I have mixed feeling about this article: The Opposite of a Tiger Mother: Leaving Your Children Behind It doesn’t shock me. It doesn’t make me happy or sad. My feelings are truly mixed.
I always wanted to be ‘someone’s mom’. I never remember a time when I didn’t and very early on I had also decided that I wanted to be a mom that stayed home with her kids. To that end I actually delayed motherhood until I finished all of the requirements in my chosen profession. I obtained my Master’s degree and completed all the requisite clinical hours for licensing and certification and then I promptly got pregnant. I was then pregnant or nursing (or both!) for the next three and a half years. Because I nursed I felt that my children quite literally could not live without me. I had a somewhat tumultuous childhood. Yes, there was some abuse, and there was poverty and there was moving – 10 times before we finally settle into our very own home. A tiny little place on a ‘private drive’ (a euphemism for a dead-end road) that was one of four houses lined up in a row facing a block wall. There was no street sign, the concrete road crumbled more and more as the years went by and when I would instruct people how to get there I always told them to ‘turn down the alley’ and most of the time they missed it because they would say: ‘It looked like an alley, I didn’t think anyone could live there.” I did live there. I grew up there from 7-17 and then again for a year or so after college before I got married.
One of the reasons I wanted to stay home was that I always felt like my childhood was unstable. I wanted my children to have consistency. I didn’t want to stay home for a while, complain about money and then drop them off at the nearest relative that didn’t really want 3 or 4 extra children in the house that was already bursting at the seams. I lived an hour away from the closest relative as it was so that wasn’t feasible anyway. I had moved far away on purpose. I needed the distance, maybe more than I have ever needed anything.
I love my children, but parenting is hard. It’s loud and exhausting emotionally and physically. Children are an endless stream of needs and wants and those needs and wants must be met someway, somehow even if it does leave you as a mother starving and chronically constipated and longing for a moment of quiet and peace. I finally got a babysitter after injuring my back hoisting a heavy load of cloth diapers from the pail to the washing machine. I would take a few hours every other week and get a coffee all by myself. It was heaven. We enrolled my son in preschool. Something I had at one time thought was useless! I was his mother *I* could teach him, he didn’t need preschool – ‘glorified daycare’. But I found I was more patient, less overwhelmed the more help I got. I had my daughter at home and just having one at a time was so much easier. When my son entered kindergarten my daughter started preschool and they were both gone in the morning for 3 hours.
I contemplated going back to work but decided the transportation and childcare arrangements were prohibitive. I would wait until they were on the same campus at least. The next few months were tough. I had 3 hours to myself, but they weren’t always the productive invigorating hours I hoped they would be. I dreaded pick-up from school because I would be hit with that consistent barrage of want and need that was rarely accompanied by politeness and gratitude. I had a couple of friends wonder why I hesitated to go back to work and encouraged me to explore it more. I was terrified. Then I finally drove to a childcare facility one day and took a tour. My problem with transportation and childcare suddenly seemed less daunting. This was something people did, the child were happy, they played, they ate, they were cared for just like the sign on the building that said ‘childcare center’ suggested.
So I went back to work fulltime. The first day I stopped by the gym instead of going directly after work to pick up my children. I worried that they would be upset at the delay, but they were perfectly fine and I felt at peace. The next day was not as easy. I picked them up and came home juggling bags, trying to put things in place while they cried out for my attention. The next day I came home first, took take of the few chores I needed to be ready for the next day and then went to pick them up. That has been my routine since and now I’m present when they come home. I have far less time with my children. I barely see them in comparison to our previous arrangement. But I honestly feel like a better mom for it. It’s not at all what I imagined and I’m still adjusting, but I’m reading to my kids at bedtime. I had given bedtime over to my husband because I so desperately needed a break at the end of the day. We go on family outings. We did before, but we can afford to go further away and to places like Disneyland every once in a while.
I didn’t expect my parenting to go through the evolution that it has. I do think it’s different for women and that there are greater expectations and demands. I’m sure I am not done learning and growing. I hope I’m not because I’m sure there are challenges ahead that I can hardly imagine now, in this moment. I’m not the mother I set out to be and I wonder who really is when I read stories like the one above. I’m setting out to be the best mother I can be given everything I now know and everything I hope to learn. And with that, it’s time to go pick up my kids…