by Jean Angus
IT’S nearly 9pm on a school night and I’ve just arrived home from a long day in the office. I hastily bolt my dinner and go in search of the kids. Fourteen-year-old A is lying on her bed, eyes glued to her phone. She puts it down and tells me about her Chinese composition exam. “I don’t think I’ll do well. I never do when the paper seems easy,” she frets. I assure her that she will do just fine if she’s put in the effort, and encourage her to focus on preparing for the next paper.
Then I look around for 10-year-old Z, who has a penchant for hiding in wardrobes or under beds when she knows she’s wanted. No shenanigans tonight – she emerges from the bathroom, freshly showered. I ask her about her day. “It was terrible!” she says with a grin, so I know she’s just joking. At least I hope she is, because today was Chinese oral exam day.
A few minutes later, it’s lights out.
Since I started a new and demanding job two months ago, weekday time with my daughters has been greatly reduced to quick catch-ups like these. Although both girls are at ages where they prefer not to be associated with their boring, embarrassing parents, they still need help with things like an emergency pick-up from school, or how to solve a particularly difficult math problem. They turn to my husband for these things instead of me, because he runs his own business and has the flexibility to make time for parental duties while I am stuck in the office.
I constantly waver between two extremes: Feeling grateful that my husband is an involved parent and that I have an opportunity to build a future for our family, and feeling guilty and resentful for not having the luxury of owning my time. I’m most torn when I have to miss important occasions such as student council investiture ceremonies and parent-teacher conferences, because I can’t take leave from work. But being 38 years old, I’m not getting any younger, and will soon peak in my career. I should make hay while the sun shines. So I toil from 8am till after 7pm nearly every weekday, trying to finish as much as I can so that whatever family time I have is uninterrupted.
The good thing is that I had plenty of time and energy to build strong bonds with the girls in their formative years, when my jobs were more laidback. The foundation built then is the basis for their trust in me now as they navigate the minefields of school and adolescence. There are times when they instinctively know that they need me instead of their dad. When this happens, it’s like I’ve won the lottery. I can’t do everything for my kids, but I can do enough. And that is all I and every other mother can ask for.
Jean Angus works in public relations. On weekends, she takes her two daughters to afternoon tea and allows them to shock her with how much cake they can eat in one sitting.
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