By Kimberly Flanagan
Society has taught us that we need to have a successful career, perfect partner, x amount of children and thousands in our bank accounts all before a certain age. Pressure has been mounting since before we even knew what pressure really is. That was the perception that I grew up with. I planned my life to a T when I was in varsity and I was sure I had it all figured out.
That was until I became a mother. I had my first child straight after graduating from the University of Johannesburg in 2014. In fact, I was 3 months pregnant at my graduation unbeknownst to my mother or the rest of my family. I had my second child when I was a news intern at the SABC, one year after my first child. By then, any “official” plans I had made for myself had already gone out the window. I was just trying to juggle being a new mom to two babies and building a career in the Journalism and Media industry. I can tell you, it was tough and it still is.
For those of you who have kids, especially toddlers know that they require every ounce of energy and attention that you have.
My children, a little boy of 3 and a girl of 4, want to play all the time. They can run circles around me and talk my ear off while I try and manage to write an article or blog post, plan my day or simply catch my breath. They have this unmanageable energy that springs out of nowhere.
But one thing I have noticed about myself lately is that every time my daughter asks me to play, I come up with one or other excuse, I am ashamed to say. I either tell her mommy is too tired or I will play with her later and when later does come, I have to do something else or it’s time for bed and I always feel guilty about it because I have missed one important opportunity with my 4-year-old daughter because I felt that what I needed and what I considered important is more valuable to my child than me playing with her and giving her attention.
There is a Ted Talk by Shonda Rhimes where she speaks about her year of saying yes to everything. She mentions how she found it difficult to play with her child and how when she started saying yes to playtime, she found herself much more inspired.
Kids don’t want complicated things; push them on a swing or brush a Barbie doll’s hair or chase them around the house and they’re good. They just want attention, they want to see you see them. It’s so important to be present at the moment, so much happens and if you’re too distracted by other “important” things, you miss all of it. I’ve experienced this as a single mother and it’s even more vital when you’re the only parent because you need to play two roles and provide double the attention.
But one thing that also haunts you as a single parent is the guilt you feel and because you feel guilty, you try and over-compensate for that guilt and you over-compensate by thinking you need to work harder in your job and make more money and put in more hours but while you’re under the impression you need to work harder, your kid just wants you to play or tuck them into bed. Something so simple yet so rewarding and makes the biggest difference.
I remember when I was working as a News Anchor at eTV, I worked early hours, and I had to be at work at 4 am. Because of those crazy hours and not wanting to “get in trouble” at work, I missed my daughter’s first day at pre-school.
And yes, many people have told me at least it wasn’t Grade 1 but to me, that was an important moment and I haven’t forgiven myself for missing out on that.
I decided that morning that being at work and being on air was more important than my daughter’s first day at school all because I felt pressured to succeed in my career more than I wanted to succeed in being a parent. I made a mistake then but learned from it. I haven’t missed any important school event in my children’s lives since. You can always take a day off work but you can never take a day off being a parent.
The next time your child asks you to play, put down the phone, close the laptop and go play.
I can guarantee you, that you won’t regret it.