The Labor of Leaving

Being a working mama isn’t easy. That guilt and sadness–that one that really gets ya when you’re on your way to work (to workplace, work trips, international and national, etc.)? It is brutal. Then, making sure things are set up at home to ensure family members have what they need to live their best lives while you’re gone is a lot of work. Between my partner and I, getting ready to leave for a 4-day trip to Montreal for my book talk, is a lot of tedious work and logistics. 

It takes a lot of labor to leave. My partner and I try to make it as easy as possible to take care of two young children while I’m gone. We’ve got quite a handful with kids at 4 and 1. With a parent down, we try to make sure the other’s presence is there by preparing the logistics before the trip. We set out clothes for the children’s wear daily, usually they correspond to stickers so that our kids know when Mama will be back. We shop for food and cook meals beforehand. We organize schedules to make sure both children are where you need to be for events, learning and childcare. We pack bags for lunches, snacks and diapers in advance so its easy to grab and go. We even put a Google doc together to make sure we’re literally on the same “page”.

I recount these details to demonstrate that it takes a lot to leave a family behind to be on this book tour. The work of keeping a family up and running is tedious whether you’re in proximity or not. It’s actually the very thing that I write about in The Labor of Care. That decisions to leave children and family behind isn’t an easy decision, emotionally, mentally, spritually, but its actually not easy to do it logistically either. That “mental load” that mothers carry, follows them transnationally and binds them to their family. If you’re a migrant mother, you are still organizing the little details of children’s lives and family members’ in your head. It doesn’t go away.

Funny, I understand that fact now, even more, as a mother. As a researcher, I got an inkling of what it meant to leave but I didn’t quite understand the gravity of it, until I had to leave my own children to work. Of course, my privilege and position as a professor touring a book around, is completely different from a migrant mother leaving her family for an indefinite amount of time. But the iota of recognition from my experience convinces me more than ever that family separation (through forced migration) should be resolved.

Work and holding down a family isn’t contradictory. But it sure ain’t easy either. For migrant parents, for single parents, for parents who don’t have the support of their partners, while working, a big shoutout to you. Much respect for holding down your homes on all fronts. What is in your labor of leaving?

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