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It's Good Friday, and I'm sitting at a desk in an office. I'm Jewish so I can't feel that sorry for myself, about working on this holiday anyway.
But it's been Spring Break in the Los Angeles public school system all week, and my 7- and 12-year-olds have been farmed off to various camps.
This is the first year in both their lives that I have worked outside our home during a school vacation. The guilt I feel for not being able to take them somewhere fun, even if it's just downtown to ice skate on the roof of a building, has been eating at me all week.
I had to get off social media for fear of seeing one more family photo of people frolicking on a tropical beach or swooshing down a mountainside. I even let my boy play hooky from swim practice on Wednesday, so he and I and his brother could kill our appetites for dinner spending some quality facetime eating frozen yogurt together.
Given my tortured state, imagine my delight when I found out that the April 2015 issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family suggests that kids' academic and emotional well-being is not necessarily contingent on the amount of time they spend with their mothers."
Apparently, I have nothing to worry about.
Except maybe how vague these conclusions sound. "Suggests" and "not necessarily" don't exactly say if I blow the kids off and head to an island by myself for a year it'll all be cool. I'm no scientist, but I would suggest that, in fact, not spending time with your children is not a good idea.
On the other hand, if the conclusions of this study give you permission to "lean in," without guilt, and being made partner, or whatever the equivalent of that is in your field, is a priority for you, then I guess that's a good thing. And certainly if yours is a family that relies on your earnings, and very few families today don't need Mom to pitch in, this study may help you get through the day with a little less angst. All the better, I say.
But given the inexact language of these results, and my own personal experience as a daughter and a mother, I don't believe that the amount of time we spend with our children face-to-face doesn't affect their emotional well-being.
Nope. Just not buying it.
I grew up with a working mother who, after I turned 9, I could only expect to show up and give me her full attention when I was performing something: in a play or singing in a club. Big surprise, I became an actor and a comic, and someone who spent much of her 20s, 30s, 40s—and maybe a lot of last week—wondering if she is interesting enough to hold anyone's attention, occasionally even writing in the third person about herself.
I don't have charts and double blind studies to prove it, but when Mommy is always somewhere else, it does send a message to a normally self-centered youngster that whatever Mom is doing is more interesting than the child.
Having said that, I know there are well-adjusted, productive people who were raised by single working mothers who kick ass to make a happy, safe life for their children. But I bet these women would not read a study like this and take it as license to be any less conscientious about their parenting.
And maybe a little guilt isn't such a bad thing for a parent. If, in your heart, you want to have a meaningful influence on your children, maybe guilt keeps you in the game instead of just throwing up your hands as a working parent and saying, (as I have wanted to more than once over the last few weeks), this is just too hard and not getting out of bed that day.
With time management, serious organization, some reliable people to help—including our husbands—we can work and raise our children. What we can't do is ever believe for a second, no matter how many Ph.D.'s and life coaches and social scientists tell us, that our presence in our children's lives doesn't matter.