Working Less to Be a Better Mom in Midlife

May 14. That’s the day I become a better mom. I mean, it’s the day I hope to become a better mom, at least. But can I actually do it? I’ll admit that I’m a little worried.

My husband and I both work long hours. He’s gone all day and arrives home around 6 pm, dead on his feet. I sit at my computer all day, and between my editing jobs, teaching job and occasional freelance writing, I could easily stay in front of the monitor into the late evening.

Working Less to Be a Better Mom

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But then, we have this kid. She’s the child I’d been waiting my whole life for, the child who, by the time I’d hit my 40s and was still single and childless, I concluded I’d never get to have. After getting married and then having it out with infertility, at 45 I finally gave birth to my baby. She’s now a delightful, sweet, funny, smart and defiant 2 ½ year old who wants nothing more than to spend her free time (when she’s not in nursery school or in the care of my mother-in-law), with her mommy and daddy. Often, when I transport her to her nonna’s after nursery school and we drive past our house, she cries to me from the back seat, “I want to go home!” The moment usually passes quickly enough, but my stomach is always left in knots.

In the evenings, my husband and I are as often as not locked in a power struggle over who has to chase the kid and who gets a few more precious moments on the couch. I resent having to cook dinner, do the dishes, bathe my child and put her to bed, while he watches TV. But the flip side of the coin is that his work is physically much more challenging than my sedentary job and he is without a doubt more exhausted than I am most of the time. Still, I can feel the tension tightening in my chest on most evenings. He does pitch in and help some, but it never feels like he’s doing enough.

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You may be reading this and thinking, “Something has to give.” That was our conclusion, too. And that something was me, and my work. So I’ve recently given up a nearly full-time, stressful work-at-home editing position and accepted a part-time work-at-home editing position that promises to be less nerve-wracking. May 10 is my last day on the old job, and May 14 we depart for a 2-week vacation. I’m giving myself until then to start being a better mom, as I know I’ll be busy packing, preparing clothes and getting the house ready to hand over to the dog sitter for two weeks.

Our Florida beach vacation will pass like a whirlwind and then when we return home, my new job starts. Or should I say, jobs. Because my new occupation is not just a new editing gig, but being more present in my child’s life. I know that means that I won’t be able to justify sneaking off to my computer to send a file or respond to an email during cuddling time at night. I know that means I have to put my phone down and just focus on my daughter when we’re together. I know that means that at a certain hour of the day, I’ll have to just. stop. working.

Working Less to be a better midlife mom

That means I’m going to have to take many deep breaths and just be Mom to my kid. Not a multi-tasking mom, but a mom who is splashing in the pool or pushing a swing or making cookies or picking flowers with her. A mom who is talking to, teaching, laughing with and loving her kid. It’s hard to do any of that and check emails on your phone at the same time.

I think that kind of mothering comes easier for some of us than others and in many ways, I envy women who embrace full-time motherhood, either by circumstance or choice. For me, I’ll admit with more than a little bit of shame that it’s tough for me to just “be” with my daughter. It’s not because I don’t love her—she’s the joy of our middle-aged lives and of course we can’t imagine life without her. It’s that I’m not used to ever being off duty when it comes to work. And so the part of me that feels like there’s always something more important that I need to be doing has to reconcile with the part of me that knows my most important job is to be a good mother.

This is the promise I’m making to my daughter—to work less and be a better mom. It’s not one she asked for, but it’s one my husband and I both see that she needs to have fulfilled. I already wonder how anxious I’ll feel in the park or at the lake, or when she and I are just whiling away the hours at home together. I hope that any anxiety I feel eventually passes, and that I’m able to fully embrace being in the present with my girl. I really hope so.

Catch me after May 14 and I’ll let you know how this encore career is going.

Elizabeth Heath

Elizabeth Heath is an American-born writer and editor based in Italy. She has served as editor-in-chief to several regional magazines, and contributed hundreds of articles on travel, business, fashion, celebrities, politics, lifestyle and more to local, regional and national print publications and websites. She is also the editor of dozens of editions of Frommer’s travel guides. Liz writes about the peculiarities of life in the Italian countryside in her blog, My Village in Umbria.