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?