A reader question about new mommy guilt and returning to work from maternity leave prompted a little roundtable discussion here at Working Moms Against Guilt.
Toni, I hope this helps. — Susan
“I have a 7-week-old baby and I am returning to work next week.”
“I feel extremely guilty about having to leave my child with someone else full time and I feel like he is going to look at her like his mother and barely even know me. I know I will never have dates with my husband or go to the gym for myself because I feel guilty enough working. My mom was a stay-at-home mom and I wish I could provide the same for my son. But I have a college degree, a career, and I am forced to work.
“I look forward to hearing back from you.”
What Reine says:
Thank you for writing us and congratulations on the new baby! I totally understand where you’re coming from. We’ve all been there, and when maternity leave winds down and we’re forced to leave our precious little ones in the care of another, we’re bombarded with a complex mix of emotions. I remember feeling everything from anxiety, to guilt to complete and total sadness.
These are all normal and you should allow yourself a little time to deal with these emotions … but then, you have to learn about how to cope once you’re in the workplace.
When I left my oldest child for the first time, I emailed myself videos of him and packed one of his used onesies in my laptop bag. Yes, I sniffed the onesie at random times during the day … and yes, I watched videos of him during my lunch time. It may seem a little obsessive, but it actually helped me cope with being away from him for those first few weeks. Once I got home, I got out of my work clothes and into my yoga pants as fast as I could, strapped him to my chest and kept him there until it was bath/bed time.
I felt like I needed every single moment of our time together to count.
Then, something weird happened.
Despite the fact that he was with another caregiver “full time,” he still knew I was mommy. He still reached for me and smiled widest when I walked into the room.
I never got used to the guilt, but I did learn how to work around it. As for dates with your husband–babies go to bed very early (or at least they should). I still struggle with the guilt of leaving my kids during those precious few hours we have in the afternoon and on weekends, so I suggest you employ my household technique: hire a babysitter (or recruit grandma) and go out for a later dinner. That way, your baby will never even know you’re gone!
We found a gym near our home that stays open until 10pm on week nights, so when my husband wants to go, he bathes and puts our youngest down since she goes to sleep at 7pm. After he’s through with his bathing duties, he goes to the gym for a good, 90 minute workout. I, on the other hand, invested in an elliptical (which is also a decent option if your baby still doesn’t have a set bed time).
Guilt is, unfortunately, a reality for all working mothers. Even if we love our jobs, we always love our kids more … which is why we simply have to find clever and unique ways to outwit that working mom guilt so that we can still maintain a happy and productive life!
Good luck, mama!
What Kathy says:
Guilt is always going to be a part of motherhood. Most of the time it will work against your efforts and tie you to things that don’t really matter. Other times, you may use it judiciously to encourage your husband or children to do what they should. You have to find a balance with what is normal (feeling guilty about leaving your child with another) and what is irrational (thinking your child will see the caregiver as mother….it’s just not going to happen. Even children of abusive mothers still have some explainable tie to mothers who abandoned, neglected or exploited them. I think it is part of our physical makeup. But your baby will always know, love and want you above all others…until they get too big to hold you had when you walk them to class.)
I let fear and guilt rob me of the joy of my baby. If only I had known my mind would eventually come back, my body is an acceptable version of what it used to be and no matter what, don’t Google every little symptom, sign or thought. It will drive you and your closest female friends/family nuts. You aren’t going to have time with your husband. You won’t want it for awhile. But, weather the storms, enjoy the moment and know you will eventually find each other again. This is just a season.
My son is now 8 years old. He started daycare at 6 weeks. He is an extremely intelligent, articulate, social child. I try to make a point to spend at least 30 minutes with only him. We eat every night as a family and have game night on Fridays and Taco Twano night on Tuesdays. My husband and I even manage some alone time together. Granted, it may be hanging out in my son’s tree house and listening to the night sounds or working in our garden, but we are together. The most important thing to realize is that none of this will last. The fear, guilt, joy, precious moments with your baby will be gone soon and all you can control is how you respond.
What Becky says:
I can totally understand how you are feeling. When my youngest child was born, she was a preemie and I was a single parent. I didn’t have the luxury of staying home and I had to take the first job that I could get after having her. I ended up taking a third shift factory job when she was about the same age as your baby. Not only did I have to leave her with someone during the night, but I also needed someone to watch her long enough for me to get some sleep too before my other kids got home from school. I felt incredibily guilty and had the same fear that she would think of her sitter as her mom instead of me. Surprisingly, that never happened. She always knew it was me when I got her. She never kept track of how long I was gone. And today, we are as close as ever!
I know that the guilt can consume you at times — so much so that you feel like you could never do things without your kids when you aren’t at work. But one thing I have learned is that if you are not good to yourself, you can’t be your best for your kids. And, in reality, kids like the change of environment as well. You have to take the time to do things for yourself and to keep your marriage healthy to have a happy family.
Be patient and take it one day at a time. You will have your days when it will be harder than others. You will have your days where you question everything. But, it does get easier and you learn to balance it. We are always here to talk to as well!
Good luck on your journey!
What Casey says:
Congratulations on becoming a mom and welcome to motherhood!
Guilt be gone! Working and providing for your family is something to be proud of and while your son may not understand at 7 weeks, he certainly will later in life. Plus, you have 18+ years to feel guilty about countless other things they will actually remember.
I promise, your son will know who mom is. And there are things you can do to get more time with him. Consider a childcare center close to your office. If you are breastfeeding they should allow you to come during your lunch hour and feed him (WARNING: This could back fire if he doesn’t transition well.). Also look into a center that has an online camera feature. This saved me when I put my first son in daycare. I was able to log in and be sure he was being cared for the way I wanted.
For a while, you may not have dates with your husband or time at the gym. And that won’t necessarily be a product of guilt. Parenthood changes everything (isn’t that a commercial?). I know several stay at home moms who don’t have that luxury either or that have guilt about not being around for their kids at bedtime. It doesn’t mean that you won’t get to do these things soon but for now I wouldn’t focus too much on that.
Also, don’t think so much about what you are missing out on by not being with him. Focus on what both you and he are gaining. You are going to get to go to the bathroom by yourself during the day – believe me, this is a HUGE luxury. You will get to have adult time. And come Monday, you may be ready to go back to work. I know it sounds horrible but spend a weekend with me and my 3 kids under 4 and you will know what I’m talking about. He will get to learn early about how to be patient, how to share and will likely have a curriculum from as young as 6 months old.
Be easy on yourself, momma! Do the best you can with what you have. It sounds to me like he is a very lucky little boy to have a mom who has the ability to provide for him and who is so concerned about his welfare. Consider being just as concerned about your own welfare and let the guilt subside.
Best to you and your family!
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