I Want Them To Remember A Mother Who Forever Had Open Arms
Author and mother-of-two Carmel Harrington on her decision to give up the corporate world to look after her children and pursue her dream of writing. And how even that didn't provide a remedy for the age-old ailment of mothers - guilt.
‘Guilt to motherhood is like grapes to wine.’ - Faye Weldon
That statement was made famously by novelist Faye Weldon and it resonates with me, as I grapple with my own conscience as a working mother. Can mothers have it all? Can we truly balance our families and careers without being burdened by our self-induced guilt?
Last week, as I drove away from our home, with the sounds of my sobbing two-year-old son ringing in my ears, I wasn’t so sure. Part of being an author is promoting your novel and, with a new book out, I was prepared for a busy July as The Life You Left hit the bookshelves in Ireland.
Last week, I was on my way to a book-signing event in Dublin, which included an overnight stay, and the children were less than impressed that Mummy was going away to work - again.
‘Why are you always working Mummy?’ my four-year-old daughter asked, with reproachful eyes. My son preferred the more hands-on approach and just sobbed and clung to my legs, whilst screaming Mama, louder and louder with every syllable. Seeing how effective his technique was, my daughter then decided to join in, begging me to take her with me.
If this had been a Hollywood movie, there wouldn’t have been a dry eye in the house. But it wasn’t a movie, it was my life and if you have ever experienced anything like it yourself, you will understand that, by this stage, my already guilty heart was shattered by the imprinted images of their tear-stained faces.
My husband sympathetically ushered me into our car, where my friend was already waiting, assuring me that all would be okay but, in that moment, I didn’t believe him. The guilt was crushing and I was immobilised by it. My children needed me and I was letting them down.
If it wasn’t for the fact that my friend kept saying in a much needed calm voice of reason, ‘you do know that already the children are fine, that they are with their father, that they know you will be home tomorrow, that they are no longer crying,’ that I managed to hold it together and continue on my journey.
And although I knew in my head that the children were fine, of course they were, why was it that I couldn't shake the feeling that I was somehow or other letting them down? Mother’s guilt. Almost three years ago, I made some big changes in my life. I gave up my corporate job as a sales & marketing manager, which involved a lot of travel and long hours, to become a full-time mother to my daughter and newborn son.
I would mother, I would write, I would bake, I would garden, I would be the perfect woman
I then decided to pursue a lifelong ambition to become a writer and a published author. But always with one objective firmly in mind - that this career would not interfere with my desire to be at home with the children as much as was possible. I figured I could have it all. I would mother, I would write, I would bake, I would garden, I would be the perfect woman.
When I started to write, I knew that I had thrown myself into an extremely tough and competitive industry but I had no concept of how hard it would be to balance writing and all that goes with that, with being the ‘perfect mother.’ In truth, most nights I don’t go to bed till at least midnight! But despite the long hours, I know I am lucky, because I can work from home. Most mornings I get to wake up to sweet kisses and warm hugs from my children.
At first, I wrote around the children's schedules, when they napped or after bed each night and indeed at weekends. But once I received my book deal with Harper Collins, with deadlines of book submissions to make, I knew I had to make some adjustments. So the children now go to a childcare centre every Monday to Friday morning, which they both adore. I collect them after lunch and then, miraculously, wonderfully, joyfully, we get to spend the afternoons together.
I don't bake or garden - much - and the housework is done on a must-do basis. But I do get to mother
Sometimes however, work does spill into this time and they have longer days in the creche, or I have to be away from home for meetings or book events. It’s a necessary part of the job. But, in the main, it seems to work very well for all of us. I don’t bake or garden - much - and the housework is done on a must-do basis. But I do get to mother. Which is the important bit for me.
Because whilst I am pursuing this chosen writing career, I am mindful of achieving and maintaining a work-life balance that works for my little crew of H’s. What works for us may not work for others of course, or vice versa. And that’s important too, being aware that every family is different, that we all have unique situations and challenges to deal with. It would be both futile and dangerous to compare my situation to others.
But here’s the thing I’ve managed to work out. No matter how different our families may be, I know one universal truth for mothers who work or are stay at home or like me a mixture of the two. I try to repeat this to myself daily whenever guilt threatens to invade a normally sane mind.
There is no single way to be a perfect mother, but a million ways to be a great one.
And that's what I’m working at. Because none of us are perfect and, more importantly, none of us have perfect lives.
We all have unique situations, with different children, who are faced with diverse challenges.
If my children grow up and are asked what kind of mother did they have - I want them to answer ‘a great one’, then I’ll know I’ve done my job well.
So in addition to making sure that the children are physically looked after, I want to ensure that they know that they are loved and supported. Not just with the beautiful words of I Love You, but in my actions too. I want them to always know that they have a soft place to fall with both of us parents.
I hope my children will judge my effectiveness as a mother by taking in the bigger picture, than that of a woman baking bread at the kitchen counter always at home.
I want them to remember a mother who forever had open arms, who sang to them, who danced with them, who read to them and who made up stories, where they were naturally the triumphant heroine and hero. Lastly, I hope that they remember a mother who smiled a lot, who loved them abundantly and most importantly was always present when in their presence.
My husband and I often ask ourselves - are we living our best lives?
And that's the key for me to beat those nasty guilty thoughts. I can’t be with them 24/7, because I am a working mother. But when I am, I can make it count.
My husband and I often ask ourselves - are we living our best lives? This has nothing to do with money or lack thereof, but all to do with how we work as a family together. And right now, we’re doing pretty good.
And part of living our best lives, is for me to pursue this ambition to write and to indeed succeed at it. My children I hope will be inspired to follow their own ambitions when they muddle their way into adulthood. And my husband and I will be right by their side cheering them on.
Guilt is a negative and unhealthy emotion and has no place in my life and I know that my children are well cared for and happy while I am at work.
I have to remind myself that being a great mother is not dependent on how many hours I spend with the children.
I also know that there will be moments in my future where I question what I do, when my children once again cry when I pull out of the driveway, but it is in these moments that I must remember that every day I am ticking off a few more of those million and one ways.
Written by Carmel Harrington for eumom.ie
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