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Guilty Conscience: I Work, Therefore I'm A Neglectful Parent

"It's fine. You have to work... again. Maybe we'll snuggle tomorrow." My daughter said it in a way that let me know it most certainly was not fine. For 9, she sure has mastered how to lay on the guilt in a flawlessly passive-aggressive way.
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"It's fine. You have to work... again. Maybe we'll snuggle tomorrow."

My daughter said it in a way that let me know it most certainly was not fine. For being only 9 years old, she sure has mastered how to lay on the guilt in a flawlessly passive-aggressive way, without knowing what passive-aggressive even means.

In my defense, it was 9:30 on a Sunday night, a half-hour past her bedtime, when she wanted me to snuggle with her. But I really needed to get a jump start on the week. I had two freelance deadlines, an author visit to prepare for, a blog to write, Lulu & Milo coloring pages to illustrate, contacts to touch base with, pieces of prose to submit, letters to compose, a sales tax report to file, networking to do, excel spreadsheets to create, two days of substitute teaching, a basketball practice to plan, Girl Scout cookie-selling to oversee, snack supplies to buy and send to school, a birthday present to find, laundry to catch up on...

You get the idea. My life looks like that of millions of other mothers. But some of this is new to me. After being a stay-at-home mom for the last nine years, I'm back working full-time. The last time I did that, I was responsible for zero children. Just a dog. And the only time she made me feel guilty was when I was eating a spoonful of peanut butter in front of her.

I am not the only one who has felt the adjustments that have come with me financially contributing to the family again. My kids have noticed that, even though I am physically home when I work, I'm not as present as I used to be. I know it is partly because I'm still trying to find this little elusive thing called balance, which is exceptionally slippery when you never actually leave your office. My 6-year-old son only seems to be bothered if I ask him to be quiet while I work or if I don't make his chocolate milk as quickly as he would like. But my daughter is extremely sensitive to it.

And it's hard.

It's hard because, despite having a seemingly never-ending schedule, I am finally doing what I love. And... here's the sweet, syrup-soaked cherry... I'm getting paid for it. While I really did enjoy being an English teacher prior to becoming a parent, it wasn't my dream job. It was my favorite attainable job. My if-I'm-really-honest-with-myself-I-want-to-be-a-writer-but-I'm-afraid-of-failure-and-I-think-I-could-make-a-damn-good-teacher job. And I wouldn't trade being home with my kids these last nine years for anything, not even Sandra Boynton's career. Because I adored it and all its clichéd glory. But now... now I am a writer. An author even. Guys, sometimes I just can't even. I can't.

But then I see my daughter's mopey face when I tell her maybe I can paint her nails tomorrow. She looks like one of those damn sad babies in Renaissance paintings. And that just makes me feel accosted by every blog post I've ever read about making time for your kids. Next thing you know, my kids will start spending all their time at Lucy's house. And when Lucy's mom says they should check with me to see if it's okay to stay for dinner, Grace will get all quiet and sulky and say, "Mom's not around very much. She won't even notice we're not home." And then Lucy's mom will mentally adopt my kids right then and there and tell them they can eat as many homemade oatmeal butterscotch cookies they want, since they obviously haven't had a decent meal in months. And they can come over whenever they want. She even has extra pajamas for them. Oh my, God! Just back off, Lucy's mom! I'm right here! I only told her I couldn't snuggle tonight! Ease up on the Angelina Jolie complex.

But I DID make time for them... for nine years. And frankly, I'm still making time for them. I'm still the coach and the Girl Scout leader and the classroom volunteer and the chauffeur and the Full House-watching buddy and the snuggler and the problem solver and the laundry do-er. Okay, maybe not that last one. I sucked at laundry before. Now I'm just abysmal.

Yet, those times don't seem to matter when it's the one time I am refusing to be there.

Working mothers are lauded for showing our children it's not just men who can successfully handle a career and family.

Working mothers should be seen as examples of possibility. Then why does my child just see me as neglectful?

I know part of this simply stems from things being different from how they were before. Had I always been a working parent, she wouldn't feel as if something was being stolen from her. Because she would never have had it in the first place. And this isn't like when her little brother was born and I explained that my heart would simply expand to hold my love for him. He wasn't going to take away any that already belonged to her. Me going back to work is going to take away time that once belonged to her. Because try as I might, Time is pretty much that pair of pre-baby jeans that just. Won't. Zip, no matter how badly we want it. Something's gotta give. And it ain't gonna be the jeans.

What I'm hoping is that this is a case of the sting still being too fresh for her. I'm hoping she will come around. I'm hoping she will be proud of me. I take that back. I know she is proud of me. And she is extremely proud of my book.

But maybe one day, she will realize that I wanted to be her mom AND a writer, not because being her mom alone wasn't enough... but because being her mom made me enough, so I could finally become a writer.

I guess I owe her a pretty big snuggle for that.

This post originally appeared on Are You Finished Yet?