The Gift That Guided Me Back to Work
A few weeks ago, as I prepared to return to full-time work, I asked my kids (well, the two capable of responding) how they felt about me heading back to the office. My daughter’s brow furrowed as she sorted through the sea of uncertainty I knew was teetering behind her stiff upper lip, but her older brother surprised me by quickly and cheerfully replying, “I think it’s great, mom.”
“GREAT?” I asked him, trying to stifle the hurt in my voice and mask the self-doubt that of course, immediately rushed in. Had he not loved our after school walks and trampoline romps as much as I had? Was he mad that I didn’t let him win at gin rummy? Did he remember me repeatedly getting mad about the eggshells always dropping into the cookie batter? Was he embarrassed that I caught him in the principal’s office once when I dropped into school unannounced? OMG, did he think I was micromanaging his precious little 7-year-old life?
“GREAT?” I repeated. “Why do you think it’s great?”
“You need something for yourself,” he replied. “You need something that’s just yours – where you can go all by yourself and do the things YOU like to do,” he continued. “I think it’s just great,” he said again with a big, genuine smile – as if he somehow understood the reassurance I needed.
And even if that reassurance stemmed from him hearing me yelling in a fit of diaper-changing rage that “I JUST NEED SOMETHING FOR MYSELF” (which I’m quite certain it did), I smiled at him and hugged him and thanked him for what I needed most during the fragile time of transition: acceptance and support. This little person – who still bizarrely sleeps upside down in his bed and sobs uncontrollably when he watches Pixar movies – gave me a gift I hadn’t received when I returned to work the two previous times. He gave me the confidence that just as much as I want what’s best for him, he wants what’s best for me. How beautifully simple is that?
As parents – whether we’re working outside or inside the home – it’s so easy to focus on guilt, conflicting priorities, and what’s missing – rather than anchoring on pride, integration, and what’s whole. We look at home and work in isolation, versus thinking about how the energy we gain from each can feed the other in a positive way. We forget that teaching our kids about life isn’t just about dinner table conversation and bedtime books – it’s about how we live and how we manage the big and small choices we make every singe day.
I’ve now stared down a few weeks of full-time work, and it feels different than it did when I returned with the other two kids (although, as before, I did sob all the way to the office on the first day back). Yes, this is in large part due to the perspective that only time can offer, but this little conversation with my son has lingered at the forefront of my mind and guided me every day. I’m less focused on the precision of the schedule, and more focused on whether the days are adding up to weeks and months I’m proud of (which is much harder than figuring out the schedule, by the way). I care less about how much I’m sleeping and more about how well I’m living (also much harder). I want to make my kids proud of how I’m spending my time — of what I’m choosing to be mine — because with three beautiful little people at home now, that time feels more expensive. Just as I desperately want them to let me into their lives, I wholeheartedly want to let them into mine.
Managing work and life and all that lies between is incredibly emotional, individual, and ever-changing; so if you have or are or will be crossing the chasm between home and work, above all, be kind to yourself. I know I wasn’t the first two times around, and I’m still struggling to be this time. Then, holding tightly to that kindness and compassion, remember that your kids can only be what they can see. They are watching you and feeling you every single minute they’re with you. Show them your strength and let them take in your beauty. Show them who you are and what makes you feel whole — whether it’s at the office or in the kitchen or in the woods. Show them the messiness sitting behind the curtain. Talk with them about the tradeoffs you’re making (within reason).
And remember that at the end of the day, we all want the same simple things for one another in this journey of life – love, light, happiness, and a sense of personal truth. What our parents wanted for us, we want for our children. And what our children want for us, we want for our parents. This is the circle of life, and if we don’t lose sight of it, the kids will be alright.