The unexpected reason being a working mom might make you a better one

I was always fairly certain that my kids would have been happier and healthier with a stay-at-home version of me.

Because, let’s be real — it’s exhausting to work full time at a demanding day job, prepare meals, remember what household supplies the family is running out of, keep track of permission slips, be at sports activities and maintain a current mental list of everyone’s shoe sizes.

Want to know why the female audience of the movie, Bad Moms was laughing so hard they were snorting popcorn?

We all feel like bad moms. We could relate.

When my kids were growing up, working-mom-guilt was a perpetual feature in my psyche. That stupid voice that reminded me constantly how my kids would someday be on a therapist’s couch talking about my failures.

But what if our working-mom-guilt isn’t justified? What if our expectations are just wrong?

I blame TV parents

Remember the Beaver’s mom from black-and-white 1950’s TV? The one who cleaned house in her prom dress? She didn’t work at all, and I’m pretty sure her husband, Ward, only put in about 20 hours a week.

The parenting portrayed in Leave it to Beaver, The Brady Bunch, Family Matters, Growing Pains and Boy Meets World reflect energetic moms who always have exactly enough time to be there for their children. While there are issues navigated, they could be solved in 30 minutes, and the limited bandwidth of the working mom was rarely addressed.

These templates from television shaped our ideas of “normal.” Of what is expected.

Today, the template shapers are the Pioneer Woman, Joanna Gaines and…everything on Pinterest.

Now, not only are we supposed to be awesome at solving our kids life problems, now we have to do it in a room decorated by shiplap with homemade cupcakes on the table that look like Minions.

Is it any wonder that the idea of tiny homes has captured our imagination? Four hundred square feet feels so much simpler.

But what happens if we start to notice that the templates which influence us aren’t real?

Ever think about the moms on the farm in the pioneer days with 12 kids? You can’t tell me they had time to shiplap anything. The kids raised each other as moms made sure everyone was fed, clothed, bathed and became literate in the margins of the work of a homestead. Kids on a farm running around unsupervised have time to experiment. They do dangerous — and often stupid — things. (According to my husband’s stories, anyway. There was usually a very tall haystack and arrows involved.)

What about the shop owners that lived above the family store? Kids were sorting, helping customers and sweeping as their parents ordered, stocked and kept the books. They were learning skills from a very early age that would one day make them successful in the family business.

Kids have to make choices in order to learn about cause and effect

If every choice is made for us — if all the expectations are external — then we never get to develop our internal compass. We keep looking around to figure out what the rules are.

The problem with relying on rules is that they don’t always apply consistently to every situation. Mom’s tell their kids, “Don’t run into the street.” This is good advice if your ball just rolled off the curb because a car could be speeding past. But this is terrible advice if a tree falls toward you and that’s your best path of escape.

Complete reliance on rules to tell you what to do doesn’t develop capacity for judgment — which is critical in the split second of a tree vs. rules situation.

Kids develop their internal compass when the things they’ve been taught are tested. For example, if parents teach you not to steal, but you shoplift something anyway, then you get to experience the guilt, and (hopefully) the embarrassing experience of being caught and being grounded.

Problems occur, when we as parents interrupt this cycle.

In his breakthrough book, Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud shares the conversation of parents who are meeting with him about their 25-year-old son who struggling with drugs and unable to hold a job. The parents explain they’ve given him everything. They complain the son feels he doesn’t have a problem.

Dr. Cloud responds, “He doesn’t have a problem. You do. He can do pretty much whatever he wants, no problem. You pay, you fret, you worry, you plan, you exert energy to keep him going. He doesn’t have a problem because you have taken it from him. Those things should be his problem, but as it now stands they are yours.”

As parents with an objective to create the life portrayed in television sitcoms, we interrupt the cycle of cause and effect. We work against natural karma by taking away the results of our kids actions.

We worry that pain will warp our kids. We forget that there is no idyllic childhood.

Have we considered that limited bandwidth can be a gift because it keeps us from intervening on every problem?

Responsibility helps our kids learn. (And creates more bandwidth for us.)

I had my kids start doing their own laundry as soon as they were tall enough to reach the buttons on the washing machine. It seemed the safest task I could offload that would give a couple of hours of my weekend back.

