. Even when I was a child I wasn’t. I had to grow up young and fast and I changed. I’ve been told that I went from a happy, carefree fun-loving child to a serious, more deliberate child over night. It’s just one of the lasting effects of losing a parent at such a young age. I’ve never been good at imaginative play. I was more the type to sit in a room and listen to the adults. This has carried right over into motherhood. I love to go places with them, show them new experiences, but I am terrible at just being with them. I find their activities monotonous.
Let me be clear, I’m a loving, sensitive and caring mother. I’m the person they come to for comfort, for a story, to chat. I provide emotional stability, and offer the loving arms of complete acceptance. I cook and clean for them. I organize excursions, plan parties and holidays and deal with the extensive list of motherhood responsibilities that don’t involve play (like doctor’s appointments and school supplies). I’ve convinced myself that these are important roles to play too and that it’s okay if daddy is the one they go to for a good time. Particularly since I have boys and already struggle to relate to their interests. So I leave the play to the experts. People who are focused entirely on engaging them in learning and stimulating activities in ways that I struggle with.
Last week I read this article by Leah McLaren in The Globe and Mail with fascination: Ditch the guilt working moms: The kids are all right. I’m often caught unawares when I read blogs or news articles that articulate how I feel so precisely. It’s startling because I brate myself for some of this stuff and can get caught up in a silo of my own emotions. I forget that others can completely understand.
In her article, McLaren cited a landmark British study, conducted by the Institute of Education in London, that looked at the lives of about 17,000 British parents and their children. The study found that factors, such as emotional stability and quality of home life, were much more important in determining early childhood development than whether a mother worked or not.
I have never doubted that my children are thriving in child care because I see it with my own eyes. They are happy, confident, well-adjusted children. In care they are exposed to situations that they wouldn’t otherwise be. They learn how to handle themselves in diverse social situations, self-coping skills and that other adults can care for and love them. I’ve seen how these skills have served them well, even when they are still very young.
The greatest challenge for me as a working mother has been the overwhelming pull in so many directions. Day in and day out I go through the motions, I do all the tasks that need to be done at home and in the office, and yet I never feel fully focused on anything. I wears a woman down and takes away from the ability to do any of it really well.
Admittedly these are the struggles that I’ve chosen, and they aren’t going away. So for now, I’m home for a week with my boys. Of course I’ll enjoy it, and them. We’ll enjoy a few play dates and outings to keep me sane and them entertained. And I’ll hope, as I always do, that they won’t notice how little I like to play. Because I assure you, where I may not engage in child play, I compensate for in my adoration for them and I wouldn’t change that for the world.