Everything is Easy Compared to This

While it’s hard to be away from your children, it’s also hard to be with your children. At least, for some of us, compared to our work. Because we’re good at what we do. What we do doesn’t talk back. We are rewarded financially, or with recognition, for our successes at work—often right away—whereas the time and energy invested in our children can be thankless. It is an exercise in delayed gratification that sometimes requires decades of patience.

That’s difficult to admit, but it’s true. And it’s something that talented and successful parents have struggled with for a long time.

Lady Charteris, the wife of Queen Elizabeth’s private secretary, would observe this of the Queen. “It was easier to go back to [her work] than children having tantrums,” she said. “She always had the excuse of the red boxes.’’ This should give us some reassuring perspective. How hard is it to be a parent? It was easier to be a head of state, for the largest empire in the world, than to be head of a household.

So of course you’re struggling. We all are, in our own ways! That doesn’t mean we can let work become an escape from the struggle. We can’t just throw up our hands and say, “I’m busy, I can’t deal with this.” Because not only is that not fair to our children, it’s not fair to us.

Sally Bedell Smith, in her riveting book on Queen Elizabeth, explains that because of the Queen’s “dogged devotion to duty, amplified by her natural inhibitions and aversion to confrontations, Elizabeth had missed out on many maternal challenges as well as satisfactions.”

As we flee to our phones, to that business trip, to the business of state, we have to remember that, like all shortcuts, this will cost us in the end. We will be depriving ourselves of not just the satisfactions and joys of parenting, but also the skills that come from facing our challenges and the wisdom that accrues from getting to the other side of them.

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