In the Best Interest of the Child
Tillie Olsen’s story, “I Stand Here Ironing,” describes the difficulties in single parenting during the depression. Absent of the time period, this story can still be related to today’s society. Most homes today have both parents in the work place and the mother-child bond is cut short. The mother-child bond is an important part of nurturing a child but is becoming a rushed part of the child’s growing process. Mothers are going back to their careers soon after the child is born. Some mothers go back because there is a need for them to go back and others do not want to lose their positions they work so hard to get. The situation worsens for single mothers who have the burden of being not only mother but father too. The decisions that have to be made are made alone. These decisions, which are supposedly made in the best interest of the child, sometimes back fires or worsen a situation. The story also portrays the guilt a mother feels when it seems she has not done right by her decision for the child.
When I read Olsen’s story, I was transferred back to the time when I gave birth to my daughter. The mother in the story believed that her child was “The first and only one of our five that was beautiful at birth”. I too believed my daughter was the most beautiful baby in the world. I can only attribute this to mother’s pride, but I really felt that way because of the fact I loved her so much. I remember when the nurse showed me my daughter for the first time. My daughter was crying. I too was crying because I could not believe what a beautiful child I had created. I whispered to her not to cry because she had nothing to worry about, mommy was there.
My first big decision was to have my daughter after she was conceived out of wedlock, a decision I will never regret. My daughter’s father and I decided to marry, a decision I do regret. We then decided that I would stay home and care for our daughter, but after five months of living very tight from pay check to pay check, we decided that I would return to work and this is where my mother-child bonding was severed. I was scared at first as I heard horror stories about day care centers and baby sitters. The mother in the story seemed to be reluctant to leave her daughter at a sitter: “She was a miracle to me, but when she was eight months old I had to leave her daytimes with the woman downstairs to whom she was no miracle at all”. I was much more fortunate than the mother in the story. I was able to drop my daughter off at an on-site nursery. She was one of many little miracles. I was there when she took her first step and when her first word was spoken. Working mothers lose out on all the firsts in a child’s life. These are the times that mothers should be with their children to give praise and comfort when it is needed. I was told by some of the caregivers at the nursery that I was the only mother working there that stopped by to see her child during the day. Maybe I was young or just because she was my first that I felt like I should have been there for everything in her life.
Again, I was fortunate because the women at the nursery would call me down from my office to see my daughter’s new achievements. I wasn’t there when my daughter too her first serious fall, though. She had just learned to walk up and down stairs. She was better climbing up than down. I watched terrified from my office window across the courtyard. I was unable to yell out or even be there to break the fall. She went head first onto the concrete sidewalk. The guilt I suffered because I was not there was incredible. There was the time she had gotten a very bad stomach virus. I blamed myself because if I didn’t have to work and have to put her in daycare she would not have gotten sick, which is not the truth because she would have gotten sick that time or another time, like when she started school. But my guilt was still there.
There was a time my mother took over the child care of my daughter while I worked. I missed more of her growing up. My daughter started losing her teeth and had gotten chicken pox and I wasn’t around to comfort her. Just as the mother in Olsen’s story, I worked to survive and give my child the best of what she needed but what she needed was me.
I had divorced my daughter’s father when she was five years old. To make ends meet, I worked two jobs and I went to school one night a week to better myself. I spent less time with her. When the mother in the story would leave her child, she would say, “Can you go some other time, Mommy, like tomorrow? Will it be just a little while you’ll be gone? Do you promise?” I could hear my own daughter’s voice speak those words as I would leave for my night job and I could add, “Why “can’t I go with you, Mommy? and “Why is it only for big people?” I felt like I was lying to her but it was only my guilt. I would often wonder why I was leaving her to go to some crummy part-time job. Then I would pass by the night stand where all the unpaid bills lay and know it was that crummy night job or we would both be on the street. I could have gotten welfare but I was able to work and I also did not want to get caught in the system. I would just struggle a while until something better came along. It is very hard being a single mother and having to run the household, to make a living and take care of a child. There are single mothers out in the world who have more than one child and work and I commend them because I know what it is like with the one child.
As my daughter had gotten older, she understood our dilemma but with the independence came coolness to her. The child in Olsen’s story also became cool toward her mother, “I get up and go to her at once at her moan or restless stirring. ‘Are you awake Emily? Can I get you something?’ And the answer is always the same: ‘No, I’m all right, go back to sleep Mother.’” My daughter was not completely independent of me but she only depended on me for the bare necessities (shelter, clothing and food). I never left her home alone. I thought she was too young to be left home alone. It was just a matter of time before she would spend less time with me.
In my guilt of not being there with her, I would buy her anything she wanted, although it usually meant taking it out of the household money. My ex-mother-in-law called this ‘mother’s guilt syndrome’, which she read about in one of those ladies’ magazines. She suggested that I should find another way to suppress my guilt. I made another decision that worked; I had quit my night job. I also took my daughter to school with me. I tried to spend every minute possible with my daughter. We would travel to place that she was interested in.
The mother in Olsen’s story said, “Now when it is too late”, I hoped it was not too late for my daughter and I. The mother in the story sounded as if she gave up. I knew that I still had a chance to save my relationship with my daughter. When one gives up it only makes the problem worse and I want to be there for my daughter when her life gets tough.
When my daughter has a problem, I want her to come to me, not her grandparents or strangers. Through the years she had become accustomed to going to her grandparents instead of me when she had a problem. This was the hardest obstacle I had to face. I know they played a bigger role in her life than I had in the beginning of her life, but I wanted that to change. I have worked hard on this problem and now that she is an adult it has changed.
My daughter is now twenty-five years old; she has graduated high school, served in the Army Reserves serving time in Iraq and graduated college. And I was there for her and I am still there. I had not giving up on my daughter. I worked as hard on our relationship as I would have to make money or getting my own degree. It was worth get back the mother-child bond.