“I’m sorry, honey, but Mama has to work.”
How many times have I said those words to my children with my voice dripping with regret and my expression sorrowful? Every part of me, from my body language to the sigh of disappointment that follows, send my children one message: working is the worst.
Like many moms, I struggle with guilt over working too much. I worry that I worked their childhoods away, or that they will be somehow damaged from having a mother who is often working at home, yet is not always 100 percent present.
But recently, while listening to a podcast about working mothers, I was encouraged by a sentiment shared by another mom. She explained that she makes it a point to never say that she “has” to go to work, and instead, tells her children that she “gets” to work.
Immediately, I felt a light bulb go off in my brain. Why hadn’t I ever thought of this? Why do I automatically frame working as a horrible, terrible thing that I have to slog through? Why do I present the image to my kids that working is a bad thing, when in reality, they are quite happy to have food and clothes and a roof over their heads?
It’s definitely not because I hate my job; on the contrary. I love what I do and I’ve worked hard to build a career that allows me to work from home with my kids. I truly believe my job is a blessing and I wake up every day feeling lucky that I get to do it. So why on earth don’t I act that way about it in front of my kids?
I think most of us frame working as something we “have” to do instead of something we “get” to do because it’s an attitude we have absorbed our entire lives. We’ve been taught that work is boring and awful and something we have to do to get to the good stuff — and in some cases, that is very true. Not every job is soul work that fills our cup, changes the world, or completely fulfills us. Sometimes, work is just work.
But even the jobs I have had that were solely about work were still jobs that taught me valuable lessons and provided for my family. In other words, work was still something I “got” to do to help get me to where I wanted to go. And really, work is a privilege if it allows you to bring home a paycheck.
And yet, so many of us continue to struggle with guilt over working. Why do we do it to ourselves? Why do we beat ourselves up over having ambition, putting food on the table, or doing anything that doesn’t involve focusing all of our time and attention on our kids?
We might worry that we’re not spending enough time with them, but the statistics say otherwise: parents who work full-time outside the home are spending more time with their children than the Leave It to Beaver-era parents of the past. Do you think parents back then raced around to after-school activities, threw extravagant birthday parties, and made sure each kid received quality one-on-one time? Um, no.
We get plenty of quality time with our kids, so it’s time we dropped the work guilt.
It’s time we started talking about work in a way that reflects what work actually brings to our lives. This is especially important when our work is something we feel excited about and feel thankful that it’s something we can do to bring home a paycheck.
No more apologies to our kids for being “forced” to trudge through work while being miserable. We can reframe the way we talk about work into terms the reflect it as a positive aspect of our lives.
As the mother of three daughters, I’m now making it a point to present work accurately to them. I will express my excitement over getting to work on a new project, and I will happily tell them that they “get” to play while Mama “gets” to work in the other room. I will tell them that I love working, just as they love playing with their toys. And I now refuse to use the word “have” as it pertains to work; when the truth is that I “get” to do work that I love.
I want my children to grow up seeing that work can be a fulfilling part of life. I want them to believe that they deserve to find work that lights them up, instead of drags them down. I want them to absorb the message early on that work doesn’t have to be a bad thing when it can actually be among the most rewarding.
And perhaps, just as much for my children as for myself, I want to remember that even when work is something we “have” to do, it’s still something we get to choose.