I was having a meeting with my daughter’s principal the other day, about a miscommunication / battle of wills I was having with the grade two teacher around her practice of not respecting our limits around homework. (FWIW, we do 20 minutes a day, and as my girl can’t really read and all the homework is in French, it’s essentially my homework.) In the context of ironing this problem out, I mentioned that we only had so much time in the day, and didn’t want to spend any more of it stressed out about mandatory word jumbles and threats of being sent to the principal’s office for non-completion.
Oh, said the principal, I know how busy you are … I see your husband here, so late, picking her up, and my heart just breaks for you.
Did you catch that?
I SEE YOUR HUSBAND HERE, SO LATE, PICKING HER UP, AND MY HEART JUST BREAKS FOR YOU.
She’s being picked up from the after school program in the gym. At 5:15. And we move heaven and earth to make it possible, and I’ve just had the mommy guilt bomb dropped on me.
I was too shocked to feel bad about myself. And then I went right to blisteringly angry.
You know, I’ve just plunked my rear end into my office chair. It’s 9:30. This morning I have taken two dogs on individual Poop Walks, snuggled / dressed / coiffed my kid, made her lunch and organized her backpack, got myself showered and dressed and packed up, brought my kid (and two dogs) to the bus stop and sent her off, grabbed a latte from Starbucks, and driven to my Far Off parking lot before the Long March in. My husband got up at 5:30 this morning, to prep for a meeting he had off campus at 8:00 am — he’ll have to bus it into campus from there. He fed and dressed our kid before dashing off. He’ll leave a bit early today so that he can walk a dog before picking up our kid from after school care and meeting me at home.
Both adults in my house work full time, demanding jobs. I travel a lot and he has crunch times that are beyond his control but necessitate some weeks of 15 or 20 hours overtime, a couple of times a year. We’ve paid a real estate premium to live much closer to where we work, to cut our commuting time. I ask for my teaching schedule to accommodate my not starting before 9:30, so I can bring our girl to the bus every morning before bussing in myself. You would not believe the number of meetings I’ve been involved in, fighting for faculty rights to express preferences like this, because there’s a movement to make us all normatively available from 8am to 5pm, M-F for teaching at will. My husband starts before me, and takes a shortened lunch so he can pick her up from after school care (after walking 15+ minutes out to our parking lot, then driving 10 minutes) just after 5. He has to juggle meetings and coworkers who tease him about doing so much child care. He’s usually the one who has to pick her up in a crisis, as she only seems to throw up / get diarrhea / hit on the head while I’m teaching, and so the school can only get him. We’re pretty proud of the juggling and the arrangements and making ways to prioritize our girl’s needs.
It’s not good enough, apparently.
To hell with that. Who are all these parents who are at home for their kids to be bussed back at 3:30? Who don’t need morning daycare (we’re so lucky we can work around that) because school only starts at 9:05? That’s great if that’s your lifestyle and your choices, but can this really be so normal as the principal makes it out to be?
My issue was that I don’t want to spend more than 20 minutes a day doing homework with my daughter. I like to take her to the zoo, to rake leaves and jump in them, watch TVO documentaries about animals, paint her toenails ten different colours that she’s chosen individually, snuggle in the big bed while pretending to be baby bunnies, baking muffins, reading books. The issue somehow became how our poor daughter languishes for ages at school because no one can pick her up until “so late” and that’s why her oh-so-necessary homework isn’t getting done.
I thought, from our tremendous financial, real estate, and job-flexibility advantages, we were probably doing pretty well — that it was probably normal for a kid to be gone for about 8 hours in a day. I was shocked to get rhetorically disciplined in this way.
Mommy guilt and mommy shaming are pretty gruelling: emotionally awful, and unfair, and blind to the ways the world actually works.
I’m a pretty good mom, actually, and my husband is an excellent father. Our girl is happy and secure. I’m not going to let anyone make me feel bad about trying to find a way to have a career, and for my husband to have his career, at the same time.
We’ve managed to do it. And if there are those–some of the actually at the school!–who want to make us feel bad about it, well, I’m pretty much done listening.