Women have discussed at length the merits of being a working mom. Most of us are familiar with the myriad of reasons that mothers work when their children are young and there’s no need to rehash what has already been discussed and decided:
It’s the best choice for many of us.
However, I’ve become much more aware recently of what I tell my kids about why I work.
Now that I’m working from home, my children see me working on most days when they get home from school. I’m fortunate to be able to take time here and there to share a snack, give them extra hugs, or talk to them about their days in the afternoon, but inevitably I have to get back to my desk and my work.
“Mommy has to work,” might be the most common phrase uttered in our home right now, second only to “mommy is working” and “I love you.” It’s not much different than the “mommy has to go to work” explanation for why I couldn’t attend midday school events when I was working outside of the home; the potential interpretations are certainly the same.
I cringe every time I hear myself say “mommy has to work” because I’m afraid of what my kids are really hearing. I’m most afraid that they’ll remember:
Mommy has to work - she has no choice.
Mommy’s work is more important than this/you.
Neither of those things is true.
The truth is that I choose to work, and I specifically choose to work from home as a writer. Certainly money is a necessity in our world, but the expense of our lifestyle and the manner in which I earn my living are choices. It’s important to me to own those choices for myself and for my children to know that they have that power in their own lives when they get older.
Of course, if I focus on the fact that I’m choosing to work I face another perception issue. I can’t expect them to understand the subtle difference between choosing to put work ahead of them right this moment and choosing work over them. Balance, boundaries and priorities are difficult concepts for adults to master; I can’t begin to imagine how I’d make sense of them to my 6 and 11 year old.
And yet, it’s important to me to try.
I’m trying to have age-appropriate conversations with my kids about why I work. I’m trying to tie the work I do with the experiences we enjoy as a family later. I try to say things like, “if I want to go for a bike ride with you after dinner, I need to finish working on this article now.” I might also talk about how I am using the money from working for things like food, clothes, and our big trip around the country. Sometimes I worry that the explanations are going over their heads, but I feel compelled to keep offering them.
I know the argument could easily be made that I’m over thinking things. Perhaps I am making this a little more complicated than it needs to be. But when my kid asks why I can’t play a game with her right now, I want her to hear something better than “mommy has to work.” I don’t want her to grow up thinking work is a necessary evil or that work is the thing that prevents us from doing what we want. I want to empower them to believe that they have choices and that work can be a passion.
And I want them to know that their mom loved them even more than she loved her work.