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Miranda: When the Truth Hurts

Sometimes we hold onto an idea, an ideal, an intention for so long that it takes on the patina of something holy. We clutch onto this ideal with complete conviction, confident that any conflicting ideas are wrong, implausible, outrageous. Over many years, pressure accumulates underneath that ideal. And then one day, the ideal cracks open and reveals something more useful: the truth.

So it is for me in my navigation of motherhood and work. For all of my 21 years of being a mother, I’ve held onto the ideal of being at home with my children as much as possible. Early on, I had many fulfilling years of being at home with my kids fulltime. Slowly I built a freelance business that took off after my three oldest were in grade school. But then two more children came along, during years that were full of intensifying work stress and all that goes with being a creative entrepreneur. Still, it was essential to me that I be at home with my kids as much as I could. I somehow thought less of women who worked fulltime “by choice.” I relied on at-home babysitters and then part-time preschool to cover the bulk of my working time — except that there never was enough time. This meant long periods of working nights and sporadically on weekends in order to make it all happen. And while it’s hard to admit, there were too many times that I relied on the electronic babysitter to buy me some more time just so that I could get “a little more” work done. Working at home, and always being at home, seemed to mean that any time could be work time. I never managed to create the boundaries that I thought would reduce my stress level and help me be more present.

Figuring out how to work less, do less, and parent more has long been my struggle. I’ve written at this blog about the vortex of caring for young children, the difficult transition back to parenting after the work day, wanting to do less, enjoying the successes, and then adding more to my plate — things that I’m deeply passionate about, like becoming a creativity coach and opening a studio for all things related to creativity, well-being, and life design. With three different businesses to tend to, pushing the envelope took on a whole new meaning.

While I continued to heap ever more items onto the “things I’m doing” pile, my perennial plan was to be more active and engaged on the motherhood front. I wanted to have a weekly family project routine — but never managed to make it weekly. I’d get excited about a project and my youngest would get bored in five minutes and that would be that. I dreamed of being a mother like this one — more than dreamed; I intended it, for years — and that intention never materialized. I’ve been busy doing lots of other things. And yet I keep intending, as if somehow that intention could shield me from the reality that I was choosing something else.

So when do intentions turn into untruths? Stuck somewhere between “It’s the thought that counts” and “The road to hell is paved with with good intentions,” I refused to believe there was anything different I could aspire to. But isn’t the truth found in my actions, collected over the years, rather than my to-do lists?

Today, my kids are all in elementary school, high school, and college, aside from my very youngest, who turns four next month. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, Liam goes to preschool until 3:30. He’s home with me every Monday and Friday. On those two days we do errands and go to Liam’s gym class and sometimes see friends. I try to spend some amount of time doing whatever it is Liam wants to do, rooms away from my laptop and iPhone. But it’s not a lot — not even the majority of the day. Most of the day, I’m working. Liam doesn’t mind in the least; he’s happy to watch his favorite programs or play Star Wars Lego for two hours — or more (ouch). He likes to be at home, and he doesn’t like to go to school. So I’ve told myself that this arrangement is for the best. A young child needs to be with his mother, even if she’s sitting at the table working. I bristled at my husband’s suggestion that we consider putting Liam in school five days a week. How dare he suggest such a thing? I’m not the kind of mother who would stick her four-year-old in school five days a week when it wasn’t necessary. It wouldn’t be good for him. Obviously!

Unless, of course, it would be good for him. During the past two weeks I have come to acknowledge the truth — I am not the mother of my dreams. Keeping Liam at home on Mondays and Fridays is not necessarily good for him. And it’s not necessarily good for me.

I can see how this might sound like a little thing. Two more days of school? Millions of four-year-olds go to school five days a week. What’s the big deal? Of course Liam will be fine. But it is a big deal. It’s a huge deal. The remains of the mother I’d intended to be is wrapped up in those two days. A mother who puts her children in front of her work. A mother who puts her children’s best interests ahead of her own. A mother who, after 21 years of mothering, wouldn’t shortchange her youngest child.

The truth is that I’m deeply passionate about my work. I want to do my work. I don’t want to do less, and I can’t shoehorn three businesses into mother’s hours three days a week. If I were able to find a school where Liam was happy, I wouldn’t feel quite so guilty about five days a week. In seeing this truth, in accepting what is, I’m facing what is real and true and me, instead of bowing under the weight of my own shoulds and shouldn’ts.

