Opinion I No guilt parenting
Having a strong identity outside of being a mother goes on to strengthen one's identity as a mother
I am going to take the kids to the park," I announce.
From that point, it takes about 45 minutes to corral my two children out and into the car—hands need to be washed, faces wiped, diapers and clothes changed, sunscreen applied, socks and shoes worn. By the time we are finally ready, one of them needs a snack, one needs to go to the bathroom, or they are both shouting and crying over a piece of Duplo.
We reset and try again. This time it takes only 30 minutes to get ready because the sunscreen is already on and their faces are clean enough.
After the next interruption—this time because one of them needs to squat and use her magnifying glass to carefully study an ant she found—it’s down to barely 10 minutes to put the shoes back on and get us out of the door.
For someone remarkably impatient when it comes to just about everything, I’m remarkably patient when it comes to my children.
I often wonder why that is.
One theory I have is that I never wanted children until I did and that was, conveniently, at a point in my life and career when it made sense for me to have them.
Of course, in a way it never makes sense to have children—in theory, having children is complete madness that changes your life in inconceivable ways. In practice, having children is a complete delight that changes your life in inconceivable ways.
I had almost no experience with children until I had my own, which means I am constantly in awe of their every move. Sure, little ones, take 10 minutes to figure out how to put on your sandals because I can see you thinking and learning and processing which one goes on which foot. Did you just mutter something about your left foot? How did you learn what your left foot is? Magnificent. Genius. Brilliant. I watch and I wait, looking at their little toes wiggling into place.
I hope my constant awe and amazement helps them develop confident (or even overconfident) personalities, unafraid to take risks, and ready to tackle the world. The vanity that they are no doubt developing—well, boys have been getting lauded for generations, our daughters could use a little vanity.
My other theory is that I am patient because I am selfish. I mother like fathers traditionally do. When I am done marvelling at my children, when I need to return to my desk and my work, I do so.
“Please leave me alone, I’m working," is one of the best things I say as a parent.
I am often asked how I manage to write while having two small children. People love a story of women’s guilt overcome—claims that I write before dawn or late at night, sitting on the floor of a dark room while my children sleep next to me.
But the reality is that I write like it’s my job because it is my job. I sit down at my desk and shoo them away and tell them their mother’s working because that’s what mothers do.
In normal times, I could do this because we are privileged enough to have good childcare. But in covid-19 times, we’re on our own and that means my husband and I trade off on work hours. If we both need to work, we’ve figured out a simple way to handle the children—we ignore them. I’ve set up a desk in the corner of their playroom so I can watch for fights getting heated or curtains being climbed but other than that I keep my headphones on and back turned. Between you and me, my headphones are never actually playing music and I am listening to them while I work —but they don’t know that.
I feel no guilt about making my work a priority because it makes me a better mother. When I finish working, when I finish living inside my mind and the world of letters, I emerge rejuvenated (or sometimes disheartened and depressed and that’s when I need my family most of all). I emerge ready to get down on the floor and build fire trucks and draw spiders and take three tries to get them ready to go to the park.
Having a strong identity outside of being a mother strengthens my identity as a mother.
And when my parenting patience fails me anyway, there’s always wine. Then I reset and try again.
Diksha Basu is the author of The Windfall (Bloomsbury). Her new book, Destination Wedding (Bloomsbury), will be out on 28 July.