Today, Alissa started 7th grade. It was bittersweet for me. Not because of how quickly she’s growing, but because I have been fighting this feeling of failing her all summer long.
Many of you know that running your own business is a lot of work and a lot of uncertainty. Especially financially. This summer was a major departure from last summer for us, where I had a steady paycheck and I didn’t have to say “no” to pretty much everything, or scrape change together so she could have an afternoon at the pool with friends. It’s been something that I’ve struggled a lot with this season. My business is officially only four months old and while I’ve enjoyed the freedom that working for myself has provided, I haven’t loved the spotty income. I know this is only temporary, but for all of my adult life, I’ve managed to tie my feelings of worthiness to the sum total in my bank account.
We had big dreams for the summer. We were going to spend two months traveling and experiencing new things. We were going to find a new place to live and get Alissa a new dog. We were going to put together Alissa’s dream bedroom. We were going to do a lot of things.
And I failed to deliver on every single one of them. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I couldn’t afford to. And that killed me.
Last week, we went back to school shopping and Alissa had done a great job of getting the school supplies list organized so that we could find everything in the store easily because she knows just how much I loathe this necessary task. What she didn’t do, however, was take into account my limited budget when selecting her items.
When we started looking for the first item on her list–a box of markers–I noticed that she had chosen a set of $5.99 dual tip Crayolas and I panicked.
“Why do you need these markers?” I asked.
“Because then we don’t have to buy two sets of markers,” she replied. Her reasoning made sense, but not to my budget conscious brain.
“Well, two sets of markers at $0.99 each are still less than these fancy markers.”
“But then I have to have room for two sets of markers.”
She was great at justifying her selection. I was not great at being argued with. I said, “I can’t do this right now,” and left the cart with the lone pack of six dollar markers sitting in the middle of the aisle and walked out of the store.
I was more upset that I actually had to care about the fact that I couldn’t afford six dollar markers than the fact that I was arguing with a 12-year-old in public about markers. A year ago, she could have had all the six dollar markers she wanted.
This is the first year that she didn’t get a completely new outfit for the first day of school. I had bought her a new pair of sneakers last month, but getting a new outfit just wasn’t in the budget this month. I feel like the world’s worst mom because I couldn’t do our usual back to school shopping ritual this year.
I know, first world problems.
But the funny thing is, as much as I know that she cares that she didn’t get a brand new backpack or a brand new outfit this year, she was far more forgiving of me than I have been with myself about it.
I have been beating myself up for weeks because my business is still a little groundling and I’ve used up what little nest egg (aka our travel fund) I had been subsisting on to get us by. The child support that I was finally awarded back in March has been coming in so inconsistently, I have had to stop adding it to the budget. I feel like I’m failing my daughter, but I realized that I’m not. I’m actually showing her what it looks like to chase your dreams with unwavering confidence.
When she’s older, I hope that she’ll look back on this time of struggle as a positive stepping stone. One where she saw her mother commit to something so fiercely that she beams with pride when she tells others about it.
I’m learning to forgive myself for making the choice to start a business instead of finding a new job. Although this summer lacked the paycheck and the travel that I had anticipated, it did allow me to spend so many days with Alissa, and that time will be cherished forever.
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