Many mothers look forward to maternity leave -- assuming they get it -- but I have to admit that those periods were not the best times of my life. I love my three kids fiercely, but I associate those stints at home with them, away from my job as a foreign correspondent, with an uneasiness that's always been hard to admit. While there's nothing like seeing your baby take his or her first steps or fall asleep on your chest as you stroke their cheek, the pull of my work easily lured me back to the office -- full-time -- at the end of each of my three-month maternity leaves.
Fast forward about 15 years and I'm something of a different person. I'm no longer a foreign correspondent, but I am passionate about my job in charge of Huff/Post50. And yet these days I find myself relishing working from home a lot more than going to the office. I like being around when my kids get back from school, when they are most open to talking to me. With teenagers, I've found you have to be present in order to catch them at the precise moment when they are ready to open up. With my kids, they are usually eager to chat the moment they walk in the door after school. By 6 p.m. or so? Not so much.
So why is it that our society tends to prioritize a parent being home while the kids are young -- i.e. not teenagers -- and not the other way around? Why haven't we figured out a way for a parent to work when their children are little with an eye towards not working -- or creating a more flexible schedule that will allow for more time at home -- when the kids are older? Of course, many parents don't have the ability to not work. And I recognize how fortunate I am to currently have so much flexibility. My point is, shouldn't it be that way for everyone?
The thing many of us with teenagers understand is the importance of being around more -- not less -- than when our kids were younger. No, I'm not in favor of helicoptering around our kids, hindering any chance they have of becoming independent. But for me -- and for many of those I know with older kids -- the magnetic pull to be at home is even more powerful with teenagers than it was with preschoolers.
Although many of my friends with teenagers have continued to work full-time outside the home -- either by necessity or desire -- there seems to be a shift happening, with more evidence piling up in support of the idea that stay-at-home parenting benefits older children just as much as it does when the children are younger.
The truth is, raising teenagers is hard. They can push you away but they still need your attention and to know they're loved -- just as when they're little. For me, I enjoy being there when my 15-year-old daughter has friends over. Even during those periods when my kids have a lot of extracurricular activities going on, and they aren't home all that much, an exchange of texts each day when I'm in the office is a whole different ballgame than being able to look them in the eyes -- even for a minute.
For me, it's a difficult tightrope to walk. Opting out of the workforce is just too risky for me, a woman in her 50s. And with three kids either in college or just a few years off from going to college, money is an issue. Even so, remembering what my own high school years were like, I want to do all I can to ensure my listening ears are here -- at home -- whenever possible.
This post appeared first here.