At four o'clock this afternoon, I bounded up the stairs in my parents' house having just billed 5-6 hours of work, my new "full" day of work. I walked down the hallway, past the front door and stared wistfully at the running shoes and gym back I had packed before I left the house this morning, when my ambitions for the day were at their greatest.
"Man, I really would like to go for a run right now." I sighed. Despite the steady rain coming down outside, it was perfect running weather. The temp was in the upper forties and there was not a sign of wind.
"Go for it." My mom/childcare manager prompted.
"I would....but I've been working all day. I'd feel bad for not spending time with the kids first.
"Go run. Don't feel bad. You need to take care of you first. Your kids are so well loved...by you and everyone else."
I was grateful for that comment. Four years ago, my mom would have never said that. Four years ago, my mom had a very different attitude about the fact that I was a working mom. She had always been a stay-at-home mom. She quit her "working" career weeks before I was born and never looked back. She couldn't fathom how or why I would leave my kids (just "kid" then) and go to the office.
I tried to outline for her the intracacies of my situation on many occassions. I had a hefty student loan. I had suffered three and a half years of rigorous legal education and I wanted to us my degree! Also, to her utter disbelief, I WANTED to work. I loved being an attorney. I could go over these facts again and again and still she would make passive-aggressive comments like, "raising children is the most rewarding career," "children need their mommies," "So-and-so decided to be a stay-at-home mom, isn't that just the most wonderful thing?" and "are you sure you want to leave your kids and go to work?"
Initially, when I returned to work after Jacob was born, I felt like she was constantly fuelling my mommy-guilt. As if I was constantly under her strutinizing gaze. Maybe she didn't do it intentionally. Maybe she did. It doesn't matter. It hurt. I was already struggling with my decision to return to work (with nearly a mortgage worth of student loans, I didn't really have a choice anyway). I didn't need the extra self-doubt.
One time, my husband and I planned to attend a friend's wedding in Canada. We had arranged for my mom to watch Jacob for the weekend. When we arrived at her place that day to drop him off, she told me that I didn't spend enough time with Jacob and that he needed to come with us. Needless to say, she guilted me into abandoning our initial plans. We suddenly had an extra passenger for our trip.
But something happened over the last four years. My mom no longer criticizes or throws passive-aggressive comments my way. In fact, she has become one of my biggest supporters. I would like to think that I played some part in the transformation. I'd like to think that I have shown her that a person can have a career and a family without sacrificing too much. That a woman can be success at her job as well as in parenting. I'd like to believe that I have opened her mind in that respect.
When she told me today that I should go ahead and go for me run without feeling guilty, I was surprised at how encouragement I felt from that comment. I have always been self-motivated and independent. I've never really needed a shoulder to cry on. I've never really had a best girlfriend that I could call up and spill my guts to (and I never really felt an absence in not having that). I never really worried too much about what other people thought about me (I put enough pressure on myself as it is!). But, for some reason, that comment, and other comments like it that my mom has made over the past year, really gave me a boost.
With that encouragement, I donned my running gear and laced up my favorite pair of well-warn running shoes. I hit the road, the cold, and the steady rain with a light heart and happy mind. You know what? My kids ARE happy. They ARE well-loved. In fact, I am happy. Ever since started my new job (two days a week at "home" and slightly reduced hours which get me home at a normal person's reasonable hour), I havent't felt a tad bit of self-doubt regarding my decision (or non-decision) to be a working mom. For the first time in four years, I have not felt a single drop of guilt.
Part of the credit goes to negotiating my new work arrangement. But I have no doubt that a big part of that is the fact that my mom is now my biggest fan and a great source of mental and emotional support. No matter how independent we think we are, we can't do it alone. We can't do it without support.