a walk down mommy guilt lane

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The caption reads: This face makes being a working mom so hard sometimes #motherhood #mommyguilt

I was grinning ear-to-ear, pushing the kids in the double buggy and Luis was behind me, walking Rocco when we ran into our neighbor and her dog on a cool July evening earlier this week. Though we had met the neighbor’s husband a couple times, we hadn’t met her yet. After exchanging pleasantries, chit-chatting about the unusually cold summer (#puremichigan), and telling us how adorable the kids are, she asked if I worked, her eyes darting from the two squealing babes in the stroller to me — beaming with pride behind them.

But with her question, my face fell. I found myself heaving a guilt-ridden sigh. And then choking back tears as she shot me a knowing glance and told me how she stayed home with her kids when they were small. How she has no regrets. How it wasn’t easy, but it was the right choice for her.

It’s a conversation like this that explains why I question myself every.single.day.  I don’t know it’s the “right” choice for me to work — but it’s my reality at the moment.

I have shared here plenty of times that don’t believe in the mommy wars and don’t believe in pitting women’s choices (out of necessity or otherwise) against one another. I have friends that work for various reasons, and friends that don’t, for various reasons. There’s no right or wrong; only what works for you and your family. And even though I question myself, I know the grass isn’t always greener on the other side: both working moms and stay at home moms face their own set of challenges.

So I think that’s why this neighbor’s comment — and eyes filled with sadness bordering pity as she looked at my beautiful babes — really struck a chord.

It struck a chord because though I miss them enormously during the day, I don’t feel bad for my kids. They’re in an amazing learn-and-play environment where they are both loved and adored in ways I could only dream. (And there’s a webcam which lets me get glimpses into their days).

It struck a chord because though I wish it was me teaching them every single thing they know (and I’m blown away constantly), they are learning so much every day. If I can’t be the one to teach them all the know, there’s nowhere I’d rather them be.

And it struck a chord because though I say this is my reality at the moment — and it is — it doesn’t mean I don’t feel enormous guilt. I miss things — milestones and little things. I’m lucky to work close so I can make it to class parties and that I have a little girl who likes to share classroom gossip and tell me allllllll about her day — it helps me feel connected — but I still miss a lot. I’m away from my kids more hours a day than I’m with them, and that’s a tough pill to swallow.

Mommy guilt is the worst. And I think moms feel it no matter what they do — work or stay home.

I work for several reasons — financial being just one of many — and so I’ve tried to find ways to maximize the time we have and focus on quality over quantity (which is tough with a sassy 3-year old who generally earns herself a time out a couple times a week). Behavior challenges aside, this means our evenings are sacred now — more so than ever before. It’s a whirlwind rush of play, dinner, baths, books and bed … but those couple of hours are sacred.

So as long as I don’t have a critical deadline to meet, I leave work by 5:15 most days — and if I still have work to do, I just do it at home when the kids are asleep. I know some people might judge me for leaving when I do (I work in an industry where people routinely log ridiculous hours and everyone’s always busy — always, always, always), but here’s my take on it: I have a totally different role than most people at my company … and I get my work done. My kids are only young once, and it’s bad enough I’m away from them all day … So I’m not missing evening time with them if I can help it. I realize this means I might not get ahead and that’s OK. I have two little people who look up to me and who believe in my value; who reinforce it to me every single day, even when I doubt myself.

So for them, I try to focus on the quality of the time we have and make the most of it. Last night that meant skipping Ben’s bath in favor of a family walk (OK, so he really didn’t need a bath — I just like bathing him every day because he looooooves the water!). Tonight it meant leftovers so we could have extra playtime before we ate. We’re still figuring this whole working-parents-of-two-kids thing out, and we’re far from perfect — but we’re navigating.

I think what also struck a chord from this run-in with our neighbor — and I didn’t realize til after we got home and I’d had time to process it — was that that 20 minutes we spent chit-chatting with our neighbor was 20 minutes I wasn’t focused on my kids.

And though she was sweet and I know she meant well in her question, that run-in turned my smile upside-down. Prior to that walk,  I’d been in a great mood, happy to be with my babies and enjoying the evening … and in an instant, I felt defeated. Confused. Upset.

That’s why mommy guilt is so hard. Even when you’re feeling OK about your choices … something triggers negative feelings and self-doubt. Of course, I can choose how I react to it and that’s why I choose to write — to explore my feelings about why this particular run-in felt so monumental. But it’s hard.

All of it … it’s hard.

How about you? Do you feel mommy guilt? Is it brought on by others or self-imposed?

 

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4 thoughts on “a walk down mommy guilt lane

  1. I stay at home with my little 5 month old and funnily I feel guilty that I get to be the one to see those ‘moments’ while my husband misses out. If we both missed out, maybe I wouldn’t feel so bad! Ha ha 😛 Ah!The age old debate of stay at home vs working mum. If only all the world could just be nice. Not judge other peoples choices. Maybe then Mummy guilt wouldn’t even exist. I look forward to that day 🙂 x

  2. I wonder why she felt she had to tell you how that was the right choice for her. Was she elbowing into the Mommy War or was she feeling immediately defensive, as though she thought you were judging her… (I’m sure you don’t know.)

    Guilt aside (which I have, esp right now bc Nate is going through a rough patch and cried EVERY morning when I drop him off at daycamp the past two weeks – something he’s NEVER done before)… I just think this whole thing gets so boring.

    I read once how other countries think it’s so boring that Americans always ask, “What do you do?” as an introductory conversation because, to others, what we do for a living is one of the least interesting things about us. But to Americans, your work defines who you are in many ways. And in a similar way, parenting (especially as moms) is made to define us and it’s exhausting and, frankly, not all that interesting. Imagine if you never got asked that question again and for the rest of your life you could feel as happy as you did on that walk before you bumped into her.

    I think it’s good for friends to hash these things out – you need an outlet to say, “I feel guilty working sometimes, but totally not guilty a lot of the time” without judgment. I haven’t run into it a lot yet b/c Nate hasn’t been in daycare, but that’s going to change and I know once he’s in elementary school, there will be a ton of, “I’m sorry, I can’t help with that event because I have to work.” I know I just have to try and keep a thick skin and remember that what we do for our family is our business.

    1. Oh I have no clue — I don’t think she was saying it to be mean, maybe just saying how it was the right choice for her — I don’t think it was intended to rub it in (maybe she had questioned her choice to stay home when she did? She has kids in h.s. and college now and works). It was just the look she gave me — like pity (not in a mean way, just like a “such a shame you can’t stay home with these beautiful kids every day”) which only feeds into my guilt because though I DO miss them 1) I like working 2) I love my job and 3) I have a master’s degree I’d feel bad about not using. After reading Lean In, I’ve come to terms with the fact that if I did, indeed, step away for a couple years, I’d probably come to resent/regret it later if I lost my position or something as a result. But that’s something I’m making a conscious choice about. I don’t think when my mom chose to stay home and raise us she realized how hard re-entering the work force would be. Now we know; it can really damage a career path (if that’s what one wants). For me, it’s less about career path and more about maintaining a status quo — a lifestyle, etc.

      You are SO right; it’s such an American thing to define ourselves by our work and it IS boring. And the mommy wars are boring. I do think it’s just hard, all of it. YES–“what we do for our family is our business.” Amen.

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