I think it is inevitable that, one day, you will look at me say – why didn’t you do more with your life? After all, I did that to my mother. “We would have been fine,” I said. “You should have made yourself happy.” Youth has a way of looking at things with more enthusiasm than empathy.
You may not realize this but there was a time when I was not your mother; when I was young and accomplished; when I still believed in the myth of the supermom (CEO by day; Betty Crocker by evening; and siren at night); when what I did mattered more than how I could manage to do it; when I was impulsive, fierce and carefree.
To have you, I rearranged things. It wasn’t that I stopped building my career. It was that flexibility often trumped interest. Things like benefits, sick days and childcare became important. I struck out on my own in an effort to own my time and therefore manage you better. I told myself that this would be temporary.
And now that temporary time has officially come to an end. I find myself scanning job descriptions; wondering if I am still relevant despite the work I have done; if I am going to be able to keep up with it all; if I should just stay as a I am – a half breed of stay-at-home-mom and independent professional.
If I choose to go back into the thick of things, I think about all the things you will miss out on. I think about you in five years – an after-school program instead of the swimming classes you really wanted; in ten years, a young teenager coming home to an empty house.
And I think about me too. I think about all the things that I will miss out on. I think about all the times when I would want to be there and I can’t. I think about how many hours there are in the day and how little will be left over for me.
If I stay in this half-half state, I think about how it will affect us financially. I think about how I may never have the career I dreamed of. I think about how I can teach you to pursue your dreams if I have abandoned mine. I wonder if you will look at me and say, like I did to my mom, “You should have done it.”
But, the moment that really haunts me is the day you walk out the door to college. I look around – and what will there be?
I’ve asked around too. From women who gave up everything and regretted it to women who kept their careers and wished it was different to women who the combination of career and kids cost them their marriage, and maybe more. In the end, the message is clear – something or someone has got to give. And I fear that, given the financial realities of our lives and society’s expectations, that person, by default, is me.
I can’t write this without thinking about all the mothers who don’t have the luxury of this decision. And it is a luxury. But, it’s also a curse. There’s no getting away from this one. The full burden of this decision and its consequences fall solely on me. And I have to walk the fine line of choosing who or what to sacrifice. The truth is that no matter what I choose, I will feel like I have failed. And that is the hardest thing for me to accept.
The other day, someone asked me to imagine myself 20 years from now, having lived a fulfilled life. Then, they said, “Look back on the last 20 years, what do you see?” I saw work. I saw accomplishment. I saw hectic, crazy days but, most of all, I saw you. I saw lots and lots of you.