Some of the worst moms I know are stay at home moms that are by their children’s side 24 hours a day. Some of the best moms I know are stay at home moms that are by their children’s side 24 hours a day. The same goes for the working mothers I know. Some are the most amazing, inspiring mothers – others aren’t fit to parent a hamster.
Where you spend your day – working at home or out of the home – has NO bearing on your relationship with your children or if you are a “good mother”. It literally means nothing.
We often deem working mothers “bad” and stay at home moms “good” because of the time they spend with their children. However, as a society we have been focusing on all the wrong things. Being a great mother is not about proximity. It is about connection. Your motherhood and how your child feels is not defined by your physical presence to your child, it is determined by how connected you make them feel.
I am a working mother so it is obvious to the world when I am separated from my children. If I am in an office or on a business trip the world assumes we are…less. However, I can say with great honesty that I am more connected to my children now than I have ever been. I am more involved, more in love, more attentive but mostly more connected than when I was at home everyday.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was never a roll on the ground mom. Seriously, if I can get through 14 minutes of Barbies or Lego building I am incredibly proud. I am just not an “arts and crafts, cut your sandwiches into shapes, adhere to a nap schedule, lets play hide and seek” mom. Sure in my earlier mothering years I would go through spurts and attempt it. I would look at other moms and think I should be like that – organized, with little Elmo seat covers in a perfectly packed diaper bag and well organized hair bow collections – but it wasn’t real. I could fake it for a while but it wasn’t really me. I will also say when I was a stay at home mom, I was never bored. I was often on the phone, online, doing volunteer projects, cleaning, wiping, scrubbing, and cooking. When I really think about it, I took it for granted the fact that I would be home the next day, and the next and the next and gave myself sort of a free pass on paying attention – a lot. While I was physically more present, the fact that I was “always there” and “sacrificing” my career, I probably masked the fact that I was not really that engaged.
I see it all the time now. I see moms on cell phones chatting away as they get their little preschooler. Nothing is sadder than watching a bubbly 4 year old with an art project, running to their parent only to be shushed with the “one minute I am on the phone” posture. I see working parents and I see stay at home parents do it. It is the clearest example of present but not connected.
Going back to work full time forced me to look at time differently. Where I used to be the mom on the phone probably gossiping about something social and ridiculous, my office calendar has a standing “no calls” at 2:30 so I can make sure, even if is for just 15 minutes, I talk to my kids about their day. This does not mean I am the one PHYSICALLY picking them up from school. Sometimes I step out of meetings at 2:30 – but I will admit to you that even if I am 2,000 miles away at that time, my kids are far more connected to me in that moment, when I ask them how their social studies test went, if their boyfriend sit with them at lunch or how the science fair was than the mother actually IN the car line on her phone talking about her neighbors pool boy or her next conference call. Connection is not about physical presence – its about being involved no matter where you are.
One of the best moms I know is a working mother that works 60 hours a week – more in tax season. But there is no doubt, that when I look at her kids and her together there is a strong connection. Her love for them is obvious. Sure she will tell you her house is a disaster – there are always dishes in the sink, and her living room often looks like a hurricane hit it because of all the laundry thrown on the table, but she will also tell you it is that way because when she gets home she doesn’t clean – all she wants to do is love her kids and spend those two to three hours focusing solely on them. That is connection.
Sometimes you have to take things away to realize how powerful they are. A few months ago, I started becoming mentally absorbed in work. I often didn’t call my kids at 8:00 am like I typically did when I was away. I was working through the 3-5 pm hours in my home office and not really focusing on homework the same way. I was just a little quieter at dinner. Nothing really changed physically – I was not away more or home less – all that changed is those teeny little things – and my husband called me out on it. It showed me just how powerful those little things were because when they were gone the impact and loss was obvious. I was as physically present as always but when I was gone I was not consciously taking the time to build connection.
What defines a “good mother” is not where you do it or how many hours a day you are in the same room as your children – it is how you demonstrate throughout the day that they are always your priority and you are always available for them. It is always feeling attached to your child – that no matter where you are or they are, you are still in this universe moving together. Children are smart – they know when they are really being cheated and when they are not. An emotionally connected mother never has a child that feels cheated – they feel loved whether their mom is upstairs or in a different continent.
Building connection is easy and it takes very little. It simply takes a consciousness of the importance of it. It is taking an interest in your children’s lives and being a part of it by any means necessary, and making a conscious effort every day to be mentally and emotionally involved. Those phone calls after school, the little gifts you pick up because you saw something that reminded you of them, the late night gossip sessions with your daughter on FaceTime from your hotel, the pictures of the giant dinosaur you saw in the airport you send to your son, – these are all the little fibers of connection that build the ties that bind, far more than never stepping away.
Jennifer Calise is a founding partner of fishbat Media, a NYC based internet marketing company, and working mother to 5 children, 5 dogs, 2 birds, 3 bunnies, and one overly aggressive lobster named Larry. In her wealth of spare time, she writes and speaks to encourage woman to leverage the unique wisdom gained in their role as mothers to become more successful in their careers, fueling the idea that we can be more because we are mothers, not despite it.