Every day of childhood is special. Even if it's just a funny thing my daughter says during bath time, or her sister's sleepy but happy face when I go in to get her up in the morning, these little moments are precious to me. They're not the moments you would print out for your family Christmas card, because they're too quotidian, too plain, and it's more likely the moments spent at a Christmas tree farm or skiing at Big Bear that I'll frame and hang in the house. But as a working mom, I treasure these unseen pieces of the day. The problem is that when I see friends' Facebook and Instagram posts of days spent at pumpkin patches, or visiting a garden, or taking over local play-date hotspots with other stay-at-home moms, I feel guilty that I’m working instead of being with my daughters. To be completely honest, I find these perfect Instagram photo diaries triggering.
As the only child to a working mom, my school days were spent in the company of friends, teachers, classmates. My mom would drop me off in the morning, then pick me up after work. I wanted to see more of my mom during the work week, but I also knew that if she could take time off to be with me then she would.
Now I'm a working mom to two girls, there is nothing that I want more than to have the flexibility to spend a few days a week with my daughters rather than in an office. My search for part-time and full-time jobs with flexible hours began even before my first daughter was born. But I have been unable to land a job that would both provide for my family and offer me an ideal work schedule. Do I wish I could go to the butterfly farm with my kids instead of working? Sure, but that is not in the realm of possibility for a lot of parents. I understand that my friends, who post their daily adventures online, are just doing it for themselves, but to be honest, the picture-perfect snaps of kids sipping Instagram-ready smoothies is killing me a little.
There are several reasons why I choose to work, from self-fulfillment to being able to provide for my family, and most of the time I’m content with my work-life balance and the quality time I spend with my daughters. Still, there are days when a little cloud of regret hangs over me.
I can’t, and won’t, apologize to my kids for working, because truth is I’m proud of my career, but I do find myself trying to make up for not giving them the solid blocks of quality time their little playmates get. Especially since other parents are posting photos of their family travels to amusement parks and month-long travels to distant countries. Sometimes I’ll let them drink hot coco before dinner or skip a bath so we can spend more time building a gingerbread house to ensure their nights are fun-filled, when I haven't been there during the day.
Pictures of parents with their kids in the mall with Santa or enjoying a local indoor play center make me feel incredibly disappointed in myself. I should have become an entrepreneur so I could be my own boss, I think. I should give freelancing a shot so I can be with my kids during the days. My head swarms with should-haves, why didn’t Is, why can’t Is, and so many of these unsupportive statements. If only I could take off more than one week to spend with my girls without having to ask for time off, or ensure taking time off now will not jeopardize any PTO that need to be saved for summer when my daughter will be on summer break.
Of course getting down on myself is not helpful and does absolutely nothing for my mental health. So while I do allow myself to feel guilty on those mornings when my daughter asks if I really have to go to work today or pleads with me to take her to gymnastics instead of her Nana, I just brave through it.
My Instagram feed might not be as bursting with updates of my kids, but I like to think that the moments I capture pack double the punch. I look forward to coming home to my girls after work, where I try to make the most of our afternoons together. It’s difficult trying to jam a full-day's worth of fun into a few hours — but I try.
So when you see a less-than-picture-perfect snap posted on Facebook, or Instagram, know that the mom who took it felt the powerful tug of her children, a pang of guilt that she isn't there more, and that she's so, so grateful to have this moment.