Monday Jul 23, 2007

Confessions of a Working Mother



Parenthood is a puzzlement.  Part joy, part treachery, part luck, part genetics, part nurturing, part common sense.

I was 30 when we had our first child, Carolyn.  (At the time - 25 years ago - I was considered a "geriatric" maternity case.  Nice.)  We had already been married for 7 years when I became pregnant, and although it had taken me awhile to come around to wanting kids, I was definitely ready. 

Carolyn was pure joy, and two years later, we had Andrew, who grew into a bright, funny and endearing little boy.  So much so that one night I turned to my red-bearded husband and said, "We have one blue-eyed, blond girl and one brown-eyed, brunette boy.  Let's try for a green-eyed redhead."  At which point, he reached over, removed the glass of wine from my hand and suggested that perhaps I had had a tad too much to drink.

I went back to work when Carolyn was six months old.  Once we had Andrew, I left the workforce for three years to stay home with our children.  It was an exceptionally difficult time for me. I'm a prickly, impatient person with tons of energy and drive.  My humor has a dark edge to it.  To say I found it hard to fit in with the other stay-at-home moms is an understatement. I did all the mom things - play groups, babysitting coops, swimming lessons, Gymboree.  And I did things for me, too - painting classes, bridge classes.  But once Carolyn started kindergarten, I was very, very ready to return to the workforce.  Which I did, part-time for 5 years, and then full-time.

Was that a mistake?  That is the question that I have asked myself from that day forward.

Last week, on the final evening of our Montana vacation, I was out canoing on the lake with my husband and now 23-year-old son.  The three of us were having a pretty frank but friendly conversation about my son's life and the choices he's made.  The conversation was going so well that I made the mistake of asking what we could have done differently - rearing Andrew was very difficult for both him and for us.  He calmly said, "Well, mom, you could have been home more.  You just weren't there for me, physically or emotionally."

If he had taken the canoe paddle and slapped me full force across the face, it couldn't have hurt more.  As statements with an element of truth often do.

I struggled to maintain my composure until we returned to our cabin, wherein I went to the shower and sobbed.

If it was up to me, we would have ended the discussion there.  I have an unfortunate habit of withdrawing from very painful personal subjects. But he's tougher than his mom, so we talked afterward for a number of hours.  And agreed there was plenty of blame to go around for both of us. We also celebrated our strong relationship today, one forged in fire, pain and love.

So here's the question.  What's the right thing to do?  I had an education, a brain, drive, ideas and ambition.  Staying at home was making me cranky, crabby and miserable.  At the same time, I had a son who was far more fragile than I understood at the time, and who needed me more than I knew.

It's not easy being a parent.  It's not easy being ... me. I'm left with regrets, sadness and puzzlement.


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terrymckenzie

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