Making Up for Not Being There

Between my posts on anxiety, exercise, and feeling the need to control something even if it’s just my son’s play room, I think this site has become an outlet for people asking, “Is it just me?” So here we go again…

I don’t deal with a ton of mommy guilt for working full-time. When I first went back to work, I was a pile of tears and worries, as I had never done it before. I couldn’t focus, I wanted to be with my son and I felt like I was doing him a disservice. BUT. But as the months went on, and I realized that as a teacher, I do have shorter hours and more vacations than most working mothers, I came to accept my current status. I like days off with my son. And most of the time, I also like days that I work. I’ve begun to balance the scales, even allowing myself the me time to exercuse every day so I feel strong and healthy. My boy is happy when he’s with his Abuela, and we have a good thing going.

The problem? Even though I don’t consciously feel guilty or sit at my desk wondering what my kid is doing while I’m teaching other people’s kids, something like guilt still creeps up somehow. At least I think it’s guilt. Because, you see, I feel the need to compensate for being a working mother. Make it up to my son somehow. What I mean by that is that when I do pick up my son or when I do have a day off with him, I feel that it needs to be something special, something memorable, something to write home about. Quality, since we can’t have quantity.

For spring break this year, we’re planning our first real family vacation. We’re not just going to stay in a cheap hotel for two days and pinch pennies. We’re not going to rush. And my husband and I are certainly not going away without our son. We’re going to downtown Disney, Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom as a family, and we’re going to do it up, take pictures, eat expensive food and enjoy ourselves. In my head, I’m already planning that because I know it’s the next time I’ll really get to spend any quality time with my son that isn’t interrupted by a quick dinner and bed time routine.

On the day to day, I tend to do little things like stop at Toys R Us on the way home either before or after I pick up my son. If I go before, I surprise him with something. If I go after… Well, he’s still too young to really “pick out” something, but if he runs around and ends at something that piques his interest, I’ll pick it up, take it home, open it up and play with him until dinner/work out/bath/whatever-is-next time, in the hopes that he feels taken care of, important and… I guess so that he has positive feelings toward our limited amount of time together.

Exhibit A:

photo

I realized lately that I’m probably doing this too much, and that it’s going to set a bad precedent for later when he can understand. I also realized this Saturday morning that running around the house, reading books, pushing trains around in his jammies, he’s perfectly content. He doesn’t need a play date or a new toy. I guess I’m the one who needs it?

I read a tweet from a mom recently where she admitted that her school age son and daughter complain if they don’t have a play date or activity every weekend. I think I’m setting myself up for that… I don’t want my son to be spoiled or unappreciative. I don’t want him to expect some kind of possession each time I’m gone or expect that it’s my sole purpose in life to entertain him. I need to find the balance.

So, any tips for me on how to navigate this working momma gig and make sure my son feels that he has quality time with me when I am home? You know, without having to take trips to the zoo and toy store every day after work? And, as per usual… is it just me?

About the author

Shannon is a graduate of University of South Florida, a high school English teacher, and an aspiring author. In April 2011, she and her husband met the love of their lives: a son named William. Shannon is currently learning to balance teaching 115 teenagers and being William’s mommy. You can find her blogging at Momma Bird and tweeting as @bluebird_momma.

14 Comments

  1. Mary Beth says:

    I do kinda the same thing – try to make every weekend extra special, get them little treats most days, surprise them by going somewhere special for dinner…. but what they want most is that undivided attention. some days, that is just hard for me. i come home exhausted, just wanting 10 minutes alone. i rarely get it, and end up feeling fussy myself. then nobody’s happy. i’m trying to figure it out too…. and one thing that has worked for us for ‘treats’ is they have to earn something [small] out of the treasure box. like if they sleep in their beds all night, or are good listeners or something. then it’s not an ‘expected’ thing.
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  2. Kerry says:

    I can totally relate to what you’re saying. I work full-time as well, so when we get those weekends or holiday breaks, I feel like we need to cram in a lot of family time and do all of these amazing activities. Still, we definitely have our days when my kids just need to entertain themselves. Thankfully, since I have 3 kids and they are a bit older, they have built-in playdates forever! It really is a balance. I would ease up on the toys, and then look at your calendar and find those times when you want to enjoy mini-adventures. A trip to get ice cream, an afternoon at the park, an evening building a pillow fort. My kids love when we create these simple experiences, and hopefully this also shows them how to treasure and create simple experiences for themselves too. If only we could pop a pill to kill the guilt!
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  3. Stacey B. says:

    I do understand this. When I’m home in the evenings or on the weekends with my daughter, I feel like the only thing acceptable is zeroing in on her. If she wants to play with something or asks me to dance, everything must drop for this. I must stare into her eyes and talk to her and make her laugh and tell her how much I love her and focus only on her.

    But that is hard. It wears me out. I constantly feel like I need/want to be doing a load of laundry or making supper or washing the dishes or what-have-you.

    I’m trying to remember how I felt when I was little; what memories I may have. That helps me some.

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    • Shannon says:

      That’s a good idea–to think about your own childhood. My mom stayed at home with me until I was school age, then she did substitute teaching for a while. I do remember my dad working a lot, but at the same time, I really only remember things we did together–not the days/nights we spent apart. Nice way of looking at it.

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  4. Madonna says:

    I can understand where you are coming from. I’m down to four day work weeks and I keep trying to have something fun planned for the extra day I have with them… I’m not sure if it’s for her or for me because I can’t stay cooped in the house all day.

