A couple Mondays ago, I was unable to get off work in enough time to get the kids from the afterschool sitter, who had a soccer game in Ellicott City. Her mother, a gem of a woman and apparently a saint, offered to take my three with her to the game — and bring them home afterward.
The respite seemed at first like a sudden patch of sun in the middle of a hail storm. I left work when it was done, instead of speeding out with deliverables undelivered. Without little ones underfoot, I cooked two meals for the week. My husband came home from his own crazy work day and told me about it — uninterrupted.
Meanwhile, I knew the kids were having fun with their friends and getting some atypical run-around-outdoors time on a school night in the care of someone we trusted. It seemed like a win all around.
Until they finally came falling through the front door 30 minutes after we generally start the bedtime routine. They’d eaten already, thank goodness, and their homework was done. But there had been no piano practicing, no going over the events of the day, no showering, no reading, no decompressing from a long 13 hours away from home.
My inability to leave work at a decent time meant my three kids had their evening routine knocked totally off center. They came home spent, cranky and over-the-top needy. At that late hour, all we could do was kiss and hug them hastily, brush the dust off and hustle them straight to bed.
Enter good ole’ Guilt, my spiraling, soul-sucking constant companion.
“If only I could have gotten home earlier” turned into “If only I could change my work schedule so I could be home when they get out of school every day,” which finally turned into “If only I didn’t have to work at all.”
Helen Andrews, the managing editor of The Washington Examiner magazine, recently wrote a hotly contested piece in The New York Times making the case that instead of working toward more progressive family leave, we should be striving for societal and political changes that make it easier for moms to stay home.
From the article: “Many career moms manage their stressful work-life balance thanks only to low-wage immigrant labor to take care of their children, clean their houses and deliver their takeout. Even with hired help, working women still spend nearly as much time on household tasks as their stay-at-home mothers and grandmothers did. The result is stress, frustration — and cries for national action.”
I remember the days when the kids were all in diapers and I’d take an occasional day off to hang out with them. I remember feeling much more relaxed and present all day when I had nothing to do but be Mommy, instead of packing all my parenting into two hours at the end of the day, my patience and energy running on fumes.
Though that life might be good for some women, I know it wouldn’t work for me. When I look back on those infrequent stay-at-home days, some of the magic was because those were special occasions and not my everyday norm. I allowed myself to be totally present with the kids and ignore the dishes or the laundry, because one day of ignoring dishes is a holiday. A week of that is inviting a mouse infestation.
Practically speaking, we need both our incomes because we hope to do more for our children financially than our own loving parents ever could, in terms of helping them pay for college, buy a first home or start a business. By doing so, we hope that their kids will be even better off.
And, let’s be honest, all the trekking to Storyville or Science Alive was fun when the children were cooperative. Which, I think, looking back on it, was half of one time.
Oh, who am I kidding?
We’re a two-career family and yes, it’s stressful. But Ms. Andrews and her theories can have a seat. Guilt, you can join them.
While you’re all there, check my sons’ spelling words, please. I’m going to be a little late getting home from work.
Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who works in communications at Constellation. She and her husband have twin 9-year-old sons, a 7-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at email@example.com. Her column appears monthly.