Aligning with truth rather than intention feels very much like cracking open. It isn’t a good feeling, yet — but I know that allowing the truth to unfold is the only path to an authentic life. And if I want to live authentically, fessing up to my self is surely the best place to start.

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33 Comments Post a comment
  1. i know a great co-op in your littleton-groton area…

    miranda, we are all here with you, you have made it possible for me to go back to work as i struggled with the guilt of having not been there enough for my older two, so tried to make up for that with number 3. but you know what? if putting him in more preschool means that you can be more present when you are with him. then it is the better choice.

    toots loves going to her preschool to see her friends, and i am lucky to have grandma pick up the slack when i am not able to be home, though at times that has its drawbacks, too (too much tv and shopping, but i do the tv thing, too). next year, i am switching her to a 4 day preschool at what will be her elementary school. i’ve had her in ps since she was 2.5 becasue she seemed so ready to be out in the world making her own connections.

    have i done crafts with her? not as much as i’d like,,,,if anything i probably moan about the mess to clean up when she asks for playdoh or painting. you’re not alone, and i think you knew that when you started this site. πŸ™‚

    April 6, 2012
    • Thanks, Cathy — it does feel so much better knowing I’m in good company. There’s something about mother-guilt that is so pervasive…it can eat you alive.

      April 6, 2012
  2. Miranda, having never met you in person but having spent a lot of time of visiting and contributing to this blog, I truly believe you are an outstanding mother, no matter the choices you must make regarding time with your children vs. time for work. None of us ever finds the time we need to do all the things we want or need to do while still finding the time we want AND need to spend with our children. I’ve always been on the other side of the street, having always been a full-time and then some working mom. Would I rather be working from home and having more time with my girls? Absolutely, but reality is reality. And my reality is that I will probably never be able to afford to quit my day job. And I think that’s where those truths and intentions you mentioned come in. My creative business is a constant mess, literally and figuratively! (of course the fact that I can’t seem to concentrate on just one medium probably contributes to that, but that’s a whole other post…) Last year, I completely FORGOT to submit my paperwork to one of my most successful shows of the year! Just total mommy brain blonde moment that left me with a big hole in my schedule the first weekend in December when I’m usually at Market Days making great sales. But you know what? That ended up being a great weekend because I was able to just spend it at home with my family.

    So yes, acceptance and facing the truths are part of it. But part of the acceptance is that I truly believe we are all doing the very best we can with the circumstances we are in. Will you miss Liam being around on Mondays and Fridays? Probably for a little bit, but we adjust. Will he be unhappy with his new arrangement? I think he may surprise you there. As the mother of five, I know you know probably better than I how adaptable children are. As long as they know they are loved and cared for, they easily adapt, and I know you are an incredibly loving and caring parent. Transitions are tough. I know I stink at them. But I also know you’ll make this one gracefully and come out the other side with a refreshed sense of yourself. Can’t want to hear about it.

    April 6, 2012
    • Kelly, you are one of my inspirations for how working full time (and then some) can actually co-exist with a fulfilling experience of motherhood. And you’re right, children are amazingly adaptable — which is part of what makes me feel bad. (I can feel guilty about ANYTHING.)

      April 6, 2012
  3. Oh Miranda! I feel this post….four years after my son (and last child) was born, my “as needed”, occasional work, telecommuting job has grown to encompass many more hours than I had ever originally planned to do. And I could work more, if only I wasn’t working AND staying home with the kids. The county we live in offers a preschool program in the local elementary school (where his sister goes to school) that follows the regular school day 9am to 4pm, with bus rides. We registered him last month and hope he gets accepted. I can’t even imagine putting him on the bus with his sister every day next year, but it’s time. And I try to keep in mind how much more time there will be for me to work without interruption, during the day, so that I am truly available for my family in the evenings. I can even block off one entire day for creative work, if I want to!!

    I don’t feel bad about wanting the time, but I am struggling with Noah growing up and away from me.

    April 6, 2012
    • I can’t wait to compare notes with you Christine. I agree — the allure of actually being available to family in the “off” hours is immensely appealing.

