(Note: I am sharing this blog with the hope of reaching young mothers who divide their time between work and family. I pray that their financial situation and personal predisposition would allow them to be full-time mothers, or if not, then for them to find ways to maximize time with their children).
I was having a conversation with one of our younger photographers, when she apologized for troubling me with personal concerns. Assuring her that it was alright, I told her that I could even consider her as one of my daughters. After all, she has been with us seven years, and we’ve probably seen more of each other than I have with my own grown up daughters who now live abroad.
She agreed, and added that I have probably seen her more than her own mother has.
Those were unplanned statements that triggered some painful thinking. I was swiftly taken to the years when my children were very young. Sadly I computed the hours that we spent with our children and realized that we lost our biggest opportunity to be with them when they started to go to the big schools. And with this realization came regret.
I remembered recently reading on Facebook the agonized confession of an employed and commuting mother who has to leave the house before her child woke up, and who returned home after her child had gone to bed. And it wasn’t even that she worked far from home, but that heavy traffic gets her (as it does many of us) stuck on the road for hours.
In a way, we were lucky that we enjoyed our children’s young years with us. My husband and I had decided that to see more of our children, we should live where we worked. We did not have to waste time on long commutes, and our children could walk in and out of his studios (he’s a photographer) and of my office (I managed our photography business).
Not that working from the home gave me the full privilege of time with our children. Our business was also young and demanded much of our time. Although I pleaded for Saturday off, advertising work was practically 24/7, without regard for Sundays or holidays.
It also meant that even mealtimes were not sacred, and our photographers were known to gobble up lunch or dinner in two minutes flat – so they could go back to finish their shoots. Their busy schedules did not allow for leisurely family dinners. To claim time for the family, we had to conjure a new family tradition – to eat out on weekends when there were no shoots or no urgent paper work to be finished. Eating out meant walking together to look for a restaurant, sitting down to order, to wait for food to be served, to wait for everyone to finish partaking of lunch or dinner, to wait for the bill and to wait for either change or the return of a credit card. That’s a lot more time to be with family than our two-minute lunch or dinner sprints.
We also had to find ways to combine work and family time. I am grateful that our business of photography allowed that. Sometimes, our children would skip school to join a location photo shoot. It was good that St. Scholastica’s College, where all our daughters went for grade school, shared our belief that they could learn a lot outside of school. (If they were absent from school to go out with their photographer-dad, they were excused if they would do a presentation on the place that they visited).
Looking back, I realize that of all my children, the youngest spent the least time with us. Like her eldest sister, she went to a high school in Quezon City – and even then, EDSA was clogged. At age 15, she entered Ateneo de Manila University in Loyola. After a year of carpooling to get there from our Makati home, she asked to be allowed to stay at a dorm on campus. After graduation from college, she stayed on at the same university to take up her masters and to teach. During that year, she stayed in a private, off-campus dorm. While at her university, she could only come home on weekends, but sometimes, not even, as some school activities were scheduled on Saturdays, or even Sundays.
Even those precious weekends were lost when she spent six months in Japan, and soon after, when she got accepted into the University of Toronto. She has been living in Canada ever since, having found employment there, and subsequently marrying a Canadian. Since her husband’s family and clan have settled in Canada, it does not seem likely that they would consider resettling here, especially now that Sacha herself has recently acquired Canadian citizenship.
Ching (eldest daughter) went to the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, and while she continued to live with us while she was in school, she did spend an inordinate amount of time going to school and back, either with a carpool, or when she was old enough, to drive to and from school. (Her high school – like Sacha’s - was also in Quezon City, and that required long hours on the road. I am not sure if that was the time when the MRT was being built, and traffic on EDSA was horrible). I am also grateful that she stayed with us even when she started to work, and her office was in Makati. She got married in 2003, and she and her husband moved to Singapore shortly after. Presently, they live in California.
Thankfully, Kathy’s high school and university were close by. A few months’ stay in South Africa after college graduation, and now that she is married, a few weeks each year to visit her in-laws in the Netherlands, or when I myself leave for vacations abroad, are our longest separation times. I am grateful that my son-in-law’s job allows him to stay in the country – at least for now.
She made a brave decision to quit her job with our company to be a full-time wife and mother, and I admire her for this. She is a very hands-on mother, and I expect that her relationship with her two daughters, and with her husband, will be richer and more fulfilling than my own time and business responsibilities afforded me.
Computing time when we spent our lives being together, it is obvious that our best and only opportunity for maximum time with our children was when they were babies and toddlers.
The children grow up. They leave home all too soon. If it were possible to turn back the clock, I would most certainly fight to be a full-time mother. I am now 69, and I get lonely for my children - my little children then, or my grown up children now. In the twilight of my years, I can no longer insist on time with them. They have their spouses, their jobs, their homes and other activities to attend to. My chance – when they were children - had passed. I do appreciate the time that they spend trying to stay connected – through Skype or overseas calls, and personal visits, whenever possible - but typing "kisses" and "hugs" is not the same as physically giving or receiving them. :(
(Note: I thank Kathy for asking us to continue to take an active role in her life, and in our granddaughters’ lives. Having grandchildren gives me another chance at spending time and creating bonds with the children in my life).