The topics of working outside of the home and motherhood are both natural roles for me, as they are for a lot of moms. When I daydream and look into the future, I see myself working. I love problem solving, camaraderie and overcoming new challenges in and out of the office.
But tossing motherhood in the mix has changed the game.
I graduated college ten years ago and don’t know what makes sense anymore. Do I push forward in my career? I fear additional responsibilities would take me away from the family. On the other hand, coasting feels uncomfortable and strange. When is good enough, truly enough? It’s nice to keep advancing. And yes, it’s nice to travel, to save and have experiences your family will love. But when does the cost outweigh the benefit? More time away from the kids means more everything. More guilt, sitters and scheduling.
Worse than guilt or early morning meetings is this painful truth: I am not the preferred parent.
Reading those words and internalizing that truth makes me cringe.
Dad is at home with the kids part-time and is the go-to parent. At doctor’s office, when questioned about schedules and eating habits, I awkwardly direct the doctor’s gaze from me to my husband. Palm up, swinging in his direction, as if to say, “Take it away, parent who knows every detail!” Of course, I have the highlights but if you’d like to get into the weeds, please ask my husband.
At school pick-up and drop-off, I feel like a fraud. There are a lot of questions as I’m not the familiar face. Fielding questions like “Do I have the day off? Am I working from home? Where’s Dad?” remind me that I’m not the regular.
I’m not the preferred parent but I certainly am the default parent.
The default parent is the one responsible for the emotional, physical and logistical needs of the kids. Paperwork, projects, volunteering, meals, appointments, clothing, play dates have been claimed by, or inadvertently granted to me. Tickle-monster-pillow-fight-run-around game was invented by Dad.
The hardest part about being the default parent and not preferred parent are those unsung moments that my kids won’t be able to appreciate until they are older. And of course, I don’t want a pat on the back but rather that no one know what they’re doing and I’m learning too. I know working outside of the home is right for our family and marriage. I know that I miss those mundane moments. Making sandwiches for lunch, impromptu play dates, understanding nap routines.
My husband has more mundane moments and “Dad errands” (going to the dump, visiting the lakefront to throw rocks and climb on playgrounds that this mom thinks are too advanced for their level of mobility). Counter that with “Mom errands” of Target, grocery store, structured crafting, baking and getting out of the house for library hours and local events and I get it, Dad is fun and Mom is a task master.
Being a task master isn’t fun but it is a good quality for a default parent to have.
When I was pumping at work, I was bring home the bacon and precious liquid gold. And that was something, right. Everyone gets something! You get breast milk! You get new winter boots! Mom gets a haircut. Everyone wins.
There are seasons when work feels great. The extra hours at the office or at home feel natural and doable and, dare I say, fun (not Tickle-monster-pillow-fight-run-around game fun but, enjoyable). Then, there are seasons where nothing feels right. Frantic energy at work trickles into frantic energy at home.
I’m not looking for a pivot, a drastic change of pace, or a way to feel more balanced. I want my kids to look at me, and all working parents, and know from observation that we are all trying. Trying to balance needs with wants, joy with responsibility, dreams with reality. To know that strength doesn’t come from burn-out and blind commitment but rather self-awareness and setting boundaries. And I just want to be picked to read bedtime stories every now and again.