      April 6, 2012
      • πŸ™‚ My day job is most of the reason I haven’t been writing at ALL lately. It’s consumed a lot of what used to be ‘creative time’. I’m hoping that will shift a little soon. I’m overwhelmed! πŸ™‚

        April 6, 2012
  4. Sam went to 5 day preschool when he was two (granted it was only 3 hrs a day, but he went all 5 days, and if they’d had 7 day preschool I would have sent him to that too!). John goes to 5 day preschool now, and will go to 5 day preschool next year, and I’m not juggling 3 businesses. I just like being in the quiet.

    April 6, 2012
    • I love your reality check, Brittany — I need me some more of that.

      April 6, 2012
      • me, too! and everyone else’s….

        April 6, 2012
  5. rowenamurillo #

    I’ve been struggling with trying to find parenting time, working time, creative time too. I was about to say that I haven’t gotten as far as you, but then, I’ve been trying to figure out this balance only for the last 6 years. But the balance between “shoulds” and what is has been something I’ve been trying to balance for 20 years or more. What “should” I be doing, who “should” I be? And the guilt from not living up to those shoulds is almost more destructive than the intention to be “good” is productive.
    Somewhere in there, there’s just what is, and the trust that we are good enough just the way we are. Somewhere…

    April 6, 2012
  6. yesterday, well into the second (or third?) hour of playing mario karts on wii with my three kids on their day off, i said, are you three going to grow up and remember me as doing nothing but playing video games with you …. am i damaging your future memories of my parenting skills? …. we’ve been playing too long!

    my son said, no, i’ll remember that we we bonded over video games … and i’ll probably feel a little bad that i never let you win …. you’ll come out looking great ….

    um .. thanks, honey?

    same question, a daughter answering … yes it’s a problem. you need to take us to the zoo….

    parenting comes in all shapes and colors and sizes and activity levels …. it has to, cause we’re all different … we all bring something different to the table …. perfect parenting is unobtainable … and overrated …

    April 6, 2012
    • Love your story, Elizabeth.

      I haven’t thought of this as wanting to be a “perfect” parent so much as wanting to live up to my own expectations. But no matter what I do, I’ll probably always end up feeling guilty :-/

      April 6, 2012
      • aha! and that is where you can let it go now that you have named it! your own expectations of the kind of mother you want to be. that’s my sore spot, too. in my mind, for that to happen, i would be milking goats fed organic grains, and organic gardening with my kids delightfully whistling happy farming work songs beside me, while writing poetry and painting in the sunshine….reality is working on novel, working at work, my house is a mess and i am down to a couple of decent homecooked meals a week…rather than grinding the wheat i grew for the homemade bread…my kids do alright in school and are individually creative, we talk to each other, my teens don’t resent me 99% of the time, and toots is content with silly cuddles whenever she can get them.

        i’d say, between the two, the 2nd option is worth celebrating. and the first one looks farcical in print. i mean, really, where are the singing bluebirds? πŸ™‚

        April 6, 2012
  7. I don’t think there is a magic potion to rid any of us of the guilt .. that we can ONLY choose what is best for us at the moment, and moments pass and time changes everything. Nothing is permenant. Thus, we change and change again to adapt. At that’s what it’s been like for me. I worked FT, stayed home, worked at home and now I work full-time but want to quit to be home afterschool with my girls and so I can go back to writing, etc. It’s going to be a tough road to do but I believe it is right for me and for my family.

    April 6, 2012
    • Good for you for knowing what’s right for you and your family, awakeshawn. I’ve been so caught up in my “shoulds” that I’ve had a hard time really knowing what’s right.

      April 6, 2012
  8. This is an extremely powerful post. My heart aches for you at the same time as it feels joy for the inspiring work you do and the truth you are exploring right now. What an incredible journey it is to be a creative mother.

    April 7, 2012
    • Thank you, Alissa. The process of putting it all out there — and then feeling so supported by the community — is deeply affirming.

      April 7, 2012
  9. This is an excellent blog post. I personally have always worked except when I was on maternity leave. As much as part of me would love to be home with them, I know I couldn’t, I am not that type of person and I believe I am doing something good for my kids by them having independence by going to daycare. Now this september both my kids will be in school and I am able to adjust my hours to drop them off and pick them up at the end of the day which is so wonderful for our family!

    April 7, 2012
    • Pamela, thank you for sharing your experience. It’s a gift to know what is best for you and your family, rather than trying to live up to some imaginary standard that just doesn’t feel good.

