The Catch-22 of Working Motherhood

When the time away makes the time together hard

It pains me to admit that, as a single mother working a full-time office job with a 5-year old son and a 3-year old daughter, I don't spend a tremendous amount of quality time with my kids.

We're usually awake by 7:30 and out the door between 8:30 and 9:00. That time is spent getting dressed, eating breakfast, putting on shoes, etc. There's not a whole lot of time to snuggle. Sometimes they sneak into bed with me in the middle of the night, which means we have a few minutes for snuggles early in the morning. (That's probably why I haven't tried to break them of this habit.)

I drop off my son and daughter at daycare, work my eight hours, then return to pick them up between 5:30 and 6:00. We go home, and I cook dinner while they entertain themselves by tormenting each other and, often, me. After dinner (which is usually a nightmare and could be the subject of another entire article), I bring them to the gym where they get to watch TV and color in the daycare room while I run a few miles and sweat out all the frustrations of the day.

Then it's back home for bedtime. Sometimes there's a bath first. Sometimes not. I get them in their jammies, read two or three stories, field last-minute requests for the bathroom, one more drink of water, and one more hug and kiss. Then I handle complaints like, "Mommy, my feet are sticking out of the blanket" and "Mommy, tell him to stop kicking me," and they're finally asleep by 9:30. Usually.

Here comes the catch-22
The kids are often so desperate for my attention when we are together that they resort to whining and crying and just being generally awful in order to get it. Surprising absolutely no one, this behavior only annoys the crap out of me and makes me irritable. Which means I'm short-tempered. Which does absolutely nothing for my ability to deal with their whiny behavior properly. Which means it only gets worse. Which makes me tell them to just leavemealone! And the cycle starts again.

But ultimately, I have no choice. I have to usher them out the door in the morning. I have to go to work. I have to go to the gym. (Ok, I don't HAVE to go to the gym, but if I don't, I'm irritable anyway and that does no one any good.) I could keep them up a little later in the evenings, but an overtired child is a nightmare, so that's not an option.

It's a very difficult balance. I love my kids. I love spending time with my kids. But not when they're acting like jerks. But they're only acting like jerks because I'm not spending time with them. Aaaand we're back in that damn cycle again.

Sometimes it's just so overwhelming. When L asks, "Mama, do you still love me when you're mad at me?" Or when Q exclaims, "You hurt my feelings!" I feel like the absolute worst mother in the world and completely undeserving of these two sweet, amazing kids.

But sometimes, in those few fleeting moments of enjoyment we can manage to have together, Q will drape her arm around my neck and say, "Mama, I love you so much, and you're pretty." Or L will say, "Mama, I love you right in the middle of my heart," and I realize it's really ok because I'm doing the best I can. Everything I'm doing, I'm doing for them.

Even when I'm making time for me, it's also for them because I need to be the best person I can be in order to be the best mother I can be. And although they may not get it right now, and things are really difficult sometimes, they will get it someday.

They'll understand.

A version of this piece originally ran on and is reprinted here with permission from the author.