When the recession hit in 2008, I was a successful freelancer. And while it wasn’t easy, my hours were flexible: I was able to attend every one of my kids’ school functions and manage their extracurricular activities solo while my neurologist husband was on call.
Then, within the span of a year, three-quarters of my clients went under, my agent retired to become a full-time mother, and it looked like my husband and I wouldn’t be able to pay our bills — especially the one for our kids’ private school, which they both loved. Unless I went to work for a company that offered stability (and paid on time, so that I didn’t have to chase my income like freelancers too often do), we would be in serious financial trouble. When a position opened for a director of creative writing at a new charter school for the arts, I applied and got the job.
I didn’t give up any of the writing gigs that I still had, and once the economy improved I took on even more. We needed the additional income for our mortgage and my husband’s medical school loans, anyway.
So where did that leave my children? Somewhat neglected, according to my detractors (including one of my neighbors, who told me that she pitied the kids I’d be teaching given that I couldn’t even take care of my own children). These critics included my ungrateful offspring themselves — the very ones I was working so hard to keep in a place they wanted to remain.
For a long time, I felt guilty. I missed assemblies where my kids received awards, and performances where they sawed away at the cello and viola. I didn’t make volleyball matches and soccer games on time, or sometimes at all.
But seven years later — my daughter now a senior in high school, my son a freshman — I see two very capable young people who possess traits they never might have gained had I whirled closer around them in their formative years.
Here’s where my children improved after I started working outside the home:
When I started double-jobbing it, I stopped making dinner. Several nights a week I left them to their own devices when we arrived home from their various lessons and practices. This isn’t as heartless as it sounds: I’d taught my daughter the basics of cooking and baking when she was 10, simply because she was interested. At 12, she took over making dinner for her brother and herself. In turn, and in time, she taught my son. Now both my children know how to make a meal out of whatever they find in a refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. If there were a teen version, I’d sign them up for Survivor.
“I forgot my gym uniform/saxophone/book report at home.”
“Well, I’m not supposed to even be answering the phone. How do you think I’m going to leave my school, go home, get your gym uniform/saxophone/book report, go to your school, drop off your gym uniform/saxophone/book report, and get back to mine without anyone noticing?”
It took just a few of these conversations for my kids — especially my son, who until last year was playing two musical instruments and three sports — to realize they had to take responsibility for their own stuff and pack up the night before. Sure, the occasional, accidental forgetting still happens. But now they actually plan for the “What if Mom gets held up in a three-hour faculty or editorial meeting?” situations and leave for school with everything they might possibly need until they go to bed.