published Sunday, March 9th, 2014

Fortune: The secret freedom of my 40s: the unsorry


by Mary Fortune

My friends and I do a lot of reading about careers, family, feminism and all the attendant cultural baggage. We're forever swapping links to articles in the Atlantic, Slate and the New York Times about leaning in and doing it all (a ubiquitous phrase I utterly despise).

Last week, an article I shared with a work colleague and fellow mom examined the special guilt reserved for mothers who worry they aren't doing enough at their kids' schools because work keeps them constantly at, you know, WORK. And as I hit "share," I had this exhilarating realization: I do not experience that guilt anymore. I absolutely do not feel it.

I've never been a room mother. I do not bake or craft. I'm a much more effective mom, wife and employee if I take my run rather than paint faces at the school carnival. Granted, I religiously do the truly important stuff -- parent conferences, year-end plays -- but I don't go to holiday parties and Valentine's exchanges, and I'm not in any way sorry.

It's relatively new, this unsorry. While I've always believed that my kids and I are better off without me in their school all the time, I was a little apologetic about that belief in years past. I can think of a time or two I've been guilted into attending something I really didn't have time to attend. I can recall a conversation or two when I hemmed and hawed about why I couldn't hand out cupcakes. I definitely remember wishing I wanted to do any of that stuff, suspecting I was a somehow inferior mommy because it all bores me completely out of my mind.

But that guilt doesn't happen now. I'm just not sorry. This is probably partly a symptom of my kids' ages -- they're 9 and 13. But it's probably also a symptom of my own age. I recently turned 42. My 40s have not proved a decade of mellowing. Instead, I confront every day the persistent disquiet that comes with understanding I won't have an unlimited amount of time to do all the things I want to do -- to change all the things I want to change -- coupled with the exhilarating realization that, if I use my time and energy wisely, I can probably get those things done.

Granted, I've never been what you'd call a people pleaser (I can hear my mother laughing at the breathtaking understatement there). But I've now been around long enough to understand that I'm my own toughest critic, and living up to my standards is a big enough job. It doesn't leave much time for worrying about other people's.

My kids are learning a lot from me about doing the important stuff well and making strategic choices about what that stuff is. They're carving out places in their lives that don't involve me, making choices without my influence. Preparing them to do those things is my greatest responsibility as a parent.

They've also learned to let me know what they want and need from me. If my boys ask me to come to something at school, I'll make it happen. They also know they can enjoy a holiday party without me handing them a cupcake.

And I can take my run without feeling even a little bit bad about that.

Contact Mary Fortune at thirtytensomething.blogspot.com.

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