Years ago, I was driving home from work late at night and tears came to my eyes. A late-breaking news story had kept me in the office and I had missed the entire day with my baby daughter. As the sitter filled me in by phone on my baby's day, I was overcome with guilt.
Eighteen years later: My daughter, wearing a cap and gown, enters the auditorium to the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance" to say goodbye to high school. That one day I missed with my baby long ago has become far less important, overtaken by a series of bigger moments that became the basis of our close relationship.
Around me, other parents also silently marvel at the swiftness of time and wonder if we have properly prepared our kids for their journey into the real world.
As mothers, our parenting "jobs'' perhaps have been more complicated than those of generations past. Today, 68 percent of married mothers work outside the home (and among single, divorced or separated moms, it's 75 percent). In a recent article, Carol Evans of Working Mother Media said, "We have taken responsibility for our children to new heights of parenting, even as we have conquered every type of career known to men."
Almost all working mothers and fathers, including myself, harbor some regret with our kids – a recital or tournament we missed, a day we sent our child to school with sniffles, that time we lost our temper after a difficult day at work. I regret field trips I couldn't chaperone because of deadlines and car rides I spent on my cellphone with work instead of talking with my children.
As I surveyed fellow parents of graduates, I found that I wasn't alone. The biggest regrets came from those who felt they shortchanged themselves by working too many hours, or sharing too little down time with their kids. Yet those at the other end of the spectrum who had devoted most of their time to kids also expressed angst; what will they do now?
If we have been good role-models, our success at combining work and family will inspire our children.
Fighting back tears, Donna Milfort told me that when her daughter gets her diploma soon, she will be especially proud that she has encouraged her to be independent and focused. Her daughter, Ashley, hasn't had it easy. Milfort, a single mom, worked odd shifts at Wendy's when her daughter was younger; now she works the night shift for the Transportation Security Administration at Miami International Airport. Ashley will be the first in her family to go to college; her older brother is a part-time security guard, while her older sister works as a hotel clerk.
Milfort says she tried to make herself available to her kids, but Ashley, in particular, was always self-directed. "I wish I had taken time to do more things with her, to travel to another city or take more family outings to the park or museums," Milfort said. "But that part of our life is over. I can't change that. This is the hard part. ... I'm going to miss her."
Last week, Randee Godofsky Breiter watched her daughter receive her diploma and wondered, "How did we get here so quickly?" It was in that moment that Breiter made a vow. "I decided to soak in the moment. I don't often do that often because I'm usually scattered between work and kids, and it's hard to give all my energy to one thing, to one child. But I did my best to focus just on her."
In the past 18 years, Breiter, assistant director at Florida International University law school's career planning and placement center, has gone from full time to part time. Now, she works both full-time with the university and as a part-time Kaplan University instructor, simply because she loves it. Her two children have become their own chauffeurs and rise for school to their own alarm clocks. While Breiter was never class mom, she believes her work ethic set a good example. "My daughter realizes that you spend more time with the people you work with than your family, so you have to like what you do," she said.
Dads like my husband, who balance work and coaching their children's sports teams, face their teens' graduation day with similar introspection. More fathers today want to be more involved with their children than in past generations, but they struggle to break free of the constant electronic communication that keeps them tied to their work. On this day, they tuck away their devices to relish the seemingly fleeting time with their children.
I think about the candy sales, the mad dash to sports practice, and the parent-teacher conferences that have been so much a part of my life in years past. As some of those activities fall off my calendar, I realize that my daughter and I are both moving on to new adventures and adjustments.
As she flips her tassel and heads off to college, I hope she remembers not to accept what other people expect of her, to explore all options and do what she finds fulfilling. I've impressed upon her that hard work will beat out talent, that life never goes exactly as planned, and that it's OK to make unpopular choices if she thinks they are right for her.
We all walk away from graduation with something. For some, it's the lessons learned from juggling parenthood and careers. For me, it is motivation to appreciate the career and life choices I made and look ahead. The ultimate reward of working motherhood will be to watch my daughter pursue her passions – as I have mine – and to marvel at where the journey takes her.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her columns and blog at http://worklifebalancingact.com/.
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