“Why do you work all the time?” my son asked me, as I sat on the couch with the laptop precariously balanced on my knee. I had just put on Netflix for them, ahead of the smallies’ bedtime, and had seated myself beside them to ensure no impromptu wrestling matches followed, serving to hype them up when I wanted to calm them down.
The question felt like a punch to the gut. I’ve never quite made my peace with mum guilt so coming from the child who never complains, I was triggered immediately.
My instinct was to reply in jest “because you pesky kids cost a fortune”, but instead I replied what I’ve come to realise is the truth – they’re just more aware of mum working because of the pandemic.
You see in the BC years (before covid), when we didn’t have to think twice about who went where, when after school activities were scheduled with parent and child in mind, and when actually going to school could be taken as a given, it was easier to work around the children. But in pandemic times, when they’ve spent more time at home than ever before, they’re more acutely aware that mum does more than mum-ing. That other side to me is now more visible to them.
I complained once more about the one-sided guilt-ing that has been especially evident this pandemic
I’d like to say they never resent me for it at all, but that’s not strictly true. I’ve complained on several occasions to Himself, that he can saunter off to work every day, without as much as a flicker of guilt and not a child in the house will begrudge him that. When he takes a half day from work because it’s one of the kids’ birthdays, he’s a hero. I, who typically take their entire birthday off meanwhile, have yet to be forgiven for that time I did a broadcast media interview on a birthday, lasting a grand total of about ten minutes. Did I mention most of them were still asleep at the time?
“It’s because you’ve always been there for them, their whole lives”, himself said as I complained once more about the one-sided guilt-ing that has been especially evident this pandemic. It was supposed to be a compliment, an acknowledgement even, of all the juggling to make myself as available as possible to the kiddos over the years. Instead it felt remarkably like I may have shot myself in the foot.
There’s been all sorts of nuggets of wisdom shared with me by others who were further down the parenting road, over the course of my own journey. Some resigned to the back of my mind, coming to the fore again years later when a fleeting moment or situation makes you not only recall the words, but the person who said them. Like the cashier in a high street store, some years ago, with a gaggle of kids all older than mine. As she surveyed my latest bump and offered her congratulations she added, “don’t expect your kids to appreciate all you do. That’s just their norm. So make sure it’s a norm you can live with.”
In fairness, I think she was having a particularly challenging day on the parenting battlefields, judging by the other stuff she said which isn’t really printable (sure look, we’ve all been there). Still doesn’t stop there being an element of truth to it.
Our worlds hadn’t collided so heavily before in the way they have since the pandemic began
Or the words spat out by the parent of a teenager who’d been offered unwelcome advice on rearing said teenager, by another parent who had small children only. “I mean, how could she think she has a clue about rearing teens? She has no idea what it’s like!” the frustrated mum exclaimed as I nodded along knowingly.
Or the advice from a friend “not to take off the dressing gown too soon”. Possibly the best advice I heard and yet the advice I never heeded. She was referring to the postnatal period and the fact that if you show the world you’re ‘up and at ‘em’ too quickly afterwards, you’ll be presumed to be fully on top of things, and no one will remember that your stitches, mind, and nipples are still healing.
My son’s innocent question made me think of the cashier. Our worlds hadn’t collided so heavily before in the way they have since the pandemic began – well perhaps they always had for me, but just not as visibly so for them. I stewed over it as I tend to do when I think I’m messing things up.
The next day, another child graduated from primary school. As a parting gift, each child received a yearbook with memories and photos and an interview with each sixth class child inside.
“The person I admire most? – My mum”, one answer read (not Ronaldo?!!). I spent a lot of the day with something in my eye.