I’m feeling very guilty these days. Yes, I know. This is hardly uncommon among mothers, especially working mothers. Still, when I sat down to write this blog for Working Girl Reviews, it was guilt that was on my mind.
Here is the source of this mind-consuming guilt. I love my work. I love writing, editing, thinking about what to write. I love working in pajamas from my bed or out on my little patio. I love the progression of a novel, from the little aha! moments that come while I’m carting the kids around or taking a long run in the woods, to seeing my book in a store. I love meeting people, writers, readers, bloggers and reviewers. I love talking to book groups about the issues my characters face, and even the author events that give me massive anxiety but always seem to go just fine.
I love my work. This should be a good thing. A gift, really. And what’s even better is that my work gives me a great deal of flexibility to be with my kids when they’re out of school. But another summer has come and gone, and I realize that I am the only mother among my peers who is jumping up and down with glee. Indeed, the other moms are lamenting the loss of carefree, unstructured days with their children, lounging at the pool or beach while their kids play with their friends, and sleeping in.
When I think about summer, I think about checking my BlackBerry while standing in line for a ride at Playland, sneaking interviews and twitter updates, and scrounging like a scavenger for time to meet revision deadlines. This job that is very manageable during the school year, is suddenly at odds with my other job as a mother. From May until September, I do a kind of mental gymnastics to give my three very energetic boys enough fun and exercise and mental stimulation, while still keeping my career afloat. Wherever I am, there is a part of my brain pulling me toward my desk.
A good friend of mine called the other day to catch up. She’s a partner at a very big law firm and has an awesome career. Lately, she said, she’s been swamped at work. When Friday night comes around, she feels like a new person. Her weekends are spent with her kids, hiking and exploring. We talked about how cute they are at these ages, and how precious this time is because they are growing up so fast. And while I agreed with all of that, I felt this pit in my stomach that for too much of the time I spend with my kids there is a part of me longing to work.
There it is. I’ve admitted it. I love my kids more than anything. And there are moments with them that are so spectacularly wondrous they eclipse any and all satisfaction that comes from work. Still, on a day to day basis, I am bitterly torn between them and my desire to pursue my career.
How is this to be reconciled? I ask myself this every day. For most of the year, I have it figured out. I belong to my job from 9-2, and I belong to them from 2-9. Given the morning hours to work in a steady and concentrated way, I can be totally present for my kids all afternoon and evening. I drive, cook, clean, supervise homework, get them to bed. We play outside and have bon fires and soak in the hot tub. And work is neatly tucked away. The year flows by and soon it’s winter, then spring. May eventually comes again, and the chaos is upon me.
I wonder many things about this. I wonder if it would be different if I worked in an office year round, if I had no choice to make between work and kids. I wonder if I’m going to wake up in 20 years and kick myself for pulling out that BlackBerry at Playland and not being fully present every chance I got. I know plenty about the dilemmas women have balancing work and family from editing a book (Power Moms) for Chicken Soup for the Soul. There is no perfect solution, and guilt abounds.
I have been a stay-home mom for eleven years. My career as an author used to be nothing more than a pipe dream that gave way to every demand the family had. I wrote whenever and wherever I could, but never when anyone or anything needed me. When that dream became more of a reality with my first book deal, I let it come in a little more, carving out time with babysitters so I could finish a chapter. Now, ten years later, it has become a career that I could easily work at day and night. My second novel, Social Lives, was just released and there is a movie deal in the works with the producers who made the Twilight series. Running through my mind are all the ways I could be promoting the novel, spreading the good news.
School started last week. As my kids dragged themselves out of bed early, I tried hard to mask my excitement. It wasn’t that I wanted to be without them. Yet I can’t deny that I was looking forward to the glorious treat that was coming my way. Time. Now that it’s here, I will make good use of it. And when it’s gone, I will savor my children who will soon be gone as well. Round and round it will go. I’m not sure I will ever figure any of this out. Maybe it’s enough that I can write about it.