(Me and My Graduate!)
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 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).
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.
Dads like my husband, who balance work and coaching their children’s sports teams or sitting through recitals, 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 my daughter remembers not to accept what other people expect of her, to explore all options and do what she finds fulfilling. I have impressed upon her that hard work will beat out talent, that life never goes exactly as planned, and that it’s okay 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.