When Mom Goes Back to School

I took a leave of absence from work at the beginning of this year to spend more time with my son, then 8 years old. Work had been very stressful for a long time, with long hours and lots of overseas travel and the associated jet lag – which made me as mentally absent upon my return home as I had been physically absent during my trip.

One evening, when I was thinking about applying for leave, I asked my son about the idea during our bedtime cuddles. “So, sweetie, what would you think if, maybe, mommy didn’t work for a while….would you like that?” I said. His response, after a moment of consideration, surprised me. “No, I wouldn’t like that,” he said. Hmmph! What gratitude! Why was I even thinking of this??…But then, with a sly grin, he burst out with, “I would LOVE THAT!!!!!” That response – including his cute, sneaky delivery – made a real impact on me.

Despite my desire to be with him, I also wanted to use the time off for other purposes – and knew I would need other stimulation. Through my work over the previous few years implementing diabetes education programs, I had developed an interest in helping to improve the health of communities and was seriously considering going back to school to do a Masters degree in Public Health. During the spring I sought input from various colleagues and friends and talked it over with my husband – and I decided to apply.

During summer break I took my son to Chicago for a week of fun, sightseeing and mother-son bonding. But it was also a chance for me to connect with some colleagues located there, who I worked with on the diabetes program – one of whom acted as a reference for my graduate school application. Over dinner at the Rainforest Café (have to keep the kids engaged!), we talked about my potential renewed academic career, especially as my friend was an experienced healthcare professional. Well, what is the saying about little ears???

I found out on the drive back to our hotel that in all my planning for school, I had neglected to mention anything of the idea to my son. I hadn’t realized. How could that have been the case? Why didn’t it occur to me to involve him…at least to confer with him as I had when deciding whether to apply for leave from work? Well, I suppose I didn’t think he’d really care, or really “get” it. Much of the academic work would take place during the day while he was at school, and the program offered the option to go part-time, which I was strongly considering. At any rate, I realized I hadn’t told him – and I paid for that…

In the absence of a prepared and controlled delivery of the information, his imagination had taken control. His reaction in the car essentially went like this (imagine the panicked/frenetic tone of an eight-year-old boy):

“You’re going back to school??? Why? Who said? I don’t want you to go back to school. Have you talked to Dad about this? Isn’t this something the family should decide? What if Nelson and Fiona don’t want you to go? [Note: Nelson and Fiona are our DOGS!]

“No you can’t go back to school. You’ll never be around. You’ll be gone all the time. I’ll never see you. I’ll be stuck with Dad! [Sorry honey!] You took time off from work to spend with ME!”

Nothing I said had any impact. He was inconsolable. And he was determined. It was a short drive back to the hotel, and when we arrived he was off like a shot, the card-key to our room in his hand (it had become a little family ritual that when we stayed in hotels, Elliott got to carry one of the room keys and be the one to open the door). When I got to our room and knocked on the door, he wouldn’t let me in directly. He had the door on the security latch so it opened only a little and, before he would let me in, he insisted that I had to pinkie-swear that I wouldn’t go back to school! Well I started to lay down the law, but he was quite upset, even a little hysterical, so in the end I did pinkie-swear…oh boy!

When we got back home a couple of days later, we sat down as a family and talked about the situation. I told him I was going to school – I had received my acceptance by then – but that spending time with him was still a top priority, so I would do what I could to manage my schedule, and we would see how it went. He was eventually fine with the situation, especially once he knew more about what my going back to school meant (i.e. I wouldn’t be moving to a dorm like our college-babysitter!). But it was a good lesson for me. Kids are people all their own. It’s not possible to know what’s going on in their heads and how they might view new developments in the family….so it’s important to communicate with them early when changes might be happening. It also gave me some insight into how much he had been affected by my frequent and protracted business trips. It gave me additional reassurance that taking time off to be with him was the right thing to do, despite whatever issues it might create down the road for my career.

So, fast forward a couple of months and I’m now in classes – writing research papers and studying for tests – and things are generally working out fine at home. Plus I’m getting lots of material for future posts on health and safety! But more on that later…

About the Author

Audra is an experienced pharmaceutical marketing professional, aspiring writer, and mother of Elliott, a high-spirited twenty-year old. Frequently tired but never bored, she has a strong interest in public health fostered by numerous years implementing global oncology education programs as well as by her twenty-year crazy (wild? amazing?) adventure in parenting. She recently earned a Masters in Public Health to augment her expertise in health policy and health promotion. Audra is a founding member of the PedSafe Team


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