I will admit it. I’m an overachiever. I grew up in a home where excellence was expected and I worked hard to meet those expectations. These days, I’m in charge of my own schedule, but old habits die hard. I work hard at my job and often balance different types of jobs. Even when I’m home, I’m doing something. I always have a project of some sort brewing.
Being a pastor means I work many weekends. Church services, mission activities, or community events all happen on the weekend. Now that I’ve started working a “real job,” as my kids call it, I often find myself working long days, every day of the week. I have work hours and church hours and keeping the school running hours. And, don’t even begin to mention all the stuff that needs to happen at home.
Most of the time I can make myself feel better by convincing myself I’m doing the right thing for my kids. We don’t have to scrimp and save for everything. We don’t have to panic when those little emergencies occur. And, although I have stress at work, I also have the opportunity to be around adults more regularly. My kids are happy and healthy. Life is good.
And then, the moments occur that break my heart. On Saturday morning, I grabbed my laptop bag and headed for the car. It was a late morning for me – probably around 9 am. The kids were chatting in the kitchen as they ate breakfast. As I walked in to tell them I was leaving, little Cassandra looked up with a big smile and said “bye-ee.”
She wasn’t upset that Mommy was leaving. She knew she’d have a fun day playing with her siblings. This was routine for her. Mommy was walking out the door, so she said “bye.” But, that simple action broke my heart.
My little girl knows more about Mommy leaving the house than she does about Mommy staying home with her. My other kids saw me all the time. I ran the school myself when they were lilttle, instead of having people do it for me. My work and graduate school time was in the evenings. I felt like I balanced that very well. And then, my now 19-year-old told me that she resented that I rarely went to see her cheer. But, that was the weekends, often Sundays. I had other things I had to do.
I had to work to put food on the table. I went to graduate school to better our chances for the future. These were good decisions at the time. And, we make the best decisions we can with the information we have, right?
It’s hard to know how much time to spend in which places. As an adult, I want to meet my own needs. That’s important. I know many folks who put all their energy into raising the children, only to experience major depression when the kids leave home. The kids became their life focus for so long that when they’re gone, these parents aren’t sure what to do with themselves. And, I have a similarly long list of parents who’ve thrown themselves into their work, or hobbies, or volunteer activities so that they’re kids hardly know their faces.
So, what’s the right balance? Honestly? I don’t know.
What I can say is this. You need to find what works for your family. Some kids want their parents around all the time. And, if your family is financially able to provide this kind of interaction, then go for it. Just make sure you’re not ignoring what your kids need. Some kids are embarrassed by the parent who is there for every activity. Kids need to have some space to develop their own personalities and interests. And, if mom or dad is always there, they don’t feel like they can spread their wings and mature.
On the other hand, if you are a parent who spends time at work or school trying to build a better future for your children, then go at it. Just make sure you’re not ignoring what your kids need. Sometimes, that means that you’re going to need to say no to a weekend project so that you can go on that scouting trip with your child.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that you need to look at your family and decide what’s best. Because what works for my family is probably not going to work for your family. And, what works for your family is probably not going to work for mine. And, that’s okay. Our families are all different. As long as everyone is working together to make the family stronger and more engaged then it’s all worth it in the end.
Rev. Kelly Crenshaw is the mom of 16 adopted kids, two biological kids, guardian of one baby girl and foster mom of dozens. Some are lesbian, some gay, some straight, and some bisexual. Kelly founded a K-12 day school where kids could have a safe, bully-free environment for learning. She is co-owner of a counseling agency that works with children and their families. Send your parenting questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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