When Kitty took her first steps I wrote about being so relieved that we’d both been there to see it; that neither H nor I missed it, and when Elma’s turn came among the pride and the joy at her big achievement was a whisper of relief. Relief that it hadn’t happened at nursery, relief that H was there to see it too, and joy that Kitty was there to share the moment with her sister.
It seems that nothing has changed.
So many of our children’s milestones will by their very nature happen when we’re not around; or we will be around, but only in the aftermath as it were; to be there when they find out their exam results, or a university place, when the hard work has already been done, or to watch them get married to someone they fell in love with long before the big day.
That’s absolutely the way it should be, and I’ve no intention of spending their and my life peeking over their shoulders. But the milestones now, they are the ones to share, to celebrate as a family be it first steps, first words, first swims in the ocean, first haircut, first time letting go in the swimming pool or the first time to the top of the climbing frame.
I suspect there’s a decent chance that even if you are with your children 24/7 from the moment of their birth until they head out into the wide world there’s still something that you’d miss, but the fear of missing out is I think exacerbated for the working parents of tiny little ones.
To me the choice of whether to work and parent, or solely parent hasn’t ever really seemed a choice for anybody. A lot of the time the decision is dictated by finance, but even where it isn’t, even where there is what to the outside world would seem to be a choice, I’m not certain that there is. At the end of the day we all sit down, look at the available options and decide what is best for our family as a whole. And once that balance tips one way or the other there isn’t really a choice. It goes against every maternal (and paternal) instinct to see what would be best and choose to do something different.
It might be that two incomes keep the bank account in the black, or that the costs of childcare would completely wipe out a salary, that you’re a better parent for working and staying at home would make you deeply unhappy, or that the financial sacrifices made to keep one parent at home are worth it for the benefits you see in your children. It might be a logical conclusion based on the available evidence, but a choice? I’m not convinced.
And that balance is always fluctuating and whilst I don’t, or at least I try not to feel guilty about working (just don’t ask me on a morning that one of the girls has been a bit unsettled and you just know all they want is to curl up and cuddle, not hustle out the door), I am always checking that what was right then is still right now.
And at the heart of that balancing act are the things that matter the most to us. To miss the milestones that I do get to share with them would feel like such a failure, to have to answer the question “Mummy, do you remember when….?” with “I’m sorry sweets but I wasn’t there” would show that the balance of working and parenting got pushed too far, regardless of whether there was anything I could actually do about it at the time.
I don’t doubt there will come a day when I do miss something. But it wasn’t the week that Elma took those first precious tentative steps, and for that I am truly thankful.