Last week, my 7-year-old daughter heard me on the phone talking to an old friend and colleague. He had recently started a new enterprise and had reached out to see if I would be interested in doing some work for him. We chatted for about 45 minutes about our personal and professional lives, and my daughter seemed to be half-listening, as kids are known to do. When we hung up, she asked who I was talking to and what the call was about.
"I don't want you to work more!" she yelled at me, tearing up and flipping out in a fashion that she's perfected.
"It was a friend I used to work with at a couple of magazines, and we were talking about whether it would make sense for me to do some work for him," I explained, expecting her to immediately lose interest in the conversation. She didn't. "Would that mean you would work more than you do now?" she replied. "Well, yes, it would, but it wouldn't be until you and your brother were back in school," I told her, figuring that would shut down her line of questioning. It didn't.
"I don't want you to work more!" she yelled at me, tearing up and flipping out in a fashion that she's perfected over the course of her seven years of life. I was confused. For years, I didn't really talk to her much about my work as a writer and editor, and then I realised how royally anti-feminist and f*cked up that was, considering I'm both proud of my work and determined for her to know that she can be and do anything she wants professionally. So I started talking about how important my work was to me and how much I loved it (not as much as her and her brother, but a lot) and, to my delight, she was totally into it. She started telling her little girlfriends about how her mom was a writer and how she was my frequent inspiration, and I could hear the pride in her voice.
So was this little anti-work tirade a one-off I should brush off, or had I always misunderstood her reaction to my work as a positive one? And, moreover, even if she'd always hated me working, did it really matter? As I heard comedian and mom of two Ali Wong say on The Ellen DeGeneres Show recently, hadn't I "suffered enough" to make her life as joyful and fulfiled as possible? How could she possible want even more from me? Despite me explaining that my work would keep my busy when she was at school, she still insisted that she didn't want me to do it, which basically translated to: "I want you at home waiting for me during the day." Sorry, kid, but no.
After she calmed down, I talked to her about how much I loved being her mom and how glad I am that I get to spend most of my time with her and her brother. But, I told her mommies can work, too, and lucky mommies, like me, get to work doing something they really enjoy. I told her that I hoped she would someday find a career that makes her as happy as mine makes me. And that, if she did, I hoped she wouldn't give it up completely for anyone, even her own children. We should both be able to have it all, no matter how hard that balance is to find. She seemed OK with my explanation in the moment, but I'm preparing myself for an ongoing conversation with her once my workload actually does increase. It'll be an adjustment for all of us, and I want her to know exactly why I'm doing it.
While it wasn't easy hearing my daughter upset about the prospect of me working more — especially since I would like to get back to spreading my professional wings now that my children are older — I have to believe that letting her watch me try to balance work and being a mom is a much greater gift than giving up my work because of a temper tantrum would be. The balance isn't easy, but it's oh-so important.