On paid work, unpaid work, and showing our work
I love this meditation on work. I don't yet have my own kiddos, but I do have a mom who brought me to her study and stuck me under her desk on days when I was sick and couldn't go to school. I would hear her typing away all morning. Seeing my mom in a place that seemed so like her element that didn't include me was powerful. I admired her as a person in her own right, entirely disconnected from myself and my brothers. As a result, I too began to nourish my own inner life, my hobbies, and my labors.
Additionally, I am now just echoing some other commenters, but The Fixed Stars was a truly truly moving book.
The Fixed Stars is amazing! I have recommended it to friends as well who would agree. Reading it has been life changing for all of us in different ways — and that is no exaggeration! I healed from/grew in my relationship with my own mother after reading it, and at least one maybe two friends were inspired/supported to recognize parts of themselves they previously kept locked away.
I teach at Michigan State University and my 3 year old daughter thinks that I work with Sparty. She’s not wrong some days! She also loves seeing pictures of my students and somehow memorizes their names! My 17 month old son does not yet engage in the same way with my work, though he came with me when he was just 6 weeks old on my callback visit to MSU, so I could breastfeed him/Parent Out Loud between meetings.
At least for right now I am fine with my son and daughter possessing a limited understanding of adulthood. Sure they have their little chores (my son loves to put his little cup in the sink and throw away “garbage” AKA important things around the house like keys and money). I am fine with them enjoying childhood blissfully ignorant in a way I never did. The difficulties of the adulthood will challenge them soon enough!
Thank you, Molly- this post arrived at exactly the right time. For what it's worth, The Fixed Stars is one of my favorite books. I don't have children (yet, I hope to), but following your journey over the years (first at Orangette, now here) has given me a view of a life path I'd be thrilled to walk. I hope you feel seen, appreciated, and powerful--because you are!
I am half way through The Fixed Stars since opening this email last night. So well done and the question of a mother’s responsibility/obligation to their child is on my mind. Very different from the transformation you undertook, but my son graduates university in June. I’m struggling with the shift I worry is coming in our relationship as he begins his financially independent adult life. I’ve always worked and had parts of my life that are separate from him, but I guess I feel like I’ll be less of a mother. It’s strange and maybe needless worry, but it’s still how I feel. And some of the words in your book have been helpful. Thank you.
I work outside the home during school hours but my kids are very aware of what I do. They ask about my clients (I work with autistic adults in the community), what we do together & all sorts of other things- do I like my job? Is it fun? Is it boring? How much money do I get paid ? Ha!
I’d like to think my line of work influenced what my second eldest son now does for work- he’s an education assistant for kids with additional needs- because talking about my work has always been a part of our family life. I love that when he comes over for dinner he has stories to tell about days that make him smile, expand his heart or drive him to despair.
I’ve always been quite frank with my kids saying “I’m really sorry, I can’t be there for that school thing because I need to work & it’s important that I be there for my clients & their families”. It’s hard for them to understand when they are young, that they aren’t always the centre of my world, but they know I’ll always make time for the things that are most important or mean the most to them.
I hope they know that I’ve always worked to find the balance between being great at my paid job but also as their mum.
Ooh, I want them to know so much. That who you are at 11 and 12 - your predilections, whatever makes your soul sing and draws you in life like a moth to a flame - will not really change all that much as you get on in years. So if music is your life force, keep it going. Don't put it away or try to douse that flame. Also, you need to have a plan for the outline of your days. If you can't sit still, don't go for an office job maybe. Pay attention to who you are and don't try to conceal it, because you really can't.
I have such a hard time with “showing the work”, because I want to try to keep my focus on them as much as possible in the limited time we have together. It’s also just so hard to get anything done when they’re underfoot. Part of that is their current age, of course.
There are so many things I want for them but I’m trying now to focus on modeling apologies and that adults also have big feelings. I simply don’t remember my parents ever apologizing.
There was a moment in "Soil" where Dungy actually parses out time: she could work, she could help Callie, or she could clean, but she couldn't do all three at the same time. That stuck with me because sometimes I feel all three things vying for my attention with the same urgency. Work for me is scripted by hours but also nebulous in that way that working for oneself can easily shift and look as though the work is not happening. I love to work and I love being with my kid. And I suppose I am my worst critic at not being able to juggle all the plates as well as I think I "should." I've been appreciating our teen coming in while I'm working and asking what I am doing as an opportunity to explain or show that even scheduling a social media post for others can be work for me. You know I'm always interested in reading your cooking thoughts and appreciate your writing and perspectives, Molly.
I usually don’t arrange activities when school is out because I think my kid thrives from “recharge” days where he can chill and relax. This means he see me do my corporate job at home. I’m also trying to make sure he sees me do my hobbies! Gardening, biking, cooking - and I try to make big plans around my hobbies and include him when appropriate so he can see work and leisure.
Such a great question! I want my kids to know that adults have responsibilities and joys and sorrows and fears and excitement: all of it. Not that they should feel any unhealthy burden of responsibility for me or other adults in their lives, but that they see me (and my spouse and sometimes our friends) doing and feeling and coping and supporting each other. I want them to see robust adult friendship modelled, and community care—the way adults can show up for each other. So we take our kids along when we drop of soup with someone who needs it, and we talk at family dinner about triumphs (ours and others’) instead of just celebrating when they’re in bed, and we talk through whatever it is we’re doing when we’re staring at a screen in front of them. All of this imperfectly, sure, but we’re trying to let them see and participate in the beauty of relationality, if that makes sense.
My husband is a lawyer, the fancy kind that works in a big office and wears a suit.
But he leaves the house in something sporty and on his bicycle and changes at the office. On the weekend he often bikes and races for fun.
So his kids were, for many years, convinced that daddy was a person that rode his bicycle for a living.
Mmm... I want them to understand that adults, like all humans, have needs and desires. I want them to see me stating, asking for, and claiming what I want and need, and I want to help them stay in touch with their own evolving wants and needs. Thanks for being your wizard with hind legs and a job self!
I've thought about this so much! It's been so important for me to tell my kids (both boys, which feels like it matters) when I'm *going to work*, even if that just means I'm shutting the door to write.
Would your publisher consider re-issuing The Fixed Stars with a “real” book tour now that the pandemic has eased? It is a book worth promoting, worth reading, that has important thoughts and ideas to spread. Forgive me if this is a naive idea...
I single parent and the pandemic was, I swear, one of the biggest reasons my kiddo has decided to go into a creative field instead of corporate work - they could see what I did day in and day out. And decided they'd rather drop hammers on their feet, repeatedly, rather than do that. Fair.
The number one thing I've always wanted them to understand to their bones, though, is that they are not responsible for taking on anyone's emotional disregulation. To treat outside pressure, guilt, drama, anxiety, as if someone handed them a box of vomit and expected them to sort it out. They are just heading to college, with more formative years ahead of them, but it seems to have taken.
Well I love ‘em all but yes, The Fixed Stars is outstanding 👑 In adulthood, hmmm. I want them to know their magic intimately. I’d like to keep an unbroken line from imagination to sharing, without as much hand wringing and self-doubt as I faced. Is it possible? I don’t know, but that more than anything seems to be my mothering project.