To my friends who are mothers who work professionally full time (or more than full time), and often must leave their children:
I have told this story before many times in various ways on various comment sections on various working mothers' blogs, so I apologize if you have heard this before, but it I think it bears repeating.
When I was a poor college student putting myself through school, one of my three jobs was being a part-time nanny, for several years, for a busy professional couple with two little girls. The girls' mother, who loved her children deeply, was a professional writer and small business owner. She sometimes worked from home in her office while I watched the kids, but sometimes her business meant she had to leave, for hours, or for whole days at a time.
When the girls' mother had to leave for work, sometimes, they would cry. They would throw their arms around her and beg her not to leave. As they got older, and could articulate their feelings, they would say things like, "Don't leave me Mommy! You leave too much! I miss you when you're gone."
I could see the guilt and longing in their mother's eyes, on those days, as I pulled her tearful, clinging children away, and she walked out the door to the sounds of their sobs. Not yet having a child of my own, I did not then understand her pain as fully as I do now, but so I could sense that these moments weighed on her — that echoes of her daughters' cries would linger somewhere in a corner of her mind all day.
Five or ten minutes after she left, the kids would recover completely, and start laughing and playing with me just as they did on the days when their mother was in the next room.
Sometimes, the older girl would get out a box and pretend to type on it as if it were a computer.
"I'm a Mommy. I'm working," she would say. "I'm a writer writing things."
And that little girl would sound so proud.
Your children miss you when you cannot be with them. Of course they do. And they miss their Dad when he isn't around (or their other Mom, or their Grandma). And when they're home alone with you, I bet they miss their favorite babysitters and teachers, too. All kids would prefer to have all of their favorite people available 24 hours a day, to be summoned or dismissed at childish whim.
But they love you, the whole of you, more than anything, and even at an early age, they understand that your career — your drive to create things of value with your skills and your mind, not just at home, but out in the wider world — is part of who you are.
And because they know that about you, they also know that one day they can also be great parents AND great workers. They are the girls who will play games of "Office" alongside their games of "House." They are the boys who will see no problem with Daddies who push strollers or Mommies who get invited to speak at conferences.
And they will be women and men who, one day, I hope, will come to understand how you felt (how I've sometimes felt, too) about having to walk out the door on those certain hard days, as your children cried. Who will realize that even on those days you walked away, you were doing it, as you did everything, for them — to support them, to build a better life for them, to change the world, for them.
And I do not think they will hold those times against you.