    Instead of buying toys, I take that money and do something fun. In our house, the toys would be played with for the day. She’s at daycare most of the time anyways and we have a small house. (I have a 3.5 yr old and a 3.5 month old.) That’s what grandparents are for. IMO, it’s setting them up to think they will get something every time we go out. On weekends, we’ll do a trip to the park, bounce house, zoo, or wherever. Usually it is just one of the two days. She’s in a home daycare and I don’t have a lot of friends with kids, so there are very few play dates. I think it’s important that kids also learn to entertain themselves. We’ll color for a bit and then I step away while she finishes to take care of the baby or do some chores.

    I have learned I can’t always be “on;” it can be exhausting. I am guilty of giving my daughter her iPod to watch an episode of Disney Jr so I can have ten minutes of peace or to get something done. But I will never turn away when she wants / needs a hug / kiss / I love you. Because those are the things that top everything.

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    • Shannon says:

      When you said “I’m not sure if it’s for her or me?” YES. Exactly. I think a lot of it IS for me.

      And yes to hugs and kisses. I feel like I could just eat my boy up when I pick him up every day!! Thankfully, he still loves Mommy kisses :)
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  5. IT IS NOT JUST YOU.

    That said, kids want quality, and define quality differently than we do. For me, quality time with myself usually involves a pedicure, or a new outfit – in short, either a service or a material thing. For kids, they just want our time…your son would be (honestly) just as happy playing with the toys you already purchased for him – together – as he would be picking out something new. It isn’t the toy that thrills him, it is that he is with you.
    Growing up my dad worked A LOT. And when he wasn’t working, he was buying me something. The jacket I could have died for? Mine. The new car at 16? Happened. I never said it, because I felt bad and was worried that I would come off as ungrateful, but what I really wanted was to spend time with him. I wanted to make lunch and talk together, not have him buy me something. I wanted his time.
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  6. Lauren says:

    My best friend works full-time outside of her home and she tries to quell her mom guilt by buying her sons toys. Her sons are almost 4 and 9 months and have every Matchbox car, every Lego kit, and she’s even given them moon sand and let them play with it indoors! When my sister and I were little, both of my parents worked full time. My dad often gave us toys to make up for not being around much. My mom? Gave us time. What your kids want isn’t STUFF, they want YOU. Don’t spread yourself too thin but give them you, not stuff. Even if all you have is an hour after dinner, ask them what they want to do. Sometimes, my daughter just wants to sit on the sofa with her dad and watch a movie (he works all day outside of the house). Also, your time and undivided attention is cheaper than a closet-full of toys. ;-)
    Twitter: laurenacarlton

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    • Shannon says:

      I guess maybe I should’ve clarified a little more that it’s a mixture… I feel like I need to spend quality time with him, but that I also need to make sure it’s all “new” quality time whether it’s a park or a toy, etc. I love spending quality time with him because I miss him like crazy and I do attempt to give him my undivided attention when I’m home, but I still feel that twinge that I have to do something extra to prove myself? More about me than him :(
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  7. Tracy says:

    I agree. Just sitting and playing. That’s all Abby wants from me when we are home. Sometimes we go out for frozen-yogurt, but that’s about it. And it sounds like you are trying to prove something to yourself, or you worry about what others think perhaps? Sometimes I have to step back and ask myself if I’m overcompensating for me, for guilt, or because I worry about what others may think.. I mean remember that post your wrote about when it’s too much “me time.” I wonder if that’s creeping around in your head too. You’ve got to figure out what works for you. What’s best for your family. Until you are settled on that, you will always question yourself, you know.
    Twitter: wa_tracy

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    • Shannon says:

      I’m never worried about what other think. Not really my style. The only thing that really goes through my mind is how will my son remember his childhood. I want him to remember me playing trains with him and going to get frozen yogurt, and making an impromptu stop at the beach on the way home from his Abuela’s house, and looking for books at the library. And it’s hard to know if he’ll remember those things… unless I make sure when I’m with him that those times ARE memorable. I don’t know. Maybe I just can’t put things into words.
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  8. Tricia says:

    Definitely not just you. I struggle with this too. These days I’ll sometimes plan something fun (a trip to the library, baking cookies at home, etc) and sometimes let my daughter lead. It really is just the time you spend in the moment with them that makes a difference to them. I could spend ten minutes playing school with my daughter and that would be better for her than any new toy. I also try to make use of the time we have, even if it isn’t ideal. Talking and making up stories on the way home from school, involving her in making dinner, playing games with her during bath time. This allows me to focus on her, feel like I am making the most of our time together, and get things done. Good luck to you – this working mama life is not easy!
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  9. I had this problem when I went back to work in an office vs. working pt from home. I tried to have something fun planned every day at pickup. Until P. started getting cranky every day and I realized she was tired, too. She didn’t want to go to the park again or the beach necessarily. A lot of the time, she just wanted to go home and chill with me. It made me kind of sad that we weren’t going on as many adventures.
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  10. What’s worked fairly well for us is scheduling a fun thing to do at home. We now have Family Movie Night where all screens must be off aside from the TV, usually we go to the movie rental store to pick a movie together first, sometimes there’s a treat (usually we just make popcorn). I think we’re going to add one night a week to be Family Game Night where we all play some sort of board or card game together (kid age almost 5). Because we’ve established these “special times” it’s easier for me to let go of making EVERYTHING SPECIAL! Our kid is also super into routines, so having just one or two special days be a part of the routine is helpful the rest of the week.
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