This is a reason I have heard frequently from women defending their choice to go back to work. When someone says this to me, it’s easy to nod and agree. After all, raising children is very hard work, and they are not usually well-behaved all day long. Spending eight hours a day with a small child still learning self control can be very trying to one’s patience. Believe me, I get that.
But in another sense, I could not disagree more.
The assumption with this statement is that children are naturally annoying and disagreeable to be around. This is where our kid-centric culture has done us a huge disservice. Children do not have to be annoying to be around. But making them enjoyable is a long process that takes a lot of vision and very hard work, and cannot be accomplished in the few hours at the end of the day when mom gets to enjoy ‘quality time’ with her children.
The first problem here is that mom is seeing her kids when they are at their worst. Even for those of us who do stay home, the hours from dinner till bed are awful. The kids are tired, there’s homework to finish, baths to take, teeth to brush, and important conversations to be had. If you have little ones in the house, their exhaustion by this point of the day usually means that they are completely unwilling to be well-behaved in any way. A mom who only sees her kids during these hours will of course assume that they would drive her crazy all day.
More importantly, though, a mom who is not around her kids for significant chunks of time will not be able to teach them to be enjoyable. To train and discipline children, you have to be in it for the long game. It is not easily accomplished in the hours after work. The temptation for moms who work is to not worry about teaching and disciplining their children during the few hours they are home because they want that time to be pleasant and special. Quality time, after all.
But in order to really train your children, you need to start in the morning. At breakfast, you remind them not to interrupt somebody else who is talking, and to chew with their mouths closed. During the morning, you train them to play a little on their own so you can take a shower or start the laundry (or, sit and read a book for a few minutes!). Before lunch, you discuss with the older two how it takes two to continue a fight, and how they both are responsible for stopping fights. At lunch, you again remind them not to interrupt, and to not yell at the table (or anywhere, really). You put them down for naps, and enjoy your quick reprieve. After naps, you teach them to not whine for a snack and to not grab toys from a sibling. Before dinner, you work on ‘come here’ and ‘yes, mom’ with the toddler. Before Dad gets home, you remind them to run and hug him when he walks through the door. And at dinner, you remind them again not to interrupt. Kids will not learn these skills anywhere else, and we all can testify that children who do not learn them are monsters. Anybody remember Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?
Moms, your kids do not have to be monsters. They can be enjoyable to be around. A mom who spends her day training and teaching gets to enjoy the moments in between, when she gets a brief reprieve to watch her children play with blocks together, or to cuddle up and read a story. And as they get older, they need less and less of this intense training. They become elementary students who are respectful and kind. It is possible! But it can’t be done in an evening.