“I stayed home because I didn’t want someone else raising my kids. That’s not why I had children.”
I overheard a mom saying this once at preschool drop-off. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard other mothers saying it in other places too. I may have even said something like it myself, before I had kids, though I am not sure what the hell I was thinking if I did. Because the truth is, and always has been, I am a working person.
I work because it is compulsory, because it is crucial to my survival. I do not have parents who support me. I do not hve a safety net. Everything I have, I have because I had to work (and so I did) and the same is true for Darry. And even though we, too, don’t prefer to have someone else raising our kids, it’s not presently an option, given our mortgage, modest standard of living and desire to build some semblance of long-term security. Also I work because — and here’s a tricky bit — neither Darry nor I want to be home full time with three children. We both know that is the hardest job of all and we’ve been over this scenario and feel certain it would disrupt the sense of balance and equity we have in our relationship and in our co-parenting.
I don’t think all proud stay-at-home moms make “I wanted to raise my own kids” claims self-righteously, and I seriously question how many stay-at-home moms are resolute about their decision to stay home. But I do think statements like “I wanted to raise my own kids” over-simplify what is probably one of the most complicated and heart-wrenching realities a person can ever experience: being a parent and being a person with a job at the same time.
It is a fundamentally incompatible thing. Working and raising children, at least the way I personally conceive of both roles. Since Serafina was five months old, and I slowly and sadly and certainly made my return to work, my heart has been broken in a million tiny ways, pretty much every time I say goodbye to her. And especially on those days when the goodbyes are difficult.
This summer Serafina is in camp for the month of July. She’s with her beloved teachers and her buddies from preschool, but in a different setting, which is outdoors for most of the long, hot day, and the transition from school to camp has not been perfectly smooth. She’s the youngest kids attending, one of the few kids who still naps and arguably it’s a little too much for her. She comes home pretty beat and most mornings she says she’d rather stay at home. (That was never the case during school.) And every morning for the past week, she has panicked when it’s time for me to say goodbye and howled as I walked back to the car.
This is basically the worst sensation a working parent can experience. Leaving your child in someone else’s care as they look you in the face and beg you to stay because they want to be with you. This is not a scenario that plays out in your head when you decide getting pregnant is a good idea and that, when the time comes, you’ll work out some kind of child care plan so you can keep your income flowing. But here we are.
We are lucky our kids have amazing, nurturing care from wonderful, loving caregivers. We are lucky we have jobs that compensate us fairly. So much luck makes it seem wrong somehow to still complain that this combo of good fortune is hard, all the same. But right now and for the foreseeable future, every day is a circuitous path of exhaustion (getting up and getting out “on time”), grief and guilt (handing the kids over to someone else while they sometimes protest), anxiety (racing from one thing to the next, most especially to pickup), relief (when we finally get to see the children, happy and in tact at the end of the day) and more exhaustion (when we get a couple more hours caring for them while they are tired, often grumpy) and gratitude (when they go to sleep and give us the sweetest hugs imaginable as we’re tucking them in).