It’s 4:30 p.m. and I’ve managed to slap together some dubiously nutritious combo of packaged food and fresh vegetables so that when the real chef comes home (my husband), he can snarf it down and whisk our son off to coding class. Typically, my daughter and I love Mondays because it’s uninterrupted “us” time. Well, it’s supposed to be uninterrupted “us” time. Tonight, my enthusiastic little girl has our whole evening planned out: a little French phonics and some dictée practice, followed by Uno.
But before we even get started, I hear the gentle chime of my cellphone. Mild panic ensues. Who is calling me in 2017?! I pick up the phone and do that thing where you walk away from your child—because otherwise she will probably fall down or embark on a wild wrestling match or desperately need a snack.
The call—about my newly launched clothing line—requires a solid 45 minutes of damage control. I oscillate between ignoring the tap-tap-tap of my daughter’s tiny hands on my back and trying to mime-help her through her homework. It’s not working. One call leads to another. While on that second call, I scroll through email and notice another fire in need of extinguishing, so I get back on the phone for a third time, shutting myself in the bedroom.
Two (!) hours later, I race back downstairs, feeling guilty as sin. Where the hell did two hours go?! With doom in my stomach, I venture into the kitchen to find my super-eager six-year-old face-planted in Brownie (her blankie) on top of her homework. The thought of her trying to get my attention for the past two hours for homework help is borderline horrifying. She wasn’t bugging me for candy; she wanted help with French vocab. Seeing her little braid sticking up in the air and her drool on Brownie triggers my inner mom-guilt loop. You know what that sounds like: I ignored her, so she thinks she isn’t important to me. I failed to help her with her homework while other parents helped their kid with homework, which means their kid will thrive while mine will fall behind. When my kid falls behind, she’ll hate school. Her low grades will affect her self-esteem. It’s my fault that my six-year-old will grow up feeling unloved and unmotivated and ultimately fail in life. Yeah, I take my guilt trips a little too far, but who doesn’t in this child-focused world of competitive parenting? I give my daughter a big hug and apologize, vowing to myself that I will never let this happen again.
When my husband gets home, I go into full-throttle whiny voice, complaining about my failure in everything from parenting to dieting to taking care of my parents. At some point, I realize that this guilt thing is killing me; the only place it ever gets me is to the bottom of the Nutella jar. I had to figure out a way to dig myself out of this brutal cycle.
So, I started asking myself some hard questions: How would I feel if I had just let my phone ring and ignored those calls? Would I be loving and focused with my daughter or, let’s be honest, distracted, impatient and possibly a bit resentful because the whole time we were conjugating être, I’d be thinking I should be solving this clothing-line thing. And I’d know there was a problem because I’d check my email—because that is what I do.
When I stepped away from beating myself up, I realized that going whole hog on my passion projects is what allows me to go whole hog on mommy time with my kids. It takes a special fuel to be excited about reading the same dang book over and over again. Or packing another lunch. Or playing restaurant—for the 1,200th time. Chasing my creative and business pursuits is what allows me to be a better mom, mostly because it makes me happy. I’d be miserable if I had to sacrifice my dreams to slay this parenting thing.
Like most people, I’m not nice when I’m not happy. In fact, when I’m not happy, I make life difficult for the people around me. It’s not pretty, but it’s true. So, what makes me happy? Striving for something more. Feeding a passion. I want my kids to feed their passions, too, and I can show them how by example.
I thought about how stepping away from my child’s responsibilities might help her. What could my daughter learn if she started her homework on her own? Could that help her become the sort of child we’re all intent on raising: an independent, self-confident self-starter? Can being ignored once in a while—the way most of us were in the ’70s and ’80s—actually have benefits?
By no means has the guilt disappeared. I have to talk myself off the ledge whenever I start sliding into mom-guilt mode. But each time I flex that muscle, it gets a little easier. Now when I’m done all the emails and calls, I can happily turn my phone off and focus 100 percent on whatever verb we’re conjugating. I can also focus all my attention on delivering Dizzies (throwing a blanket on their head and whipping them around in circles), playing Lemons (throwing them onto the bed into a backward somersault again and again) and building epic Lego creations.
My kids still sometimes complain that I’m too busy—they want more Lego play, more Dizzies and more Lemons. I’m OK with that because I’ve made peace with myself. All I can do is try my best. And when it’s a messy mix of kids’ demands and work requirements, I let myself off the hook. Since Homework Gate, I’ve found myself caught in similar circumstances, with kids needing homework help and me caught on phone calls. But now if I’m going to have a busy work night, I tell them this when I pick them up from school so they can start thinking about all the things they’ll have to do on their own without me: get a snack, do their homework, wash their hands, feed the dog, play Lego. And if I do get caught in endless calls, I warn them via note that they are to start their after-school routine and get as far as they can without me. I’ll be hiding in a room upstairs chasing some dreams—guilt-free.
Tracy Moore’s clothing line #tmxfredas is sold exclusively on The Shopping Channel. She is also the host of Cityline.