A reader (“L”) recently wrote in with this all-too-common working mom’s conundrum:
I am a working mom of 2 boys, ages 18 months and 4. When I became a mom I knew this “working outside the home” path I was on was not going to be all right in my book.
I had a breakdown today. My little guy had a fever of 103 degrees. And all he wanted was ME. And I had to go to WORK.
So my husband typically gets the privilege of staying home with our kids when one is ill because he has much more flexibility with his job. And I left my little one today, knowing that he just wanted mommy. And I cried the whole way to work, I cried when I got to work, I cried at lunch, and I cried on the way home, and when I got home.
I don’t know how much more mom guilt I can take. When I am home, I feel like I have no time with them. It’s constant laundry, cleaning, cooking.
My husband does help, when prompted I feel like I am falling apart everywhere.
I am not good at my job, not good a being a mommy, and not good a being a wife. And to make matters worse, I am starting to resent my husband for it. Like if he made more money I could stay home or drop to part time. Sigh.
How do I get through this? Everyday, it’s getting worse. There are days I just want to stay home and wash my hands of this, just quit my job. I hate feeling this way. I feel like I am going to look back in 15 years and regret everything I am doing, not being home with them, not seeing them grow up, not being there for cuddles when they are sick or had a bad day at school. How can I get over this? Thanks for listening.
Is there a working mom who hasn’t felt this way at some point? My guess is no.
Unfortunately, the way our society and culture currently operate, many working moms end up being pulled in all directions and feeling like we’re doing a crap job at the lot of it. It sucks.
With that out of the way, what can “L” do? What can we say to help her in the midst of this awful situation?
Crying when your baby needs you is good, I think. It is hard but it reminds you (as if we need it) how much these little boogers mean to us.
For me, everything changed when the youngest turned 3. Having an 18-month-old child is so, so hard. I think we quickly forget it. Trying to remind yourself that this is just a phase, it will get better (in another 18 months it will be much better!).
It also took me a long time to lower my expectations for myself. No one in my house cared how clean it was except me. No one cared if I cooked the meals or made “a feast” as my kids call it of apples, cheese, ham, and pieces of veggies, except me. I do laundry and leave it in baskets — because no one cares but me.
My oldest, soon 8, is now able to help more. And I know that in 2 more years all three will be helping. In the meantime, “good enough” is my motto. Women put too much pressure on themselves. My focus has shifted to fun and happy mommy and family. And we are much happier. We have a messy house for the next few years and now, I don’t care either. I focus on the fleeting nature of childhood and focus all the energy after work on that. Good luck. It WILL get better.
My mantra is “Perfect is the enemy of good enough.” It is so true – striving for perfection makes good enough seem horrible when it is actually just as it sounds – GOOD. ENOUGH. Also, I try to remember the adage of “The days are long, but the years are short.” These difficult baby/toddler years will soon be replaces with the difficult tween/teen years and I know I will miss the snuggles and kisses. I will miss feeling so needed.
I don’t think any of us will look back with regret if we are doing what our family needs us to do. But we might regret the time we spent feeling guilty about not doing enough or being enough…when the reality is that in the eyes of our children we are more than enough.
Our kids feel our emotions, they feed off of our energy. I grew up in a house where my mom stayed home with us for several years, and then went back to work as a high school teacher for several years. I have no strong memories – good or bad – between the years she worked vs the years she stayed home with us.
I can remember distinctly the one year she taught at a school where she was unhappy. I remember her stress, her anxiety, the overwhelming pressure she put on herself to make it work. I remember her temper being shorter, her laughter being scarce, and her smile being gone. Let go of the feelings of guilt and resentment and try to focus on being in the moment with your kids. Try to have fun, ease up on your expectations for yourself, ask for help. Remember above all your kids want a happy mom, not a “perfect” mom or a clean house.
Lastly, as it relates to your son crying for you and wanting you, we can all relate to that. It’s such an overwhelming and powerful feeling to be needed by our kids. Our cave-woman-like instincts kick in when our little ones need us and it can trigger some really strong emotions (as you’ve shared). That’s totally normal.
That said, kids are fickle little suckers. My daughter will cry for my husband when he travels for work, but the next day when he comes home she will barely stop playing to acknowledge him. She will reach for me and cry one day, and cry for daddy/grandma/grandpa/her stuffed giraffe/day-care provider the next. Rest assured, your son is at home with a someone who loves him and cares for him. Whether that’s you, or your husband, or another trusted adult…he will be fine. Chances are he would have cried for someone or something else had you stayed home with him.
I am reading this email and all the responses while sitting in my car in the parking lot of my kids’ pediatrician. I just left work during a state exam because my baby girl has a fever. I have all the torrid emotions of angst, guilt, my husband couldn’t go, I suck at life, whatever they may be. There will be days like this. It will never be perfect but it will get done – or not done – with love.
Kids read us adults and know when we are evading them. Staying true to yourself is the best thing we can do for them. You are not alone. Cry it out but do not blame yourself for anything. We are all in this! I can only respond now bc I screwed up Charlee’s appointment time and don’t want to wait in the germ infested waiting room!!
I hope you find comfort in the wisdom and support of working moms like us. Being the parent of two young children is hard work. And working at a full-time job on top of that? Sometimes, it almost feels impossible. Yet we do it, and we keep going.
The ones who get the most help seem to fare the best, so by all means, ask for help. Hire it, if need be. You can’t be your best at home or work if you’re scrambling to “do it all.” Pick and choose what matters to you, and get as much assistance as you can. We are rooting for you, L!
Do you have any words of wisdom for working mamas who feel like their dropping all the balls? I hope you’ll share them in the comments.