      I hope we see you back at Studio Mothers in future!

      April 7, 2012
      • Truth he told I was though, so many people kept telling me I should be doing more photography sessions and I was pushing myself, too much, too more chance to the point that I began I lose enjoyment. I finally had to make a decision, just because I was being told and encouraged to do something I was good at and have a talent for, didn’t mean I had to sacrifice myself at the same time. So I made the decision to not grow my photography business and rather let word of mouth be my only means of advertising”. Once I made that decision and know I will put limits on how much I will take on, soooo much happier and enjoying photography again!

        April 7, 2012
  10. You can’t imagine my surprise when I clicked on the link to the mother you dreamed of being. Actually, utter shock. The irony is that I was nodding my head right along with everything you said throughout this post. I struggle with reconciling the mother I dreamt of being with the mother I am every day. When my kids were much younger my role was Mama, 24-7, except the 20 hours I was at work (and let’s face it, even then). Over the past two years, and with my youngest in kindergarten this year, I’ve slowly started finding and spending time on myself and my creative projects (thanks in no small part to what I’ve learned from you). And what I’ve discovered is that I love my creative endeavours as much as I love my role as a mama. And I really like to be by myself. I struggle a little bit with balancing the things that need to be done, the creative work I’d like to do, and focused time on my kindergartener in the afternoons after he gets home from school. He’s pretty high maintenance (in terms of wanting my time), and after eight years of mothering, I’m kind of exhausted. Literally, I think I spent the first half of his kindergarten year recovering from five years of not sleeping at night and trying to be supermama by day.

    After celebrating my daughter’s eighth birthday this week, it has become apparent to me that she has turned a corner into a new phase of her life, and seeing her blossom like this is awesome. Yes, I would go back in a minute to be the new mother admiring my pink rosebud of a newborn, but 1) I can’t, 2) I’m different now. I had babies and very young children – I did that – and now I’m ready to move on with them. Believe me, this is a huge realization for me because I have many many times longed for a third child. My point is that you’re ready for that next stage too, and with the right school situation Liam could be too. You have spent many many years trying to do it all and find the perfect balance, so you as much as anyone knows that perfect balance is always shifting. So this is your next shift. You have changed as a person in the past 21 years, it’s totally reasonable that you would also change as a mother.

    Bravo on seeking and naming truth – you hit a common nerve with this blog post. πŸ™‚

    April 7, 2012
    • Jane, you really are my maternal idol. The way you’re raising your kids — instilling your values and sharing your passions — inspires me. Who else would whip up some organic pancake batter, pack up breakfast makings, and head to the river with a skillet and portable campfire to enjoy hot pancakes al fresco? You are devoted to your children without living *through* them. Creativity through and through. Beauty.

      April 9, 2012
      • Thanks M. Next time we do pancakes al fresco, I’ll call you!

        April 9, 2012
  11. Miranda, my goosebumps have goosebumps. I honor your transparency here and your self care. I will write more in a post in response to this brilliant sharing of yours. Thank you. I love this site, your readers have a great resource in you. Looking forward to more of you in my life. Love, S

    April 11, 2012
  12. You put my feelings into words:
    “The truth is that I’m deeply passionate about my work. I want to do my work.”
    Thank you for that. i am so glad I am not alone. i NEVER thought I’d put my youngest in preschool for 5 days either. it was the best thing for me and for her.

    May 1, 2012
    • Thank you for saying so, Tracey. Immediately after I posted this piece, I cobbled together extra care on the “off” Mondays and Fridays, so for the most part I now have five days a week. Already, the difference is unbelievable. This is the path to sanity, for me. I can’t believe it took me so long to figure it out!

      We had an excellent interview at a local Montessori school, and if Liam gets in, he’ll be going there five days a week (8:30 to 3:30) starting in the fall. Good for him, good for me.

      May 6, 2012
  13. - #

    i think this is one of the truest and most remarkable expressions of life i’ve read in a very long time. i will be chewing on this for a long time.

    June 26, 2012
    • That is a brilliant compliment — thank you!!

      June 26, 2012
      • - #

        Looky there! Parenthood has stripped me of my memory, but not my taste.

        October 29, 2015
  14. - #

    That first line, Miranda…! Something brought you to my mind today and I decided to look you up, and this post popped up. Clever, and good, and on point. Wowza.

    October 29, 2015

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