Parenting is hard and on this day, I felt like a failure. I was the worst parent. It was my second year as an educational administrator for a major institution. I was one of their youngest managers and felt like I had to prove myself. The workload was crushing. The work environment even more toxic with accountability at an all time high. Added to that I was the mother of eight-year-old and three-year-old boys.
Let’s add some background and context to the story. My parenting style is very clear. I parent deliberately and intentionally. I have clear goals for my family and work consciously to achieve them. So, things like family game night and movie nights are sacred. Being careful to create opportunities for my sons to make friends and build those friendships is key. Carefully examining their academic progress and ensuring adequate support is always a priority.
This kind of streamlined and idyllic family existence is possible with a stay at home parent and/or part-time work. That’s exactly how my motherhood started. Then financial pressures and quite honestly, my need to do something other than laundry and make dinner, led me back into the corporate world.
I landed a great job, lots of responsibility from the start and what appeared to be opportunity for growth. My third day on the job I was required to attend a three-day conference out of town. This meant leaving my then nine-month-old son. In retrospect, that should have been my first indication of what was to come.
Within months I was working ten- and twelve-hour days with at least one out of town trip per month. For the first time in my parenting life, the teachers were communicating with dad instead of me. My nanny/housekeeper didn’t bother to tell me when something was needed in the house. After all, she never saw me, dad was the one who relieved her and picked up the kids from school.
In retrospect, I’m not sure who did the homework and projects. My sole focus was keeping and succeeding at my job. So, parent conferences came around and it was time to meet with my second grader’s teacher. I hastily left work during my lunch break for the meeting. Of course, there was no other time.
The day I failed
I sat in front of the teacher who hadn’t seen or heard from me in months, as she began to tell me how lovely my eight-year-old was. A well-mannered child who tries so hard. However, he was barely managing. His spelling was atrocious. He wasn’t grasping key concepts. The teacher didn’t think he was lacking intellectually, he just needed more support.
I sat there numbly, listening to the subliminal message. My son was failing because I was trying to keep my job. I literally cried the entire drive back to work. Some persons may say it wasn’t a big deal, he was only a second grader. But what else did I miss in those months? What underlying or foundational principles of learning were compromised?
I realized that I had to schedule my time better. My work days needed to be shorter to allow for time with my family.
I had to set clear lines of demarcation between work and home. That included not answering work calls, emails or carrying work home. It took time and serious commitment, but it worked out.
Designated family time
It became clear that I would not have the idyllic family dinner at six everyday. Instead I focused on identifying and reserving special family time every week. That became family game night and family movie night. Nothing was planned during these times and only dire emergencies could alter plans.
I probably will never find out, but that day was a wake-up call for me. It is so easy to lose sight of our priorities as parents in the everyday jungle of work. Yes, parenting is a priority because only parents can and should do it. I fixed my life. I am so glad that I didn’t have to pay a higher price for taking my eye off the ball.
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