As my son continues to develop from a little baby into an actual kid, I’ve been thinking a lot about parenthood, my childhood, and my parents. I’ve also been thinking a lot about being a “working parent” and what that means as well as what it means to be “just” a parent.
I believe everyone, parent or not, should have the opportunity to explore their passions and ambitions.
I believe we should all have the opportunity to achieve our professional ambitions and I am a strong a proponent of women joining their male counterparts in the workforce. I celebrate women like Kathleen Kennedy who have reached the top of their chosen fields. I admire women like my friends Renee Main of Main Made Cakes and Cupcakes and Ashley Newman of Ashley Newman Photography who have built independent businesses while raising children and supporting their husbands.
I admire and endlessly thank my wife for her ability to support me in my seemingly endless ambitions while succeeding in her professional career. Her boundless perseverance has resulted in her becoming one of the most essential members of her organization and I couldn’t be more proud of everything she’s achieved in the incredibly challenging advertising and media business.
I fear, however, that in our collective goal of encouraging and ensuring women’s rights and opportunities to build their careers and establish their identities independent of their roles as mothers that perhaps we have diminished the sanctity and unique blessings of being “just a parent.”
Likewise, I think the “stay at home” movement has similarly painted working parents as somehow not as devoted to their children and families.
This is troubling to me.
My family’s “org” chart
My dad was a “working parent.” My mom was what has come to be known as a “stay at home mom.”
I suppose my dad would be the CEO. As I’ve grown and now have a child of my own my father has risen, in many ways, to the position of Chairman of the board of directors.
Growing up my mom’s titles included COO, CFO, and CAO and as I’ve grown, she too has risen to something along the lines of Executive Confidant or Special Advisor.
While one of them worked outside the home, the other worked inside it. My mom didn’t have a job that came with a W2 but it was no less essential to the success of our family than my father. While my father wasn’t home every second of the day, he was no less committed to us, their children.
They were two sides of the same coin.
A Day in the life of Dad
My father’s days were a blinding whirlwind of activity. As a successful professional broadcast journalist and media personality (and singer to boot!) his days were full of hosting and appearing on radio and television shows. There was a seemingly endless list of personal appearances, hours spent in recording studios doing voice-over work for commercials and tape-delay content. He was the Spanish Voice of the Houston Astros, Rockets, Oilers, and Texans. He broadcast World Cup soccer, indoor soccer, and even hockey. He hosted telethons, sat on political panels, and covered every major news event during his 40 year career…and is still going strong. Despite stretches that were as mesmerizing for his ability to maintain as they were brutal in their demands, he still coached my peewee baseball team, attended almost every single choir performance, basketball and football game. He was at every birthday. He was at the dinner table almost every single night.
When he got home after bedtime, he would poke his head into all our bedrooms to look at his children to make sure we were safe and to get one last look at us before going to sleep for an hour only to get up and do it all over again.
He was known among my friends as “the coolest” dad who talked to us and shared stories and jokes. He participated in our pick-up football/baseball/basketball games. He would even do the play-by-play while throwing or shooting the ball. It was awesome.
His professional activities did not preclude his presence and involvement in my life in any way shape or form. Quite the contrary…it was inspiring.
A Day in the life of Mom
Make no mistake. My mom’s days were just as packed. She would rise every day before my dad, no matter when she went to bed or when he needed to be up. She always wanted to make sure he had what he needed for his morning and then switched gears to do the same for us kids.
For most of my childhood there was only one car so sometimes they had to get creative with how they swapped turns with the car throughout their busy days to make sure everyone got where they needed to go and got picked up when they were done.
There are about 6-7 years between each of my siblings so there was never a time where mom was alone in the house. There was never a time where we were all in school. Thus, every minute of her day was spent with at least one child in her arms or tugging at her shirt.
Her days were a blur of chores and children, and “oh, you said I’d make 5 dozen cookies for your homeroom party TOMORROW?”
