I’m going to share a story with you. I almost titled this “my parenting regret,” but regret is probably a strong word. I know I’ve been a good mom, but do you ever look back, wish you could hit rewind, and do things a different way? Maybe my particular hindsight can help you see things in a different light.
I was driving in the car this past week with all three of my daughters, when my eleven year old said, “I’m glad that I’m getting to know you better, now.”
Confused, I asked, “what do you mean?”
She answered, “well, I just feel like I get to see you more now than I did when we lived in the blue house.”
She was referring to our life before traveling, our life before leaving our small town, but most importantly, our existence before we truly discovered what’s important in life. Allow me to recap for those unfamiliar with our personal life.
Almost five years ago I came to a place in life where I realized I wasn’t happy. I mean, I was happy. I had a great husband, children I loved, a wonderful home, and so much more. Yet… something was amiss. I was stressed, struggling, and considered myself what many women affectionately call one another, a “hot mess.” I was always running, always busy, and stretched on every side. My husband owned a business and worked six days a week, at least twelve hours a day, and even on his off day, he was sometimes doing stuff for work. I worked part-time, 24 hours a week, but homeschooled the girls five days a week, and spent my spare time (I know, hilarious) working a side business to try and earn extra income. Crazy. I felt like I was a single parent, breastfeeding around the clock, and striving to be better at all the things. It. Was. Exhausting. I was stressed, my husband was stressed, and apparently so were my children.
Back to present day, riding in the car, I continue the conversation with my oldest, “that’s weird, cause I work more now than I did then!”
Work may not be the best description here. More specifically, I work outside the home more now than then, but looking back, I suppose I was always working on something during that season of the “blue house” as my child put it.
My daughter replied, “yeah, I know, you work more now, but back then it seemed like I never saw you.”
Interested in this line of conversation I purposely asked, “who do you feel was home more, me or your dad?”
She replied quickly, “Dad.”
You know, the dad who worked six, full days a week!
I continued, “I was home way more than him. You don’t remember me there?!”
I watched her contemplation, and then she replied, “I guess I remember doing school with you, but I hated school.”
Ahh, yes, my initiation into homeschooling. Now, if I did call something a regret, it would definitely be how I handled schooling my child at five to six years old. Instead of looking at her as an individual learner, I compared her to other children. I compared her to her public school cousin the same age. I compared her to my SIL’s child who started reading at four, or my other nephew who had no troubling picking up his phonics in kindergarten. But I think my big mistake was the doubt I had for myself as her teacher. I was afraid I wasn’t doing good enough for her, so I unintentionally pushed her too hard, basing my worth as an educator on her unique performance. She would cry through her reader, and I would yell a lot. No wonder she banished it from her memory!
But it gets worse. The nail in the coffin.
She added, “oh, and you cleaned a lot.”
From the backseat my nine year old chips in, “yeah, you cleaned a lot back then.”
Not to be outdone, my eleven year old continues, “I can remember Dad being home really well! He would take me to Walmart, buy me a toy, and we’d sit on the couch watching Sponge Bob and eating Oreos all day.”
First, I made sure I relayed this to my husband later. He had mentioned to me more than once regret over not being around more when our girls were little. After I told this little story, he had peace that they only remembered that time of his overworking with fondness, and he hadn’t mucked things up too bad after all. I suppose all parents are their own worst enemy.
This conversation in the car didn’t so much guilt me as it taught me. I wasn’t drowning in regret, but it did rock my thinking. My husband had one day off a week, but that one day he made sure was quality time. That’s what our girls, six and four at the time, remembered.
I had focused on the things I thought were important at the time. Housework, ensuring my five year old knew all her sight words for the week, cooking every night, and building my business that was supposed to financially bring both of us parents home. I had rushed us to dance classes and homeschool co-op’s, but I had not taken as much time just to simply enjoy them being little.
Ok, I’ll look at this from all angles. I understand that things need to be done. If I didn’t clean the house, we would have been covered in our own trash. And reading is fundamental! Ha! Building my future via a small business was a wonderful plan, and activities and classes are important to childhood development. So, what’s the takeaway?
Remember when I said we had learned what was important over the past four years while traveling? See, we made a decision to sell our big house, sell our possessions, trade in the two cars for one vehicle, and travel for work so one parent could stay at home fulltime. We realized we didn’t need all the square footage. We realized we didn’t need to work more to have more stuff, but we did really enjoy more time. By doing the above, huge life-shift, we discovered what was important to us. Time with one another.
I can’t turn back the clock on the first six years of my oldest daughter’s upbringing, but I can move forward a little wiser. I can understand that young children won’t remember things like the fully-balanced meals every night or what grade they got in their school subjects, but they will remember Oreos and snuggles. Our relationship won’t be built on a foundation of how many days I was home from work with them, but rather the quality of the days we did have. And I’m telling you, as a fulltime working mom, that’s a huge deal. As mothers, we can often feel guilty for working out of the home, but if my experience teaches you anything, know that sometimes you can be home, but not really be there.
If anything, remember to be there when you’re there. That’s what I do now. As a working mother I don’t focus on quantity of the time with those I love, as much as the quality of the time we have. If you’ve lost a parent, like me, then you’ll understand a grieving child mostly wishes for “just one more day.”
I guess my goal, at this season in life, is to leave a legacy of quality. That the time I shared with my children will be fondly remembered as time well-spent, and while they’ll probably still grieve for one more day, more importantly they will recall fondly the days we had, no matter how many there were.