I follow Ann Voskamp's blog, A Holy Experience, through Google Reader and she often has links to other blog posts that she recommends. This morning, she linked to the post "Relationship and Sacrifice" from Elizabeth Foss. It was an interesting read.
Elizabeth unpacked some important beliefs about mothering, part of which is encompassed in the following quote from 'Hold on the Your Kids',:
“No matter what problem or issue we face in parenting, our relationship with our children should be the highest priority. Children do not experience our intentions, no matter how heartfelt. They experience what we manifest in tone and behavior. We cannot assume that children will know what our priorities are: we live our priorities.”
In the post, Elizabeth spends a considerable amount of time highlighting the importance of having our use of time demonstrate to our children and our families how they fit into our priorities. This has really been on my mind of late. As you know if you have been around here for the last while, I am returning to my job in about a month, something about which I am certainly ambivalent. I enjoy my job, I am a teacher and I am able to reach students every day. It isn't as if I were working in a career in which I was just making money or in which I felt that the rewards were superficial - teachers make a difference and I am given the chance to make that difference each and every day. If I am honest, though, I will confess that I am returning to work for one reason and one reason only - to pay the bills. I wish I could remain at home, at least until my children are both in school full-time but that isn't in the cards for us financially right now. Please don't leap in and give me the "where there's a will, there's a way..." speech - right now, it isn't possible for us for several reasons that I don't need to get into. Suffice to say that my regret at going back to work has me pondering use of time.
I have found the last four years to be a real struggle in terms of time management. I have breastfed both children exclusively and while Baby Bean is now taking a bottle, neither child took a bottle as a younger baby. Both babies were also co-sleepers and we don't have any access to local babysitting - several times a year, my mother would come up to cover for us if we both needed to be out but with Pk, that never happened until she was well over a year old and I have never left Baby Bean in the evening for a significant amount of time (and he is now 9 months old). Leaving home to have "me" time was not an option.
Before I continue, I want to say that my feelings are my own and are related to my experience only. I don't condemn any other mother and I don't pass judgement on the choices that other mothers make. I can't get into another person's head and until I have walked a mile in someone else's shoes, I can't know what they are thinking or feeling. I will admit to having felt that some friends weren't home enough for their kids but I have also seen other mothers who are so wrapped up in their children that they have entirely disappeared. We all have to determine what is best for us and for our families and if there is one thing that I have learned on my mothering journey, it's that constant judgement is so diminishing to all of us. I hope that nobody will feel criticized in the rest of what I have to say - I speak only to my own path.
I have gotten a lot of grief for that from other mothers and from friends without children because I don't go out much. I have been made to feel like I am somehow lesser because I don't want to go out for girls' nights or to groups at church or to showers or concerts. I live in a funny world - we have a great deal of contact with friends who are either secular and "out there" in the world on one hand and with church friends on the other who, for the most part, are much more connected to being home with their families. That doesn't mean that the church friends don't put the pressure on as well. I was pretty shocked when last April, I got a LOT of flack from women at our church when I declined to go on the women's retreat which was a weekend away because I didn't want to be away from my daughter, especially given that I had been working during the week. I was repeatedly told that going away from her would make me a better mother.
I am often treated as though I am giving my life away. I can see people thinking that I will be one of those mothers who will be adrift when my children leave home. People believe that I am giving up so much and I can't tell you how many times I hear, "I don't know how you do it. You must be so sick of..." People see motherhood and being at home with the family as drudgery and something to be escaped.
It's funny but it doesn't feel that way to me. I won't lie, there are evenings (like several this week!) when Baby Bean refused to go to sleep and then, once asleep, was up again after an hour or so, a pattern which constantly repeated. On those evenings, there are certainly moments during which I wish I could have a few minutes to knit or watch a programme or finish on the computer. It's nice to have those built-in "me" moments, especially when they happen naturally and I don't have to feel as if I were taking something away from my children. There are those days, when my nerves are frayed and I don't want to deal with anything, when we get in the car and drive somewhere, anywhere, with the DVD going in the car so that I can get that jolt of caffeine and that bit of quiet time to think, to listen to the radio, to not have to answer the constant barrage of questions.
On the other hand, though, I want to be with my children. I don't need girls' nights, I don't feel like I want a weekend away and I don't think that being away from my children for a weekend after being at work all week with make me a better mother. Today I went and bought Pk her new booster seat which means that Baby Bean will move into her old seat and no longer be in the bucket carseat. How could the time have passed so quickly? How could there no longer be a baby from our family in that seat anymore? How could I watch the images of families in Japan and not recognize that the time with which we are allowed our children is so incredibly brief, I MUST grasp every second? I want to always have the lingering warmth of my childrens' skin on my hand, the sound of a voice in my ear, the smell of their hair in my nose. Being away from them, I miss so much.
Today, I looked at Pk and saw a girl. It made my heart ache. My baby girl is gone. There was no trace of the colicky baby or the grinning toddler left. She is a girl, struggling to find her independence, needing me but wanting to not need me quite so much. I am thrilled that she is maturing and growing (the alternative is unthinkable) but I am so sad that I will no longer cuddle that baby in the rocking chair as we nurse or strap her into her highchair to enjoy a meal together or support her as she takes wobbly steps. My arms ache for the baby that she was and there is no way that I am going to miss the fleeting moments with my emerging girl. It's the same with Baby Bean and I could list the many things that are fleeting with him, too (and given his age, there are so many more fleeting things now).
For me, the sacrifice is not that I have to be with my children but that for so much of life, we aren't able to be with them. I don't want to miss those moments and my prayer is that my children will always know how much I love them and the space that they fill in my life. Yes, we will be apart and yes, I do believe that any healthy relationship needs distance and children need to learn to exist apart from their parents. We will enjoy times apart but I hope to continue to make the priority the "us" time, rather than the "me" time. If I can only convey to my children (and my husband) that they are my calling and one which I accept with pleasure, I will consider that I have done a good job.