Growing up, we always celebrated Mother’s Day with breakfast in bed. Dressed in our pajamas, my sisters and I would burst into our parent’s room and proudly shower our Mom with brightly-colored cards and a tray of toast, coffee, and fresh flowers.
It’s a familiar tradition across the country, and now it’s one in my own house. As the mother of two little girls, I am the one being showered on Mother’s Day. This year, however, there won’t be much time for me, or my kids, to enjoy it.
Shortly after breakfast I’ll finish packing, head for the airport and board a plane to Africa.
The trip marks my second to Liberia for a documentary I’m producing on a ground-breaking mental health program there. When I first booked my flight I entered every combination of dates in an effort to avoid leaving on Mother’s Day. No matter which search engine I chose, the results were the same. Unless I added 24 more hours to my travel time, I had to fly on May 12.
The more I searched, the more frantic I became. Leaving two little kids for a far-flung corner of the world is hard enough, but on Mother’s Day? Suddenly, the specter of Mom guilt had me in its clutches. What message will this send to my girls? Will they feel neglected? Will they one day sit across from a therapist and cry about the time I left them on Mother’s Day? What kind of Mother am I?
That same day, I called on a friend for support. “You are not neglecting your kids,” she said. “You are giving them an invaluable gift.”
When reason prevails, I understand this. In my career as a journalist I’ve often traveled far in the name of an important story. And as my older daughter grows up, she is beginning to understand. She tells her friends I am going to Africa, and shares her knowledge of what it’s like to be a child there. When she talks about my work, I feel an overwhelming sense of pride.
Then, in what feels like an instant, the parenting guilt kicks in and defeats it. The questions about what might happen in my absence nag at me, and with a Mother’s Day departure they loom larger. Oftentimes they are trivial: What if they forget to bring show-n-tell? Will the babysitter remember to put the little one to bed with two books (no stuffed animals)?
As parents we’re so often guided by the idea that proximity to our children equals protection. The less we leave them, the better off they are. To a certain degree, of course, this is true. But it’s also true that to build their independence and confidence, we simply have to let go.
So this Mother’s Day, I am letting go. Yes, I am leaving my children on the very day most of my friends and family will be celebrating with their kids in the comfort of home.
But if by definition Mother’s Day is about honoring not only our role as parents but also our role in society, then I believe I am giving my girls a gift. It’s the message that they, too, can travel far and wide, pursue their work with passion and confidently step out of their comfort zone for causes they believe in. And if they do forget their show-n-tell in my absence, life will go on.
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