Friday, May 24 2024 - 11:00 AM
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My Best Balance

Someone recently asked me how I balance work (teaching high school students) and time with my daughter as a single mother. I hate to give you the honest answer, but the answer is, there’s not much balance. My time spent at school 40 hours a week, plus commute time, is more time than I have waking hours with my daughter. The unbalanced proportions are obvious, and I’m reminded of it most days.

Most week day mornings my daughter doesn’t get out of bed. I literally have to dress her in bed and carry her out the door as she’s fussing, “I don’t want to go to daycare. I want to stay home with you!” she cries. Some mornings she has melt downs, tears running down her cheeks, and I end up late to school.

“Mommy LOVES to Work!”

Yesterday at breakfast my daughter said, “My Mommy LOVES to work! She spends a lot of time at her school and only a little bit of time with me.” She said this with a happy voice and smile on her face, but it broke my heart, because it was true. I immediately went to her, put my arms around her tight, and with my ‘serious face’ said, “No baby, I’d rather be home with you. I HAVE to go to work for us. Someday you’ll understand.” But I could tell she didn’t understand – didn’t let my empty words sink in. At her age, only actions are truth. My heart sank because I realized that, right now, I am helpless to give her the time she needs.

As a single mother, I don’t get the luxury of depending on another income. To meet my and my daughter’s physical needs, I have to work to provide. I have to bear the same responsibility that many men carry for their wives and children. Now, I have a greater respect and empathy for men who DO work hard for their families – it’s a great burden to bear. I used to not be as grateful for my husband’s hard work and provision when I was a stay-at-home mother. I took his salary and provision for granted, but now I realize how tough it is to provide. Now I eat my old words, and I’ve learned to be in awe and respect for any family provider.

Being Mom and Dad

As a single mom, I have to be mom and dad. Those were actually my daughter’s words to me after I left my husband when she was 3. She told me one day, “You’re mommy and daddy!” So young, yet so insightful. Again, it broke my heart. As a mother, I crave to nurture her, but I also have to provide for her. I have to build for our future and security, which leaves much less time to nurture her – less time for the bonding, one-on-one time, stability, and teaching that she desperately needs in these early years.

This leaves me feeling powerless in a way. Powerless to meet her needs fully and make enough time for her. So, I have to find power in knowing and developing what I CAN do to try to tip the scales a bit more in the family time and nurturing direction.

Finding Balance

What I can do is make sure that in those precious hours I have with her, that I make quality time with her by doing a craft, watching a movie, playing, or baking something together. That I create moments where we bond and I make her feel loved and special. That I remind her that I’m not just “daddy” to her, but I’m still Mommy. And that although I get more time at school than with her, that she’s still my sunshine and my world. This is the only and best way I can think of that I can ‘balance’ work and being a mom to my best ability.

And, I have to remind myself that, although I’m not perfect, and although our life has turned out far from ideal for both of us, the wonderful thing is that what children need most is to know they’re loved. It’s so easy for me to love my daughter – I have such a strong, endless capacity of love for her, and I know without a doubt that she knows that. And because she knows that, she is happy, despite the hardship we’ve been through, and despite my absence during the weekdays. I can be secure in knowing that she will be confident and secure in my love for her, which will surely develop a confident and secure woman in the future.

My job for myself is to let the guilt go and do my best. I have to continue to keep her needs in mind and show her my love. I have to fight for us now and for our future together. Balanced now or not, someday, this will all pay off because love never fails, and love weighs more than labor.

Vanessa Pham writes from the Southwest.

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About Vanessa Pham

Vanessa Pham

is a wordsmith and writer from the Southeastern U.S.

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