Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Absence makes the heart grow... colder?

Children are a blessing and a gift from the LORD.
(Psalm 127:3, CEV)

I always wince when I hear a mom with children "in school" (as opposed to a homeschooling mom) express relief that vacation time is almost over and pretty soon the kids will be back in school. It's especially heart-wrenching when said kids are within earshot. Sort of a Mom doesn't really want me around moment.

To see the look of hurt on the child's face... or worse, not to see it, because it's no big deal, it's just something Mom says all the time, well, it makes me sad for the child, and for the Mom, who is missing out on something precious.

Been there. (In the immortal words of internet usage) Done that.

Once upon a time, when Eldest was little, I was a working-outside-the-home mom. We had daycare, in the earliest years, but when a slightly larger toddler broke our toddler's thumb, we looked for another arrangement, and found a babysitter who only took in one other child at the time. She turned out to be (at the time) a better mom than I was -- she provided welcome, a scheduled, predictable day, loving arms, and time. Lots of time.

(I didn't know a whole lot about mothering, having grown up last of a fair-sized family and not been around babies and toddlers. I've learned a lot since then, but how I wish I'd known a motherly mentor in those early years.)

To get back to the topic absence and fondness, in my experience as a working mother, absence did not make the heart grow fonder, as in the old saw. I loved my work, I really did, and while it was with reluctance I first left our daughter to go back to the workplace, I soon got used to it, soon grew to love what I did, giving a lot of myself to teaching and as a consequence, having little left over when it was time to pick up our daughter, head home, get dinner on the table, take care of a few chores, read a bedtime story, go to bed myself, and then get up and do it all again.

(I read recently in a Facebook discussion thread that some daycares or babysitters charge $5 a minute for parents who are late to pick up their child. I may be adding 2+2 and getting 5, but that tells me there's a problem, where parents are either too busy to pick up a child on time, or else they're reluctant, or both. I can relate.)

Forget quality time. Eldest was getting the dregs. I was tired, not as patient with a toddler as I later learned to be with our younger two. (But that's another story.) Any quality time Eldest got was with our lovely and loving babysitter. (I'm so sorry to have to admit this.)

I discovered a curious fact: The less I was with our daughter, the less I wanted to be with her. On the other hand, when the work schedule lightened up (I taught when a weeklong or two-week class was scheduled, and sometimes I would have a week off if I wasn't scheduled), I'd spend much more time with our daughter -- days in a row -- and the more time I spent with her, the more I wanted to spend time with her.

Since we began homeschooling, almost 20 years ago now, I've found that I really enjoy our children. The more time we spend together, the more I get to know them, the more I know I'm going to miss them when it's finally time for them to leave the nest. Part of it is that we have quantity time, which makes grasping that elusive "quality time" more likely. Part of it is character development and discipline. Our children have learned how to get along with all kinds of people, of all ages, including (for the most part) their parents. Part of it is that we've had time to teach them what's important, and we're pretty much on the same page, though they are developing their own mindsets, their own apologia for what they believe, not just parroting back what we've tried to live in front of and alongside them.

Do you love your children? Do you really love them? Most parents would answer that question with a thoughtful or maybe indignant, Of course! 

Do you like them?

Do you like being with them?

If you don't, maybe this is a point to ponder further.

This is not to denigrate "working mothers" or make you feel guilty if you are one. I'm just suggesting you examine your attitude, if it's anything like mine was when our eldest was a toddler. The years go by so fast, childhood is just a blink of an eye, and soon they're all grown up and you'll be wondering what happened to the time. Eldest will soon turn 30. I look at young mothers sometimes, and wish I could go back. But I can't.

At the time, I didn't have a choice about working, and so I sympathize with you if you're in the same boat. I'm glad that things changed for us (some of it involving circumstances, some a change of heart, but that's another story). It's been a struggle to stay at home, these past two decades. There are a lot of things we might have done with a second income, a lot of things we might be able to do now, in fact, that we can't. Even some important things, like a new roof. (Insert Han Solo imitation here, peering anxiously at the ceiling: Hear me, baby? Hold together!)

But it's been worth it. Totally.

I wish for you the same joy and delight.

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