One hectic afternoon at work, a friend pressed a card in my hand that said: “At work you think of the children you left at home. At home, you think of the work you’ve left unfinished.” It was a quote from Golda Meir, and in two sentences, it had described the turmoil I’ve felt for the past 12 years.
I should have seen the signs years ago. My son, Ulric, was born in 1996. The next day, while breastfeeding my newborn and drowning in post partum stress, I sobbed, “My time will never be mine!”
Cut to 2007. As an editor for Cosmopolitan Philippines, I was logging in 12-hour workdays and loving it. Every month, I churned out self-help articles and readers raved about how I helped changed their lives. Meanwhile, my 11-year-old son was failing math. He was alarmingly attached to his yaya and addicted to toys, TV, and computer games. When I saw “No assignment in Filipino” in his school diary for the fifth time in a row, I knew something was wrong. I felt sick with guilt, so I hired a tutor and foolishly assumed the problem would solve itself.
When my husband was offered a job in Singapore, my first instinct was to stay. But God has a strange way of giving you what you need—not necessarily what you want. One day, I just woke up and realized the real score: My son needed my help. Anyone could replace me as an editor in a magazine, but no one could take my place as mother to Ulric.
I got sucked in the I-am-my-job myth and deluded myself into thinking that I had it all—a family and a career. The guilt I’d been feeling all this time was the knowledge that someone was bound to get the short end of the stick in all this. Finally, I was faced with the greatest irony of my life: The one who mattered most to me was the most lugi of them all. What use was changing readers’ lives when I could not even make a difference in my son’s life? What was I thinking?
Don’t beat up yourself so much, a colleague urged as I submitted my resignation letter. I wasn’t. I was doing this for me. “Grieve,” my best friend told me. “It’s not easy letting go of a dream.” It had been my dream to have a great career in publishing. But I had another dream: to live a balanced life, to love and be loved by my family, and to see my son grow up learning to value the real things that matter. I had a second chance. After 12 years, I was ready for motherhood.
Success, as peddled by society, meant simultaneously having a family, a well-paying job, and a nice home—coupled with an amazing ability to preserve one’s looks. Meanwhile, Ralph Waldo Emerson has his own definition of success: To “leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a rescued soul, a garden path or a redeemed social condition.” If only the rest of the world saw success that way, too—because, in that case, I am about to succeed.
(First published as “A Second Chance” in the Blessings section of Good Housekeeping Philippines’ May 2007 issue; adapted for use in Female Network. Photo by Piers Nye via Flickr Creative Commons; used for illustrative purposes only.)