My fears have always revealed themselves to me through dreams. I am terrified of heights. So I have dreams of free-falling off the Golden Gate Bridge. I am afraid of losing control, of being unprepared, of failure. So when I was in school, I had recurring nightmares about having to take a final exam in a class I never attended. I am terrified of bugs. So I dream that I am on Fear Factor in a tank filled with cockroaches.
Now that I am a working mother of two, the dreams reveal my fears of parental inadequacy. I dream about forgetting to pick up my children from daycare. I dream that I lose track of them in shopping malls. You don't need a degree or a passing grade on any test to raise a child, so every parent at times feels utterly unqualified for the daunting responsibility of protecting and shaping the lives of their children. Working mothers carry an additional layer of fear that their time away will irreparably harm the children. In this age of Judith Warner's Perfect Madness, are we shortchanging our children because other mothers are by their children's sides coaching them to be better people, to be more successful, during the hours we are by choice or necessity working? That was my fear for the first 3 years of my life as a parent managing the daily tug of war between work and family. I worried, I cried, I considered staying home.
When my son was around 3, I went to have lunch with him at the Gap's subsidized day care. My fear of being away from him compelled me to have lunch with him as often as I possibly could. All the kids in his class were children of working parents. Most were there 5 days a week from first thing in the morning until around 6 at night. On that particular day, when it was time to leave, I told Matty that I had to go back to my office, that I had to go back to work. One by one, from behind their sippy cups, each kid announced with unaffected, heartfelt enthusiasm that their mommies had offices too. Some said their mommies had computers. Some said their moms had spinny chairs. Some said their moms had pictures of them or pictures they had drawn on their desks. Some said their moms weren't there for lunch that day because they were in a meeting. Some said their moms took them to the cafeteria at their work for french fries. Whether they knew it or not, their enthusiasm was actually pride. For me their pride in their mothers' professions was also permission -- permission to transform my fear of parental failure into something far more positive.
Since that day, my working mom fear has been converted into a fearless conviction that while I might mess up my kids --- it will not be simply because I have a job.
Amy Keroes is Founder and President of Mommy Track'd LLC. For more information about her, check About Us .