This is where I’m sitting, right at this very moment while I write this. The view is spectacular. The “hotel,” (I almost can’t even call it that because of it’s size and grandeur) is luxurious. I’m working, but it’s work I love and care about. With so few interruptions because I’m not in my home office being beckoned by laundry or dishes… I’m not looking at the clock to see how much time until the kids get home. When cocktail hour comes, my food and drinks are paid for and I’m in the company of good people, including my husband.
I’ve come to accompany my husband on a business trip because his room and flight were paid for, the schedule pretty relaxed, and it was a rare opportunity for us to get away together without spending too much money – and to take advantage of time together without the children.
“Without the children” – why is that soooo loaded?
I know a woman who in 18 years NEVER went away with her husband without the kids. There must be others like her. But then there’s the celebrity couple in the news who has arranged to spend every weekend child free, leaving their daughter with her loving grandmother (and then all the backlash from that announcement). And of course there’s everything in between. And for so many families it’s an angst-ridden, complicated decision each time. For some it’s “But we spend all week at work, we’re supposed to want to be with our children on the weekends” or for some “we do want to be with our children on the weekends.” But, they also might want carefree time with their spouse or partner, and many of us haven’t figured out how to have both at the same time – mostly, it’s not possible (or at least never a guarantee) because of the unpredictable nature of children and the high level of their needs.
I’d like to pick apart our guilt – to figure out how much of it is based on our real authentic core values about parenting and family, vs. imposed judgment from other people or our culture. How much is about what feels right or wrong to us, versus what we fear others will think? I hope to attempt that over the course of this blog series on Mom guilt. I’ve been talking to other moms while I’m here and the one thing I feel I can put my finger on is that a lot of these feelings stem from the age old “quantity vs quality” debate. We have internalized expectations about how much time we should be spending with our children. Where does that come from? For example, we’re seeing pointed out by Jennifer Senior in All Joy and No Fun, and by Brigid Schulte in Overwhelmed, that parents today spend significantly more time each day with their children than parents in the 1950’s – and that’s when most households had only one working parent! Is that because things were more communal, kids roamed the neighborhood, in and out of each other’s houses, with less need for one on one with the adults? (And is that better, or worse, and does it matter?) Certainly if we rewind even more I imagine infants were strapped onto backs while moms washed clothes on rocks in the river, other children being tended to by older siblings while parents worked in the fields. Now, not only are parents trying to squeeze in their idea of sufficient time with the kids, but the amount of that time that is spent in “high quality, ‘interactive care’” has almost tripled! (Schulte).
So, not only have we as a society at some point decided a certain quantity of time with our children is important, but that time spent is intentional and purposeful – and therefore, harder!
We’re spending more time with our kids, and we’re under pressure to spend it a certain way. “Quantity” and “Quality.”
Now, maybe that’s better. Maybe our kids will benefit. (I guess only time – and more studies – will tell).
But is it any wonder we need a break? Is it any wonder our spouses are being pushed to the back burner? And where do they fall in this discussion of more or less, better or worse? (Is the divorce rate relevant to those kinds of decisions?) Keeping a marriage healthy is hard work – that requires time, and time spent a certain way, too – some Quantity and some Quality.
In case it helps you, here’s something I do… I like to remind myself that I was a whole person before I had kids. I was also a partner before I had kids. And that wanting to revisit what it was like to be that person, or that partner, every once in a while, is okay – maybe even healthy. One day, I’ll be a version of that person again – my kids will forever be a part of me but on a daily basis, less and less so. One day my partner will be my main person again. And I don’t want to feel like we put each other on hold “until.” Some marriages make it “until” – some don’t. I’d also like for my boys to see what a healthy, supportive, connected romantic partnership looks like. To know that we are not JUST their parents, but we’re our own people with our own relationships too. I have to believe that sets them up for healthy relationships themselves.
Of course, I can tell myself all of this, but those little pangs of mom guilt still remain: the knowing how much the boys would prefer it be me or their dad tucking them in for the night or sending them off to school; the just plain old missing them, (but on a trip like this I must admit I miss them in a “can-someone-just-bring-them-to-me-for-a-quick-squeeze-and-a-check-in-and-then-whisk-them-away-again” sort of a way). We won’t eradicate mom guilt, but maybe we can erode her power just a tiny bit, by telling ourselves the kids are alright; that learning how to be outside of their comfort zone and trust other people to care for them is useful; that welcoming home refreshed, happy parents will benefit them in ways they can’t yet understand.