In my 11 years of parenting, I’ve played so many roles.
Even judge, from time to time.
Now, I find myself in perhaps the most confusing role to date.
After years of balancing part-time work and stay-at-home motherhood, I’m now the main source of income for our family.
I say goodbye to my children at 8:30 a.m. and I’m greeted with hello hugs at 5:30 p.m.
Then we shuffle kids to athletic practices and playdates.
Then dinner and bedtime.
Only to start it all over again.
And every night, when I’m about to go to sleep, I mentally search through my day for moments of connection — in which my kids felt loved and seen. By their mother.
The biggest challenge, for me, is the keen understanding that love is expressed through attention. Even as adults, though we may rationally understand that providing for the family is an expression of love — we don’t feel loved just because the bank account numbers stay even.
We only feel loved when we receive attention.
Sometimes even negative attention can make us feel loved.
What keeps me up at night, in my new role of working parent, is the fact that I have so little attention to give.
Between the hours of 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., I have to figure out how to demonstrate my love for four little people — while navigating daily existence. (Not to mention fostering a fulfilling marriage for myself and my partner.)
When we talk about working parent guilt, I think the attention-equals-love puzzle is at the heart of it.
So how do we solve this riddle?
The answer: I don’t think we can.
Humanity is, in fact, all about interpersonal connection. We’re so driven toward it that massive corporations exist just to foster it.
Because the reality is that, of all our interpersonal relationships, we likely value our parent-child relationship above all others.
We want our children to enjoy us.
We want them to feel loved.
We want them to grow into adults who will visit and call and invite us into their homes.
So, as working parents, we’ll always worry that we’re not doing enough, not playing enough, not connecting enough, not expressing enough.
The best we can do is turn those worries into some sort of action.
To try, despite our fatigue and the ever-increasing list of to-dos, to be at our best.
To use the time we have to foster our family relationships.
For me, this means abandoning the daily goal of connection in favor of fostering a happier, more patient home.
I may not be able to spend 15 minutes with each child every day, but I can make them all laugh in the car.
I may not cuddle with my quieter daughter once a week, but I smile and offer a towel when she spills her glass of milk.
I may not be able to foster daily connection, but I can drop my fatigue and irritation at the door — every day that I come home from work.
And I can hope that my family will feel the love I so desperately want to convey.