Work Life Balance

Selfish Working Parents Create Insecure Kids? I Don’t Think So

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Every time I feel like it is generally accepted that women can be good mothers and decent at their jobs, something comes along to throw my mommy guilt right back into the mix. I’ll feel like I’m in a good place, where my daughter is happy, healthy and thriving, my career provides me with personal satisfaction and decent paycheck, my marriage is loving and supporting… Then comes an article or a story of how parental self-absorption, like working outside of the home or taking vacation with the little ones, ruins children. Suddenly, I’m rethinking my life decisions all over again.

Today’s lesson in parental guilt is titled, “Working late, nights out, holidays a deux: How time away from your children could leave them insecure for life.” It is, unsurprisingly, courtesy of The Daily Mail. I don’t want to discredit the experience of the author, Angela Neustatter. She shares her story of raising two boys and the difficulty that she went through after leaving them alone or getting distracted by work. Once, a ten-day vacation for her and her husband had an extreme effect on her three-year-old. When they got back from the trip:

But when we went to collect our boy, he was very different from the spontaneous, rumbustious chap who would normally leap up for a hug, amid hoots of laughter, when we collected him at the end of the day.

Instead, he was restrained, distantly polite and, once we were home, eerily quiet. And he stayed this way however much we cuddled him and told him we had missed him.

In fact, Olly and I were so concerned — and racked with guilt — that we took days off work to be with him. Slowly he returned to his former self.

And it wasn’t just vacations alone that Neustatter decided to give up in order to help her children. Even though she returned to work at The Guardian as a journalist just four months after the birth of her son, she soon realized that it wasn’t for her.

I did not stop to wonder how it felt for my son to have to realise that my career, my desire for adult sociability and networking, was more important than having time at home with him, even though he was often fretful and clingy when I left him, and he seemed almost inconsolable when he cried. 

It was only chance that saved my children from the possibility of deeper damage caused by my vaulting ambition. When I failed to get the promotion I wanted, I left my job and started freelancing, spending far more time at home.

My boy was two-and-a-half then, and the effects of me spending more time with him were startling. He became more cheerily independent, less inclined to be upset any time I was not able to give him my attention.

In turn, I got to know him in a way that had simply not been possible in the days when I had arrived home exhausted after a day at the office.

Neustatter goes on to consult physicians and mental health experts about all the horrible things that can happen when parents don’t wise up and choose to spend more time at home. They talk about the neglect that children feel and how that hurts their psyche. They talk about the choices and priorities parents have, and how detrimental it is when the kids aren’t always at the top of the list.

I read this piece and it was difficult to stop myself from feeling guilty. It made me consider my job and if I needed to cut back. It made me think of any day that my daughter didn’t want to do to daycare and I tearfully hugged her goodbye anyways. Those feelings were welling up in me until I realized that I had a story of mine own.

(Photo: Netrun78/Shutterstock)

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