what I learned when my son went to work with me

Thursday, July 3, 2014

He asked to go to work with his dad. The neighbors' kids were planning a "bring your child to work" day, and he wanted to do the same. But it's not safe for children to be on site at my husband's job, so he had another idea. "Mom, can I go write with you?"

I don't make a dime writing. There is a small stipend for the editing work I do, but honestly my time as a barista was more lucrative (though not nearly as rewarding). Right now I'm not making a meaningful contribution to my family's income, but in my house, writing is my job, not my hobby. Because I love words, because I love you guys, and because I'm convinced words have the power to open our hearts and move us out of our cells of isolation and fear.  Though it's not a source of income, my family refers to the time I spend writing as my work time.

So one afternoon last week, my oldest son went to work with me. First he perused A Wide Mercy. Then I showed him how to write an article, choose and format images, publish, and share on social media. He wrote a submission letter (and even sent it, because I have very patient and generous coworkers), heard about the importance of editing, and studied my magazine's internal database for sharing information. Then he wrote for a while.

Work has always been my biggest source of insecurity in parenting. I know all the arguments for
and against mothers and work. I can defend every choice. Before I had children I loved to work, and I agree with the merits others have listed. It is good for children to see us contribute to a greater good. It is good for us to share our passions and talents with them, it is good for them to learn to be adaptable, and it is good for our families when we are energized and engaged with the larger world. In my head, I agree with every point. 

But my heart was wrought with fears. What if my kids feel alone? What if they feel unimportant? What if they think I'm choosing my passions or the rest of the world over them? My insecurities run deep. There are many reasons I stay home with my kids, and most of them are rational and good. But I have to admit that one of the reasons I have not done more outside of my house since having children is that I'm afraid my kids will feel lost and alone. 

As I sat beside my son that afternoon, I wondered if maybe there is grace even here. Maybe fear has dictated too much of my work life. Maybe there really is a way to experience the satisfaction of work and the joy of caring for my family at the same time. Maybe, without realizing it, I'm already doing it. 

I believe deeply in the Catholic notion of vocation. Our primary vocation as mothers is to nurture our families. But once we have established that calling as our primary work, isn't it possible to also love and pursue other interests? It's true my kids could feel alone if I were to suddenly no longer be a substantial presence in my kids' lives, if my focus were to completely shift away from my family. But it is possible to both work and keep our families our top priority. It is possible to be deeply connected to our children and think about life outside of our four walls. The answer is not in choosing one or the other. The answer lies in priorities and balance.

Women talk about balance the way we talk about our ideal weight. It exists, to be sure, but no one ever seems to reach it. But I wonder if balance is easier and more concrete than I thought it was. 
I wonder if balance simply means lining my time up with my priorities. Until last year, when I began writing, my answer was to forsake outside obligations for the sake of my kids. But more and more I see how that approach is out of balance, too. If I put all of my creative and emotional energy into my children, I create an unhealthy weight on my relationship to them. If I played that decision out to its logical end, I would soon have too much at stake in the product of my children, rather than the relationship I am building with them. If I am pouring all of my energy into their lives only, I would soon begin to weigh too heavily the fruit I see in their lives. That is not healthy for them, or for me.

Rather than giving up what I love for their sake, I am beginning to see a healthier way to live. I have already established that my immediate family is my first calling. With that priority in its proper place, I can see a new world opening up. There is more breathing room than I once imagined, more grace and freedom and many more options than I had thought. I can still pursue what I love and nurture my relationships with my children. I can work while maintaining a balanced approach to life.

I loved bringing my little boy to "work" with me last week. I had hoped it would widen his perspective a little. Instead, it widened mine. 


  1. I just found you through your most recent HuffPost article, and I am so glad I did! I love your story and we share the same faith tradition. I've added you to my Feedly and am looking forward to reading along.

    This post is excellent and full of wisdom. Have you read this post? I think work/vocation are so important, and you are teaching that to your son!

  2. I'm so glad you were able to find some clarity on this. I too have wrestled back and forth with this dilemma, and ultimately I find that I'm a much better mother and wife when I've allowed myself to take time to pursue my own interests and creative outlets. It's easier said than done though, there's always a part of me that feels guilty!

  3. If there is one thing I wish a magic wand would cure for Mamas, it's guilt. Breaks my heart to always see, hear, and read about the guilt women carry around about their work, their parenting, and their bodies. In our culture especially, when you think about the shelter, three meals a day plus snacks, clothes, activities, and love children get by most Christian families… just with that foundation alone they are in a high class of privilege. When compared historically and globally, American children with those basics in place are truly a small minority. I wish moms could rest in the reality, freeing them of the guilt, and replacing it with joy and contentment in their good fortune… which exists regardless of whether they work for a W2 or not, make parenting mistakes, and have too much weight or wrinkles.

  4. just realized my tone may not have come through correctly in my comment above... I do not judge Mamas for the guilt, Lord knows everything that went in my mouth while pregnant was analyzed as being either a good choice or guilt choice. ;) I more meant to communicate grace for Mamas to know they have created an amazing life for their kids even before they get past the basics. And I wish there could be some rest in that because you all are doing an amazing job day in and day out. It's just the widespread occurrence of really great moms seconding guessing themselves continuously and feeling guilty that makes my heart sad, because they are being deceived. The reality is these women are amazing and loving moms and their children are not suffering or being neglected under their care. So I just wish there was a reality-reminding magic wand that could banish false guilt so mamas could have a little more peace and joy.



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