Last week, I reached a tipping point where too much was too much. Posted on my Facebook page:
Just when my mama guilt was at 200% for too much travel & work in the past two weeks, I shared with a colleague, who told me that two decades of all work, no home resulted in a broken marriage, estranged children, and much loneliness. Signal to recalibrate. Worse: when my daughter came home just now, she said, "Mom! I never see you anymore."
The reality is that I work. Have to. The reality is that the hours can be long and late. Have to. The reality is that I have to ask my kids to step up and help me. Have to. Aged 12 and almost-9, I have been asking them to ready themselves in the morning when their dad and I have to leave super early. They feed themselves breakfast, get themselves dressed, and get themselves to school. In the afternoons, sometimes my older child can be home alone from 3 to 6pm. And, sometimes, I will leave instructions on how to heat up dinner, maybe a casserole that needs to be warmed for an hour. And in the largest request for my children to be independent: I asked them to come home from school alone, to fix their after-school snacks, to get homework done, and to get themselves to their after-school lesson (2.3 miles away, via bike, via well-known safe route), then to get themselves back home again.
To be sure, these are pretty tall orders, espcially for our pre-teens. Also to be sure, I would have come up with alternatives if I could think of any (ask a neighbor for a ride? Tried two who couldn't. Get a cab? Cost - and - would it was just as (un-)safe? Reschedule? Couldn't finagle that either). Whenever possible, we do plan for homework groups or calling on neighbors to try to fill in where we cannot. As we all know, it takes a village.
As the product of two working parents, the oldest of three, I was left alone with my siblings a lot. From a young age, I cooked, cleaned, helped shuttle to after-school activities, in addition to my own homework load and my own after-school activities. I also helped care for a younger cousin (or two) often. I am sensitive to the loneliness that can stem from being alone after-school for too long. I am sensitive to asking for too much from our youngsters from such a young age.
Then again: Can it be all-together avoided? Is it all-together bad to ask them to contribute in this way, taking ownership over self and activities, playing large part in meeting family needs (like preparing dinner)?