Until recently I have been a stay-at-home mom with several small project-based jobs I could do online for extra money during early morning hours. A few months ago, I took on a real online part-time job because our family needs the money. I now work on my laptop at the kitchen table while I cook, while the kids do homework, etc. and time with my 6- and 8-year-old children has been severely cut. My kids are unhappy – “hating mommy’s job,” acting out, making it hard to concentrate when I have to. I feel bad for them and want things to be better but I have to keep this job. Any advice?”
– Samantha R., Lakeshore Blvd.
We grandmothers claim to know almost all there is to know about raising kids, but your question leads us first to a confession: When we were young mothers we didn’t have to deal with your problem.
Remember the 50s? Well, probably you don’t, but you’ve seen it on TV. Very few moms worked; they were at home baking cookies and playing with the kids. Except the truth of the matter is, we didn’t play with the kids all that much; the kids entertained themselves for the most part. And some of us got tired of baking cookies and wished we had jobs so we’d have our own bank accounts. The good old days.
But your children won’t be comforted much by watching re-runs of Leave it to Beaver. They expect to have as much of your attention as they ever did, and they resent having to share you with your job.
Being a modern mom you probably did frequently bake cookies and play with your kids, and now you can’t do that as often. What many parents feel in this situation is guilt, and it comes out when they say things like: “I have to work so we can buy [brand name] video games and [brand name] tennis shoes and eat out regularly at the [brand name] hamburger emporium. And won’t we have fun at Disneyland this summer?”
Parents don’t like to disappoint their children and they don’t want to hear about their children’s unhappiness. So they try to jolly the kids out of it.
In a word, don’t. Instead, acknowledge in full their anger.
Try to find out all the specifics of their resentment, and don’t try to convince them that they’re exaggerating and it isn’t so bad as all that. You don’t have to agree – just listen and nod understanding.
Tell them that you miss having things the way they were, too. Swallow your guilt and listen to their sadness. Just feeling “heard” by you will make them feel better, the same way you feel better after having confided your problems to a friend who is a good listener.
Then start talking about ways you all might adjust to this new reality. They don’t need to hear the details of the electric bill being overdue and the car needing a new transmission, but you can talk about being a family and working together differently now.
Recognize your children for managing to solve a problem or do a task without your help that, in the past, they might have asked you to do. Emphasize how capable they have become; tell them that, in fact, their help would be appreciated with some of the household tasks that you used to do all by yourself.
Explain how you could be spending more time with them if you were doing some of these tasks together; while you’re working at the kitchen laptop, for example, they could be helping you get dinner on the table. They could certainly learn to help with the laundry, and assist in clean-up after dinner.
They might complain from time to time about their newly assigned chores. Bbut you could end up feeling less pressured; they more competent and needed; and all of you important members of the family team.
Be sure to schedule some family play times as well, and strictly adhere to that schedule. Don’t make these costly outings that you can’t really afford, but research some inexpensive or even free activities: ice skating at Wade Oval costs nothing more than $3 skate rental; the zoo charges no admission on Mondays; a favorite family board or card game is free. So are hikes in the woods.
During one of those hikes you might tell your kids about that job of yours and how sometimes you don’t like it but often you do, just like sometimes they hate school but often they actually have fun there.
Tell them in words they can understand what exactly your work entails, and what you had to learn to be able to do it – and branch off to a discussion of the kind of work they might want to do some day. We want them, after all, to appreciate the world of work, and look forward to it.
You don’t have to tell your kids this next part, but you could help yourself feel less guilty by realizing that you’re actually teaching your children some valuable lifelong lessons here.
Although life can be hard we can usually find ways to cope, and children need to learn this as they grow up; they will be better prepared for the challenges they meet later on.
And you and your husband are setting a wonderful example for your children by working hard together to do what needs to be done, without resentment or blaming anyone. (Of course, there are sure to be times when you do feel resentment; try to voice these only to each other, after the kids are in bed.)
Some day these will be the good old days.
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