When I was a kid myself, fortunate to have a mom who was able to stay home with us or work only when we were at school, I used to think these horrible, absurd thoughts like, “why do people have children if they’re going to send them to day care all the time?” Clearly I was insane and I don’t know what inspired such craziness. Some of my best friends had working parents and would spend afternoons with babysitters or in extended day. But somehow I guess you think your experience is the norm and everyone else’s is the aberration, until you know better. Or at least that’s what I thought.
Now, as a working mom who also attempts to be at home a lot of the time with my child, I realize how complicated it is. Now, few people I know have the income to enable one parent to stay home all the time. I always imagined I would be a stay-at-home mom until I was a grown-up with a job and a mortgage. I knew then it wouldn’t be possible to afford our life (which is by no means lavish) on my husband’s income, and it wouldn’t be fair of me to expect him to support our family by himself. I also knew that I didn’t want to have a regular office job when I was a mom. I once had a (childless) boss who supervised me (then childless) along with several other women who had children or grandchildren. When parenting emergencies arose, he seemed less than compassionate. I vowed that I would not work for him when I had a child, and preferably not work for anyone who might scowl or scold me when I arrived late to a staff meeting because my child had am unexpected doctor’s appointment.
I launched my own business seven years ago so I could continue writing and editing for nonprofits, which I love; earn a living, which is necessary; and enjoy the flexibility of being able to make my child my top priority without anyone getting pissed off at me. And it’s worked out pretty well. My business has thrived, I’ve spent many amusing (and plenty of annoying) hours with Zoe, and I’ve always been able to take her anywhere she needs to be without having to ask permission. I’ve also put in more late nights than I care to remember finishing work that I didn’t get done during the hours she was at preschool or at my parents’ house or, yes, at part-time day care.
Still, five years into being a working mom, the specter of guilt still hovers nearby. I am confident that I am doing everything I can to be a good mom while I’m working as hard as I can to run a great business. But when I registered Zoe for kindergarten in June, and the registrar asked if I would be enrolling her in extended day, I said, “oh I don’t think we’ll be needing that.” When I did the math, I figured the hours Zoe will be in school will be about the same as the hours I had cobbled together child care this past year. So I’d make the best of it.
But sometimes you need to meet with a client after 2:41pm, when school is dismissed. And wouldn’t it be nice to get my work done during the day instead of at night? But I felt guilty signing up for extended day. I have friends whose kids are in child care 40-50 hours per week. I don’t judge. Their kids are lovely. But somehow it seemed wrong for me to leave my own kid at school for an extra hour or two. At the same time, as I’ve raced to pick Zoe up at camp every day this summer at 3:30, and struggled to fit everything in around that schedule, I was beginning to panic about the fall.
Today was the deadline for enrolling in extended day, so between client meetings I scurried over to the extended day office to register and pay and get it done. I was encouraged by a discussion I’d initiated on Facebook, my favorite parent support group, in which several working mom friends who live all over the country said how much fun their kids have in extended day and how it’s an opportunity for them to play and socialize and it will make me not stress about getting to school by pickup time. The thought of getting to totally enjoy Zoe when I pick her up instead of figuring out how I’m going to finish my work, return phone calls, and check emails, is appealing. And I am tremendously thankful that this opportunity exists. Friends of ours just moved from a school district filled with working parents that doesn’t offer any before or aftercare. Then today I read a column in the Post about how the lack of quality, affordable child care is a critical issue in our country–ignored by political candidates–and that it keeps many parents out of the workforce altogether.
It turns out I’m a damn good mom, even though, or maybe because, I am a working mom. I am thankful that I’ve created an arrangement that works for our family. I’m lucky that it’s worked out. And I know Zoe will be fine staying at school for an extra hour or two. Guilt be gone.