The Working Parent: Finding “Get To” Instead of “Have To”


This morning I realized what the culture of motherhood in America has done to me. I’ve been brainwashed into believing that motherhood is “work.”

My children are twelve, seven and five and I started back to work at a fulltime job after eleven years of being part-time Mommy and part-time teacher.

I always felt bad that I wasn’t contributing more financially to our family, even while knowing that was silly. I did contribute financially because I took on the bulk of the parenting and housekeeping chores.

But there was a nagging feeling that I should be able to do more.

I yearned to have a fulltime job where I would be considered an important part of the team, where I would feel like I was respected for my mind and not just my ability to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

When my part-time workload would become overwhelming and the hours added up to close to full-time, I griped to my husband about how much harder I had to work than him. He was so lucky to escape to an office where he didn’t have to balance nursing a scraped knee, cooking dinner and finishing grading 75 research papers all in one afternoon.

I was doing double-duty, as most moms do today. I was a SAHM and a working-outside-the-home mom and I really felt like I could not have it all without losing my sanity completely.

With my youngest beginning kindergarten this year, I was ready to take the leap and be a working mom. Yes, of course, I would still be a mom when I was at home, but I foresaw the parenting duties as being more evenly allocated with both of us working outside the home fulltime.

We made arrangements with schedules and our babysitter; we planned out whom would handle morning routine and bedtime chores. We had this all mapped out pretty well and then I was off to be a working mom.

Somehow, again, I felt like I was overloaded with more responsibility than my husband.

I get home later and have a longer commute, so when I walk in the door, I now understand how he used to feel after work and travel—exhausted.

All the kids are screaming, running around, dirty dishes piled up. My husband is still trying to finish work on his computer in his office. Everyone wants me NOW. And all I want is to eat some leftover dinner and check my email.

Why? Because I’ve worked all day! And I don’t want to come home and have to work more.

That’s not fair.

Of course, it’s not.

No one can work nonstop, but isn’t that what parenthood is all about. There are thousands of essays, both serious and humorous, about how difficult the job of being a parent is. The whole war between the SAHM and working mom camps is made up to distract us from more important things, like being kick-ass women who support each other no matter our “work” choices.

Then out of the blue, I was struck by my erroneous thinking in the simplest moment.

“Good morning, sweetheart,” I said as I opened the shades in one of my youngest son’s room this morning. He was groggy and slow to rouse. Instead of forcing him awake, I lay down next to him and he pushed his rounded back up against me into a gentle spoon.

He sighed heavily and I rustled his tousled hair.

That’s when it hit me.

This isn’t work.

This is my family. This is what I’m working for.

If I can switch my angle of vision, if I can look at this family life with a different filter, then it becomes: I get to spend time with my family. I get to take care of them and nurture them. I get to be their mother—and I also get to have a career.

Then it truly isn’t about which work shift my husband or I are going to take; it becomes: Who can be there for them tomorrow morning? Who can cook tomorrow evening? Who can love them while the other parent is busy?

I will try this change in my perception and attitude. I will try to cherish these moments that I get to experience with my children, right here, right now.

Then I will go to work.

Sheila Hageman is a mother of three and author of Stripping Down: A Memoir, a meditation on womanhood and body image, and Beautiful Something Else, a novel.


Photo: Caroline

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