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The Mommy Tug-of-Wars

By Lizbeth Finn-Arnold

No matter how available I make myself, or no matter how many times I rearrange my priorities, it will probably never really be enough; not to my children.

I was sitting quietly with my seven-year-old daughter, Olivia, when she asked, “Mommy why do you HAVE to work?”

I answered her honestly, “I don't HAVE to work, I like to work. You know that Mommy likes writing and filmmaking -- just like you love writing and drawing.”

“But Mommy,” she persisted with her agenda, “It seems like you love your work more than you love your children.”

“Honey, I do love my work. But I love you and Jared above everything else.”

“Then why are you always working? Why are you always too busy to play with me?” Olivia asked.

I admit that I have been busy of late. With deadlines on a self-published webzine and my growing involvement with a local independent filmmaking group, I'm crunched to find time to do all the things that I’m trying to do. And as a work-at-home mom, with an irregular work schedule, I often find myself trying to squeeze in just a couple of more hours of writing, returning e-mails, or reading (more like skimming) screenplays. My children have tired of hearing me beg for “ten more minutes” to work.

Up until recently, I thought I was doing a pretty good job of balancing my mothering job with my creative job. I made choices, I thought, that would allow me to do both. I wanted to stay home and be my children’s primary caretaker, and luckily we had the financial means to do so. And so I had decided to pursue freelance writing and independent filmmaking from my home.

While not for everyone, I like this work-at-home arrangement. It gives me a good amount of freedom and allows me to be readily available for my children. It also allows me to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with them; take a dip in the pool or run to the movies in the middle of the afternoon; drop them off and pick them up from school; put their bandages on when they fall; hug and comfort them when they are cranky and tired; break up their fights; and clear my schedule completely for a spontaneous trip to the park or for an emergency visit to the doctor’s office.

Still, my kids, tell me that all I ever do is work. It doesn't matter to my kids that I am a million miles away from the fast track and now spend most of my days, spinning my wheels, on the so-called “Mommy Track.” They don’t know that I graduated at the top of my high school class; had a 3.75 GPA in college; took film classes at NYU; and once dreamed of winning an Oscar by the time I was thirty. They have no idea that I slowed down things considerably, and deliberately, after their birth. And they have no idea what an impact their lives have been on me – or how much I have changed.

The truth is, that rather than working all the time -- I now work when I can. But to my children, it still seems as if I work too much because they can literally see me, while I toil away in my crowded, cluttered office that is located two steps from the kitchen. Still it seems unfair to me. After all, they never complain about their father working too much, although he leaves the house well before they wake-up and doesn’t return until dinnertime. What is it about a mom’s time, that she must always account for it?

For five long years, I was a full-time, stay-at-home mom. But, I eventually realized that I needed to pursue work besides just the full-time caretaking of children and home. I enjoyed those things immensely in the beginning when they were still fresh and new. But I also began to miss the other things that once fulfilled me– like art, reading, writing, filmmaking, adult conversation. And I missed being someone other than just “mom”.

My daughter still remembers that time, when I stayed home all day and catered to her every wish and spent all day every day inventing activities of fun for her. She says, “Why can't you play with me all day like you used to? Why do you have to work?”

“And what about the days when you and Jared are at school and Mommy is left home alone?” I ask. “What about years from now when you no longer need Mommy and you go to college and move away? What will Mommy do then, if she hasn't pursued other things in her life?”

“Oh Mommy,” Olivia says, suddenly realizing how demanding she has been of my time and attention, “We are just horrible children.”

“No,” I say, “You are normal children. You love Mommy and you want her all to yourself.”

And so the “Mommy Tug-of-Wars” continue. I probably will always feel slightly guilty for wanting more for myself; for not being able to give my children all of me. But I also realize that no matter how available I make myself, or no matter how many times I rearrange my priorities, it will probably never really be enough; not to my children.

Like all kids, Olivia and Jared want to have mom’s undivided attention. They don’t want to hear of other things that compete for their love. They want their mother to be set aside in a glass room, always present, and silently waiting for them to need her; assuming of course, that she doesn’t have dreams and needs of her own.

mmo : december 2003

Lizbeth Finn-Arnold is a mother, freelance writer, and independent filmmaker who works from her home in suburban New Jersey. Her articles and essays have appeared in The Independent (Film and Video Monthly), Welcome Home, Pregnancy Magazine, Brain,Child Magazine, MomPlanet.com, AmericasMoms.com and more. She also publishes a monthly webzine called The Philosophical Mother at www.philosophicalmother.com.

Copyright 2003 Lizbeth Finn-Arnold

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