Mom on 11, Exhibit A: The Mom Who Wants to Make Every Second With Her Kids Count

In a series of blog posts, we will be exploring what it means to be a “Mom on 11.”  In addition to creating our own content, we will frequently link to articles that inspire – or terrify – us.

The winner of this week’s “Mom on 11 Award” goes to this blogger. The linked blog post was sent to Law-Mom by one of her dearest friends. This, however, was her reaction to it:

“O.M.G. I have to spend every single second with my kids! I have to plan big and small things! I have to afford vacation! But I can’t afford vacation if I don’t work. But if I work, I can’t spend every single second with my kids! And, [bleep!] I am never in any pictures! They will have zero memories of their mom….”

Don’t get me wrong: I understand where this woman is coming from. Yes, our children’s childhoods are short, and it is a beautiful thing to savor every moment of them – as best we can. But, this idea that we have to do all and be all for our kids is pressure, people! pressure!

“I must [the very word itself gives me high blood pressure] make every single [there is no room for error] summer count.”

Econ-mom, can we talk about how feasible this is for working moms?

I have been wanting to say this for a long time: I personally find it cruel that we tell our daughters that they can be and do anything they want in life, but, once they become mothers, they need to hang up all their degrees and focus their entire being and psyche on their children. It is also cruel that we set up institutional roadblocks that make working outside the home nearly impossible for some people. (More on that later.)

For the record, I do pretty much focus my entire being and psyche on my children. In fact, I largely work for my children. I work, because we need my income to pay the bills and any of the “extras” considered necessary and proper by today’s middle-class standards. And by extras, I mean things like gymnastics lessons and private tutoring. Not vacation or a dream kitchen. (We will be discussing and exploring more about the economics of parenting in future blog posts.)

So, with that premise out of the way: How does a working mom “make every single summer count” and work?

Well?

Honestly, it cannot be done. You can do your best, but you will not be able to.

At this point, you can hyperventilate into a paper bag, like I did briefly after reading that blog. Or, you can just accept reality and pat yourself on the back for packing the kids’ lunches today and move on.

But that blog post illustrates the sort of pressure on parents that “Mom on 11” culture creates.

Do you agree?

Econ-Mom’s response:

Oh my gosh, I have so much to say about this.  First, Law-mom, be glad that you are at least earning money for your family!  Throughout the past six years that I have been in graduate school, I have rarely brought home more money than we spent on child care.  (I know it’s an investment, yadda yadda, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty when I’m writing those daycare checks!)

Second, I’m going to coin a term for this particular form of guilt – how about Extreme Savoring Syndrome (ESS) – for shorthand. I have felt the pressure of ESS often.  For example the old lady at the park who says, “I remember when my kids were that age! Treasure these moments!”  I mean, I get where these people (including the mom blogger you linked to) are coming from.  ALL of life is ephemeral, but for many reasons that transience is right in your face when you have young children.  Just when you get used to your little one saying “break-stist” instead of breakfast, he stops saying it.  And don’t even get me started on those families you only see once a year!  Their kids are completely different every time you see them and you’re like “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!”  So, I get it.  BUT… it is guilt-inducing! It used to be that anytime I worked on a weekend this little voice in my head would be going “They’re only young for such a short time… “

Nowadays ESS doesn’t rear its ugly head for me as often as it used to.  But I used to worry about this a lot, and I finally started telling myself “you know what?  If you spend 16 waking hours per day with your kids instead of 8 waking hours per day, you’ll still miss their chubby little cheeks when they’re grown. But at least this way you will (hopefully!) have a career that you love in addition to some lovely grown-up offspring.”   Or as my dad says, “You can’t bottle it up, that’s for sure.”

Finally, I would like to add that, like many things, ESS can be especially difficult for special needs moms.  We’re not only trying to strike a balance between therapy sessions and letting our kids be kids, but we also often go through extremely rough patches with our children.  Many autistic children have major sleep problems and frequent intense melt-downs, which are emotionally draining for any parent or caregiver.  As special needs parents we also have to go through a period where we adjust our expectations for how we thought our child’s life was going to go (and trust me, if you thought you went into parenthood with “zero expectations” you would likely be surprised by how many subconscious expectations you had when forced to confront them).  We love our kids so fiercely, and there are always sweet and happy moments scattered through the darkest times, but frankly there are some times in my children’s lives that I did not savor.

In conclusion, I have no idea how to make each summer count!  Courtney, to respond to your point about vacation, trust me that is not the answer.  We went on a “vacation” to attend our family reunion this summer, and guess what?  I spent the whole time dealing with a bored 3-year-old and feeling extremely irritated that we bought four plane tickets just for me to not be able to talk to anybody! I think my official answer will be “when it’s really hot out let your kids eat a popsicle” and leave it at that.