It’s a dilemma. Often, though not all the time, when Stone is putting Ziya to bed, I can hear her yelling for me. I asked her why she prefers me to him when she is going to bed and she says that it’s because I sing her songs she likes. These are songs I’ve written over the years, songs he doesn’t know the words to. He plays her a whole range of beautiful music, but he’s not a committing-words-to-memory kind of guy, and she likes to sing along. She also tells me that she misses me and that’s why she cries when I’m not there, although he’s doing everything right and he’s a great dad, and you think it’d be enough.
What to do? Leave him to sit through her bawling for me, knowing it’s important that she learn to be content when I’m not around or go rescue them both, and myself from sitting upstairs stressing that she just wants me and wondering why I’m holding back from running into her little arms. It’s hard. I wait awhile before going, but inevitably I go because I miss her too and I completely connect to why she misses me. All moms know that one day such dependence and desire is going to melt into autonomy and less affection as children grow and establish their individuality and boundaries. I know it’s important that she have strong relations with her dad, but I also adore that I’m still her final comfort and her closest love. I’d feel more like I’m being selfish if it wasn’t so much to simply cherish.
All this missing means that I work hard, really hard, but I’ve stopped wanting to go much further in my job than where I am now, at least for now. Moving up may mean more seniority, influence and pay, but it would also mean more responsibilities, longer hours, greater stress and less time for Ziya. What would be the point of that? I feel like I’d just look back on these years spent advancing a career and only be able to focus on how quickly this time in her life passed, never to return. How many memories of sitting in meetings and sending emails do I really need? As a mother, can you ever make enough memories of time with your baby?
This isn’t a family-career quandary. I’m not choosing one over the other, but aspiring to both. I also already know – or maybe I’ve decided – that investment in my family beats my career priorities hands down. The predicament is how to handle this understanding wisely, given that work and family are each important for women’s confidence, power, contribution and identity. Each must be charted in a way that makes personal sense. That may mean investing less in your job that people have come to expect or making imperfect decisions in your family because you want to squeeze every drop from those moments when you are able to be present.
I’m not lying, sometimes I could shed unprompted tears that I spend so little time with this swiftly unfurling little sprout or that being tired from work compromises quality time at nights and on weekends. Sometimes, just as I love my job, I also know that I need to be absent so that Stone and Ziya figure it out together, without me. Still, when she insists that no one else matters, rightly or wrongly, and only because I’m actually able to be there, I am also guilty of making sure that love up from mummy can’t be replaced by anybody.