I’ve seen you in the Starbucks in Union Square, New York City. You look good, very professional, very busy. You’re simultaneously texting and ordering a venti dark roast, because you have to get back to the office, and every extra minute spent in line there is an extra minute taken away from your kids at the end of the day.
Your kids. If the train’s on time, you’ll be home for dinner, when you’ll hear about their day. If they’re in a cranky mood, you’ll worry that you’ve missed the best of their day while you were at work. If they’re in a good mood, you’ll fear that you’re missing them growing up.
You can’t win.
I’ve seen you pushing the double-stroller around the block in my neighborhood. You look good, very motherly, very busy. You’re simultaneously texting and pointing out the “birdies,” yellow leaves, and “vroom, vroom” trucks, because every minute spent there can feel long and lonely without checking in with a friend or two. You miss grown-ups.
Grown-ups. If your husband’s train is on time, you just might be able to sneak out tonight before the kids’ bedtime to go to that jewelry party across town. If your kids are in a cranky mood when you leave, you’ll worry that you’re being selfish by going out. If they’re in a good mood, you’ll fear that they don’t really need you all that much after all.
You can’t win.
I’ve seen you both because I work from home and in an office in Manhattan, depending on the day. I’ve seen you in Penn Station and at Target. I’ve seen you lugging a briefcase and a diaper bag. I’ve seen you, and I’ve been you, too. So I know that you’re going to question your choice — and you are lucky to have one. You know that, so you bite your tongue when the doubt creeps in, and when that feeling that you’re missing something or doing something wrong overwhelms you, as you follow the herd up the stairs from the subway at rush hour, or while you dig into the minivan seats for a missing shin guard while Kiddie Soccer starts without your kid.
You feel guilty for missing the Halloween parade at school.
You feel guilty for giving up your paycheck.
You feel like the other moms disapprove of your career.
You watch another mom end up unemployed after a divorce, and worry.
You work because you have to, and because you want to.
You stay home because you need to.
You love it and you hate it, and you don’t dare tell anyone that. You made your choice and now you live with it, adore it, resent it, revel in it. You can always find someone to tell you that you made the wrong choice, but that’s about them, not you. And you can always find someone to tell you that you made the right choice, but that’s also about them.
Your choice is your choice, and you’re lucky to have it. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to question it, to feel left out or lonely, to feel like you’re missing something. Or someone. Like you’ve lost yourself or your career or your kids’ best years or your independence or the past decade. You have a right to feel however you feel about whatever you do. Yet — and this is important to remember — nobody else has the right to take that away from you, whether you’re on a train or at the playground today, or tomorrow, or next year, or in 2020.
You can, too, win, Mom. In fact, you already have.