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Carolyn Hax: Mom rues having to go back to work

Dear Carolyn: I got divorced and had to start working full time after five years of working part time or staying home with my son. I am having a really hard time coping.

I miss having time to play with my son, I miss having a clean house, I miss having more time with my pets. I am overwhelmed and have so much less time for the things that matter to me.

Logically, I know I have to work full time. I am my family’s sole support now. But I hate it. I cry when I think of the field trips I won’t be able to volunteer on, the sports games and practices I will have to miss, and all the other things most working moms don’t have time for. I wanted to be my son’s primary caregiver, and now I will never have that. I see his childhood slipping away and it breaks my heart. What can I do?

– Going Back to Work

Um. You can be careful what you say and around whom you say it, and not only because you just wrote the above to a mother who works full time and rarely misses her kids’ games and performances and who is in the stands with plenty of other working parents, including many single ones in less flexible jobs than hers.

Be careful because suggesting that “primary caregiver” and “full-time employee” are mutually exclusive, and that parents who work are doomed to watch their kids’ childhoods “slip away,” comes across as acutely judgmental. Even when applying said judgment to oneself.

You are your son’s parent. He lives in your home. You are primary.

A substantial benefit to adjusting your thinking on this – besides not alienating the very parents who can sympathize and serve as carpoolers-in-arms – is freeing up angst space for the difficulties you face that aren’t exaggerations.

It is a huge adjustment for you. Being the sole breadwinner is a heavy responsibility. You will have to make some compromises. You miss your boy.

Even these, however, hardly add up to motherhood lost. I suggest treating them instead as a rather rude but perfectly endurable reordering of your priorities. For example: You want play time with child and pets? Of course. Good choices both. That means you tolerate a messier home. If mess drives you nuts, then designate an out-of-sight stash zone you use daily, and schedule a focused hour or two a week to clear out the stash. If preparing dinner costs too much play time, then embrace slow-cooker living. If laundry overwhelms, then price a service; sometimes it’s cheap enough to justify farming it out.

Missing a thing or two, or assigning him a chore or two, is not a calamity; on the contrary. Paired with your obvious love and good intentions, hearing “no” occasionally could be good for him, an inoculation against a sense of entitlement – which, as it happens, might be the most off-putting trait there is.