The first few weeks as my son got used to the new responsibility, he complained that he didn’t have any clean socks.

“Didn’t you wash them?”

“No. I forgot.”

“Then pull some out of the dirty clothes to wear today, then you can wash them tonight.”

Smelly socks do not equal a tragedy, and wearing them all day helped my son remember that he had to plan ahead in order to have clean ones. (My daughter went through a similar scenario when she was tall enough to reach the buttons.) But it wasn’t just the responsibility aspect that was good for my kids. It also gave them a better mom.

By helping with the very simple household chore of laundry, they took something off my plate. Which gave me the gift of more energy and time.

We never tied money to the idea of doing chores. In our family, you did chores to help all of us. We gave our kids an allowance disconnected from work so they could learn to manage money. The amount was age-appropriate increasing each year, and it was 100% their responsibility to figure out what to do with it. (As parents, we learned which of our kids was a spender and which was a saver which allowed us to provide additional coaching.)

Kids who have to live with the results of their own choices become independent and unafraid to make decisions. Now at 29 and 25, my kids are building their own careers. (Not only that, but both put themselves through college.)

The best windows for alleviating mom guilt are in the morning and evening routines.

Of course, childhood isn’t all responsibility. It is also supposed to be learning that you are loved and that you are part of something.

Linda Mason shares a brilliant strategy in her Working Mother’s Guide to Life. In it she says that the best times to create the culture of your family is in the morning and evening routines.

Why routine? Because love and connection are created in the little things we do over and over.
The bedtime stories.

Bath time.

Meals at a table together (even if it’s just pizza delivery).

The things said to each other before leaving for work each day.

How breakfast is done.

The inside family jokes. (My husband and son now have matching tattoos around one of ours.)

The games played around the table. (Poker had a $1 buy-in at our house — part of the reason our kids needed an allowance.)

The types of texts sent.

The holiday traditions repeated.

Repetition is what creates culture, and the stronger the family culture we build, the more our kids know there is somewhere they really, truly belong.

The beauty of the repetition of routines, is that if we miss one, it doesn’t wipe out all the other days. Which is important…

Because sometimes, we are seriously going to drop the ball.

Have you ever left your kid at an event?

I have.

I was running from thing to thing on autopilot and Bethany asked if she could go with me to choir practice. Knowing there was childcare, I agreed and took her with me. She hung out with other kids while I sang.

Then, I got in my car and went home.

I was sitting on the couch drinking iced tea when my husband asked, “Where is Bethany?”

“She’s in the shower,” I replied hearing the water running.

“No,” he said, concerned. “That’s Chase in the shower. Bethany is with you.”

My heart dropped into my stomach as i jumped back in the car and frantically headed back to get my daughter.

A lady was waiting with her in the lobby.

“We tried to call and couldn’t reach you.” (It was the 90’s. Stupid dial up internet.)

I thanked her profusely and took my daughter home.

Was that experience traumatic for Bethany? Yes.

But now, she loves to tell that story and watch me cringe.

The reality is that we are going to drop the ball as moms. And while our love helps shape our kids, it is the total screw ups that shape us. (And tend to hang around as family stories… I really like telling the one about Bethany’s fail at one of her first real jobs where she backed a car into an airplane. In case you are wondering, yes, she was fired.)

There is no work-life balance. There is just life.

I wish I didn’t feel guilty about all the times I was on a conference call and couldn’t pick up to answer my kids. (My son, who now has his own career, told me recently he realized just how tough it must have been to field all those kid-calls during a work day because they were bored, didn’t want to eat the groceries I’d purchased, or needed a referee for a sibling dispute.)

I wince when I remember all the times I became Banshee-Mom because the frustration of negotiating with middle schoolers became too much.

The thing is, we don’t get separation of work and home. We can’t don a June Cleaver persona the minute we walk through the door and create a TV sitcom life. And even if we could, we shouldn’t want to.

Because we can give love without having to solve all the problems in a 30-minute time slot.

And we can be honest that if we weren’t this tired, we would probably use our extra energy to do exactly that. It might just be that our limited bandwidth is a gift to keep us from protecting our kids from the very things that will make them into the people they were always meant to be.

So lose the guilt, focus on the love, and come up with some kick-ass morning and evening routines. We need them to counterbalance the screw ups.
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