If I don't invest in myself and my passions, that's on me, not my kids.

By Katie Bingham-Smith
Photo by Getty Images

When my kids were home for a recent school break, we decided to have a stay-cation, though I’m still working. Each day I’d head out for a few hours to work on some stories and a very rough novel I’m trying to finish.

I could have stayed at home and written alongside of them while Star Wars blasted in my ears and the sound of crinkling bags of chips and granola bars never stopped—man, do they eat a lot when they are home—but I left instead, and here’s why:

  • First of all, I don't write as well when my kids are home; I get distracted and feel a pull to be spending quality time with them at every turn even though I know they need their space.


  • Second, I liken it to when I'm trying to answer emails while I'm really into a show at the same time. I don't give either thing my full attention. My kids deserve my full attention at times, and my career deserves my full attention at times.


  • And third, if I don't separate the two and fully pursue my dream of wanting to be a successful writer, I wouldn't be able to be a good mother. I wouldn’t be fulfilled.

But as my kids have gotten older, their self-sufficiency has allowed me to live out my dream of doing something I love, and I’ve realized something:

When we have kids we make choices. Sometimes it’s putting a dream on the back burner, quitting a career we love in order to stay home, or having to go back to work for financial reasons even though we desperately want to be with them.

After I decided to stay at home when my oldest was born almost 16 years ago, there was a part of me that thought that would be it, and my career outside my home was over and I'd be a stay-at-home mother for the rest of my life. I was absolutely fine with that until I wasn't. It didn't feel like enough for me, and the guilt I'd feel every time I thought about taking time away from them to pursue a career stopped me.

But it wasn't just affecting me. It was spilling over onto my family and I realized if I didn't do something more I'd be giving them a less-than version of myself, which was the opposite of what I wanted. So I got back to work as a freelance writer.

Guess what? They’re OK with this—and it benefits them in some ways.

My teens don't want me to sacrifice something I've always wanted to do because I feel guilty about leaving them for half the day to get some work done when they are on vacation. They would much rather have a mom who is confident and calm because she put effort into herself, than one who is angry, exhausted, and resentful because she lets guilt win every time and somehow thinks she’s being a better parent because she's put herself aside for too long.

But I also realize the example I am setting for them. I am showing my kids the fulfillment that comes when you work really hard. I'm showing them it's possible to do something you love. I'm showing them to be an adult means you sometimes make sacrifices because you know the long-term investment will be worth it.

Driving down the road yesterday, thinking about my kids snuggled inside as the snow was swirling, I could feel a lump in my throat forming and I started to miss them even though I'd just seen them. I called my son to see if him and his brother and sister needed anything while I was out. He gave them their (very unhealthy) order and I told him I was going to get my work done so I could hurry home.

"Take your time, Mom. We will be here when you get back and if you don't finish it you are going to be too distracted," he said.

He was right, and his pep talk set me straight. My children know what makes me happy. While they are a huge part of that, they know writing for publications and working on a book that may or may not ever get published—despite the fact it takes me away from them—is another factor which contributes to me living my best life.

And when they are grown and gone, I am going to be so happy I took the time to do it, and they will be too.

I know I can't get that time back with my kids, but I also can't get the time back to invest in myself.