Am I an Absent Mother?

Absent Mom(1)

Confession: I spend more time working than I do with my kids. I’m not proud of it. Embarrassed, actually. Now, before you go wagging your finger at me, let me defend myself.

  • I’m the mother to a college student and a high schooler, and I’m stepmother to another high schooler. They’re my heart.
  • I’m a high school English teacher, which means I grade essays. A lot. It can take a week or two to grade all 125 essays well; that grading is largely done at home because I don’t have time at school. Outside of the classroom, I’m the AP Coordinator for our district. I’m also on 90% of our campus’s committees and on multiple regional-level committees. So. Many. Meetings.
  • I’m a professional writer; if I don’t write, I don’t get paid and I need to get paid because, well, life…. Writing is a time-consuming and brain-sucking endeavor, no matter how much you like it. And when it becomes a business, being an author is a lot less romantic than I thought it’d be.
  • I sell Plexus® nutrition supplements because they changed my life; sharing them with others takes time.
  • I’m in graduate school, working on my master’s degree in counseling.

I think I can say I’m busy by anyone’s standards. Why do I do it? I began working three jobs to make ends meet as a single mother. I swore I’d start dropping some of the less-important commitments the second I didn’t need the extra money. I tell myself I need the extra money, that I’m doing it for my kids, even though I can make ends meet on my teacher salary alone. So why don’t I just quit the extra jobs?

I actually like what I do.

And I’m not alone. Many working (and stay-at-home) moms enjoy the work they do, especially if it gives them a sense of purpose. Each job fills a need within me on varying levels. I’m passionate about leading my students to post-secondary success. I zealously work to write books that young girls find relevant and affirming. I’m an avid proponent of taking control of your health. Which one of those can I give up? And, if I give it up, will I resent my family?

The truth is, my children aren’t “children.” My son is 20, my daughter is 14, and my stepson is 15. They’re at a time in their lives when they want to spend more time with friends, on their phones, or playing X-Box and less time with me. Hanging with your parents is a very distant second, unless, of course, they need something, like money. Or a new phone… or a ride… or food… or clean underwear. I spend enough time with teenagers every day to know my kids aren’t unique. When if I think about my own teen years, I can’t recall a time I ever wanted to be with my parents more than my friends. It’s normal, and I don’t take it personally.

When they’re away from home or preoccupied with something else, I work. When they’re home, I also work, but only between cooking, doing laundry, helping with homework and projects, watering plants, feeding dogs, paying bills, and maybe – if I’m lucky – some time with my preance (yes, preance. It’s the term we’ve created just for us – we’ve lived together for years but aren’t married; we will be one day, but not today).

I manipulate the minutes of my day, squeezing the most out of every last second to make more room for my family, my faith, my friends, and me. It rarely – if ever – fits into a 20-hour workday. To make it all kind-of fit (like the skinny jeans hanging in your closet), I shed any responsibilities I don’t have to do personally.

  • I give the kids chores so they can take some responsibility and free me to spend time with them instead of cleaning.
  • I let my pseudo-husband fold the clothes instead of insisting I do it all myself (because that’s how my stay-at-home mother taught me).
  • I also decline any invitation to work on a neighborhood project or community-based project. There are others who have the time to fill those spots. I don’t have to do everything (even though my inner control-freak thinks I’m the only one who can do it right).

There are also some things we do regularly to keep the connection alive and the communication open:

  • We eat together at the dinner table as often as possible (the goal is four days a week).
  • We have movie nights.
  • We have “girls day out” and “guys day out.”
  • We drag the kids with us wherever we go.
  • We go on small day trips, mini-vacations, and big vacations (which require money that I make from my second and third jobs).
  • In the past, we’ve had game nights, but the kids have (mostly) outgrown that.

I’ve come to the realization that my kids dig what I do to help my students/readers/clients; they aren’t jealous because it’s the same thing I’ve done for them their entire lives. It makes them proud. I think they genuinely want me to be happy. My son writes award winning scholarship essays about me being his hero, and my daughter calls me her best friend. Our relationships are crazy-close, built on years of struggle and laughter and, yes, plenty of arguments. They know they come first; if they need me, I will drop everything to be there for them. So, while I’m not “actively engaged” with my kids as much as other moms, it works. It works for us.

I still schlep that guilt-filled backpack around with me, but it means I’m aware of the need to spend time with my children. I actively seek ways to build stronger connections with them. Being a mother is the most important job and gift we have, but it doesn’t have to come at the cost of your own fulfillment. You can do both, and you can do both well. And, on the days you falter, forgive yourself. I promise you that you’re harder on yourself than your kids will ever be.

Find what works for your family. Your kids are learning how to handle stress, conflict, and exhaustion by watching you navigate day-to-day life.

Be the best kind of example.

Be happy. Dream big. Give back. Let that be your legacy to your children.

 

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