It’s winter break. For some, that means heading down to Disney or Miami, to Israel or to the ski slopes. But it’s hard for my husband to get away for so long and a two-week long vacation is an expense we can’t afford, so every year, we go away for a few days and spend the rest of the time at home. This year, we camped in north central Florida and spent our days hiking and manatee sighting in state parks, with friends. We had a great time. The only downside was that three days away meant over a week and a half of being home. Which for a few days was really nice. It meant late wake-ups, bonding time, getting errands done like haircuts and eye doctor appointments and with my daughter’s bat mitzvah in a month, learning, planning and shopping.
However, what it also means is kids being on top of each other which results in fighting and messes everywhere. Which quite frankly, results in a mother with frazzled nerves.
As I laughed with one of the General Studies teachers when he wished me a good break, winter break is not a break for parents. It’s just a different kind of work.
Which is not to say I don’t love my kids. Or that I don’t enjoy spending time with them. Or that I don’t feel incredibly blessed to be a mother. I’ve been told by my mother’s generation that when my kids are older, I will miss these days of hecticness, of the messes everywhere, of the “ImmaImmaImmaImmaImma”. I’m sure that’s true. But it doesn’t make it easy to be home with kids for two weeks.
Especially because there are times when my four kids are pulling me in four different directions and inside, I am wishing I was heading in a fifth direction, doing something I enjoy. After so many months of school, I need a break too, which isn’t quite what happens when I’m home with my kids on winter break. And at times like these, I wonder: where is my unique identity, my love of learning, of writing, of inspiring others, in the faceless role of laundress, cook, cleaner, mediator, etc. And a second voice wonders: does it matter? As much as modern culture encourages us women to find time for ourselves in order to be happy mothers, there is an awful lot of judgment for any of us who do try to find that time. And for men, as well.
I recently asked a friend to give a shiur at my daughter’s bat mitzvah. He has four small kids and I know they are at a hectic stage in life. He said to me he can’t because after work, he needs to give all his free time to his family. It would be selfish for him to spend his time working on a shiur, something he would enjoy. As a wife, I would score him full marks. But something about his comment made me wonder.
Or maybe it’s just my guilty conscience. I travel from time to time- sometimes as short as a day-long educational conference, sometimes as much as a two-week long trip with my 8th grade students to Israel. I grew up in a home where my mother was almost always home with us and would never have left us, as I leave my kids. I know my traveling and interests outside the home make my traditional-roled parents uncomfortable. Yes, I’m home after school nearly every day. I am certainly the dominant parent in my house and have a very hands-on role in parenting. And when I do leave my kids, my very capable husband is usually home with them and generally, my mother-in-law or mother is also there to help out. I am blessed for their willingness to help and for my husband’s support in my trying to find self-fulfillment. But I wonder: should I feel guilty for leaving my family even though I am doing positive and hopefully impactful things with my time?
Does a mother have the right for self-fulfillment? Is it selfish for a mother to go on speaking engagements, to lead trips to help the growth and spirituality of others, when she is leaving her own kids at home without a mother? To write for her own fulfillment when her kids would rather be doing something else?
Is it perhaps selfish for any parent- father or mother?
Does it make me a bad parent that during these weeks of winter break, I don’t find it completely riveting to play on the floor with my kids or bake with them and that my mind is hungry for creative and intellectual pursuit?
How much does a mother have to fit herself into a round peg in order to be a good parent?
As my kids are getting older, and I can hike and camp with them, learn and discuss issues with them, it seems the point of shared interests is within my grasp. I am really enjoying this time of life when I can truly connect with my kids in a way that we both enjoy. And yet, the greater issue of finding outside fulfillment while juggling the all-encompassing role of mother is still there.
These are the questions I grapple with during these sometimes long hours of winter break. I’m curious how many of you feel the same?
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.