Letter to young working moms (of the privileged kind) from your future self
I wish that when I was the working mom of babies and toddlers, someone had written this to me.
When that was then, I tried to contain my work schedule and be there, on the floor, with my young children. There was never a time when I thought that I wouldn’t work or that I would work significantly less. I had been raised by a working mom and I was not well-endowed in the patience department. Still, guilt and loss tugged at me. “Mama, why are you home so late?” “Mama, why do you have to go to work again?” “Mama, you don’t know this game; I play it with [sitter or dad].” Would I regret my choices when they were grown and gone? Would they regret them?
Today, with an 18, 16, and 12 year old, I can only say: not yet. It’s really all good. By “today,” I do mean today. Here’s a snapshot from your future. My son (18) is travelling abroad with friends. He’s making sure they get to the hospital when they’re ill. He’s finding his way on trains and to hostels and making smart choices about how to spend his time. Though he’s not reaching out too much, when I ask him to send some highlights and lowlights, he complies dutifully. And once in a while, he sends a one line Whatsapp message: “I love you.” Most of the time, I’m a pain and an irrelevance and, of course, an embarrassment. But one evening recently, walking with me to the car after observing me work, he mused, “you’re actually pretty smart.” I think he’d love me even if he didn’t think so, but it didn’t hurt.
My daughter (16) today sent over a personal essay she had written for her summer school social psychology class. It was preternaturally self-knowing and acknowledged that the frustration and disappointments she has felt in her life are also a source of gain and growth. She wrote that she feels close to her mother who she knows “has her back” even if we push each other’s buttons. If I had cooked more for her or played American Girls more, would our relationship or my girl have developed better? I don’t quite see how.
And then, finally, I just called my 12-year-old at home. I said that after four days of vacation together, I found it hard to be separated. I asked what time she wanted me home. She replied, “Well, you don’t need to rush; I’m pretty busy.” It’s possible that these words — this mode of pushing away in the interest of productivity or engagement with “something else” mimicked her mother. These are words that I’ve said one way or another a thousand times in order to make space for non-child demands. I said them with guilt or apology. Today, she said them with pride in her agenda. I can’t say she never experiences these words as rejection, which is what we moms most fear. But she also experiences them as a statement of desire to act in the world. To see her emulating that desire with delight feels really good.