Being the CFO, she would pull these shoeboxes out (one for every account) and balance the checkbook by hand, pencil and paper – no calculator – can’t trust them and they take too long. Haha
Each dime was stretched into a dollar and she made sure that no matter how silly my obsession with any given fad, I always had the best school clothes, the nicest shoes, the coolest backpack, and trendiest supplies. Somehow she managed to take my father’s firmly middle class earnings and create a life for my siblings and I that seemed like we were the wealthiest people on earth.
As I grew older I understood a big part of the magic behind it all – they never got anything for themselves.
We kids came first.
Vacations? We all went or no one went. I remember my parents saying “why would we go anywhere without you kids?”
At no point did my mom’s lack of a career ever come up as curious or as disappointing.
Quite the contrary…I was and am grateful that I never came home to an empty house, that she was ALWAYS there.
It was inspiring…and still is.
Yet somehow, according to some, it seems like my mom’s life was somehow less than what it could have been. There are voices among us that say she “could have been so much more.” These voices say that somehow my mom, and millions of parents like her, “settled” for “just being a parent when she could have been out there striving for something “more” the way my dad did.
Likewise, many voices say my dad worked “too hard” and may not have given us kids as much as he should have.
My father will be the first one to say – all that he has achieved of any significance has nothing to do with being a singer or a media personality or a Hall of Fame broadcaster. His success lies in his children.
The same is just as true for my mother.
There’s no such thing as “just” a parent
I WISH I could be a “just” a mom the way mine was.
I ALSO wish I could just be a dad the way mine was.
It’s one of the defining dualities of my life.
Yes I want to advance my professional career in order to provide more for my family. I want to continue writing songs and developing Cathedral Records. I look forward to releasing an album after I graduate this spring. I look forward to all the possibilities the future holds for me in a professional and creative capacity. I am an ambitious man who likes to stay busy and challenge myself, just like my father.
BUT – I am my mother’s son too and the idea of being able to stay home to manage the operations side of things while being with my son every day feels like the unattainable dream. I would take that deal in a heartbeat.
Two of the most significant gifts I received from my parents are ambition and drive. My mother’s ambition and drive were no less than my father’s – they were just directed somewhere else – somewhere just as essential to the success of my family, to me, and ultimately to my son. My father’s professional drive and ambition were never for the sake of his own success. Rather they were a product of his commitment to his family. He never lost sight of that.
I would not be who I am without the BOTH of them working, striving, reaching, struggling, and sacrificing in pursuit of a singular goal – making sure their family was taken care of.
Fulfill the measure of your creation
A dear old friend of mine once used that phrase and I’ve stolen it…used it for years.
I’ll never tell anyone what they should do with their lives. Chase your dreams. Follow your heart. Do what you gotta do.
We should never begrudge someone who is trying to pursue their goals, so long as there is nobility in their intent and actions.
A good parent who has the opportunity and desire to stay home and devote the entirety of their lives to managing a household and raising the children is no less a success, and no less a role model, than a parent who leaves the home every morning to provide financial backing for that household.
Similarly, being a working professional does not inherently define us as not being as focused on our children and spouses as one who stays at home.
I may be a busy guy but I’m a father first, second, last, and always. I inhale every moment, embrace every opportunity, absorb every experience with my son, who seems to have found his favorite spot to be atop my feeble shoulders. Together, we go about our evenings doing chores, making dinner, cleaning house, and even playing guitar. We turn the mundane into our own little adventures….just my parents did with me.
We should all champion and celebrate the much-deserved and rightful rise of success for women who have chosen to pursue professional endeavors.
We should choose our words and measure our tone when we talk about those who decide to “just” be parents or those who decide to pursue goals outside the home.
We all have our paths as parents and as long as we walk that path with love and devotion for our children in our hearts, we’ll be ok…and our children will better for it…at least that’s the plan right?
After all, mother (and father) is the name for god on the lips and hearts of children.
Until next time…don’t forget to give your kids a hug today and every day!
(again, stealing a good line…thanks Dad)
Be Well and Kind,