Q: I am a wife, the mother of a 7-year-old daughter and a son, almost 3. I am employed part-time as a radiologic technologist.
I now have a chance to change my career to a sonographer (diagnostic medical ultrasound). To do this, I would need to attend a five-week training course in Philadelphia, which my husband supports. I would go in July, when child-care arrangements are easier.
How harmful would this separation be for my children? I realize people do this all the time but I haven't and I will put my children's mental health before my career.
Of course, if I go I would call home and write and the children would be cared for by the grandparents (all four) and by my husband, who works rotating shifts.
I should stress how important this opportunity is to me. It is something I've always planned to do and it won't cost me anything.
A: Of course you should go. You want to do it, your husband wants you to do it and you have a terrific back-up team for your children.
As families have gotten smaller and society more child-centered, parents have tended to overemphasize their routine responsibilities, as if their children didn't have any resources of their own.
This isn't true. As long as children feel loved and safe, they can handle all kinds of situations and grow and profit from them.
Your five-week absence should be an enriching experience for them as well as for you. They will miss you, certainly, but it will give them time to make special memories with their dad and their grandparents. This is how relationships are strengthened.
These relationships will also become more complex because everyone acts a little differently when a member of the household comes or goes. This just adds more flavor to the family broth.
Your children will probably discover that their dad can run the house almost as well as you, but that he'll be more permissive in one area, stricter in another. This will help them get to know him better.
They also will find that there is more to their grandparents than they realized and, as a consequence, will feel closer to them. They'll feel closer to you and your husband, too, because they'll hear more about the way you behaved as children. These stories always get some laughs.
While they're hearing about old memories and making new ones, you may feel left out and even resent it a little, but be consoled. By leaving your children with people they love, they will learn they can count on them even more than they thought. This is the power of the extended family. The stronger it is, the more children learn to trust others.
They also will learn to depend on themselves. The children who feel the least anxious and the most confident are those who are the most self-sufficient. Independence brings other rewards. According to Jean Piaget, the great observer of children, a child can never be a truly moral person until he is independent. He needs to make many choices and accept many consequences before he automatically does what is right.
Your children aren't the only ones who will benefit from your trip.
Motherhood is an immensely satisfying job but it isn't enough for a woman, any more than fatherhood is enough for a man. Children are fun, educational, delightful, charming and challenging but their prattle, as dear as it is, can turn your mind to mulch. Every parent needs some adult companionship and adult ideas to sharpen his or her mind. A little friction is the wellspring of creativity.
Like any adult, you need some daily, visible, reasonably permanent proof of work well done to feel good about yourself. Whether it comes from a project like gardening or sewing or painting or from volunteer work or a paid job, you have to have the pleasure that personal accomplishment brings.
You probably get quite a bit of satisfaction in your job now and you'll get even more in the one that's ahead. You owe it to yourself to keep growing professionally. Medical technology is moving so fast that you have to keep up with it or you'll lose some of the time and money you've invested.
Your children's mental health won't suffer if you go on this trip -- or make this career change -- but yours might if you don't. Your priorities have been right in the past, but now it's time to stretch and grow. Part-time work is still the best answer for most mothers of young children, if it's possible, but it should be the best, most interesting work you can get.
Motherhood is the longest temporary job in the world but it isn't the only one you'll have.
Questions may be sent to Family Almanac, P.O. Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.