Here’s a question we recently received from a new reader, followed by our totally non-expert answers:
I honestly found your blog because I googled “guilt” and “working mom”. I’m a recently-back-to-work first time mom and I’ve been feeling incredibly guilty lately that I’m really enjoying being back at work. Yes, it’s a financial necessity, but on the other hand – I just can’t imagine how bored I would be if I stayed at home all day now with my 5-month old.
Why do I feel like this makes me a bad mother? Just throwing it out there….
Thanks for making me feel not so alone…..
As women, we’re programmed from an early age with certain ideas of what “good mothers” are like. Most of us are taught that good mothers want to be with their children all the time, and have no other priorities in life but their children. We’re told that work is sometimes a necessary evil, but we should want to stay home and dedicate our lives to kids (even if we can’t afford to). After 20+ years of that programming, when we actually become mothers, reality clashes with our preconceived ideas of motherhood.
The truth is, many of us aren’t cut out to stay home full-time with our kids. We need a job or volunteer gig or something outside the home to stay sane, happy, whatever. What’s so terrible about that?
I don’t think we were really “meant” to be solely dedicated to parenthood anyway. In the olden days, kid duties were shared with grandmas, siblings, neighbors, friends, while moms worked in the field or kitchen or wherever. I feel like it’s perfectly natural and good to get help with raising your kids, while you enjoy other activities (including work). I know it’s good for me, and I believe it’s good for my kids, too.
I don’t have much advice, only commiseration because I feel like I’ve seen this issue from nearly every side. When I had my first daughter, I worked in a 9-5 office and sent her to daycare after 6 weeks. Guilt. My job also entailed a lot of travel. More guilt – especially because I got to stay in nice hotels and eat at fancy restaurants and pretty much enjoy time off from being a mom. Here’s one thing that helped assuage the guilt, though: my husband was in school and my paycheck helped ensure that our child would enjoy food, shelter and warm clothing.
When my daughter was a year and a half, I started freelancing. It took a couple of months for things to take off, so I got to spend a lot of time alone with her. Yes, I loved it, but I also found taking care of a child all day to be exhausting. I remember looking forward to Sesame Street or packing her up and going to my sister’s house just to ease the monotony. Guess what? I felt guilt. Why didn’t I enjoy this more? Spending more time with my children was a huge reason I’d wanted to freelance in the first place.
Now I have a flexible, work-from-home job that often lets me set my own schedule and allows me even more time to be a mom. I STILL feel guilty. I feel guilty if I steal an afternoon to take my daughters to the park while checking email on my phone. I feel guilty if I can’t play because I have to finish a project. Most recently, my husband got laid off (thanks a lot, economy!!) and I’ve been working even more to keep our finances in order. Guess what? I feel guilty because now HE’s home with the kids, and while I know he adores the girls and I like the idea of my newborn being cared for by her Daddy, I realize what a huge job full-time childcare can be. I don’t want him to feel like losing his job=instant nanny duty.
So what’s the answer? I guess my take is that there will ALWAYS be something to make you feel like a bad mother. When they’re older, I fully expect my daughters to find some reason why I let them down or didn’t do my best or wasn’t a good mom (negative, yes, but I know only a handful of people who don’t have some sort of gripe with their mothers). I’m willing to bet it will have little to do with my work situation and more to do with how I forced my 5-year-old to take ballet or didn’t buy her those Zou Zou Pets she wants so bad right now.
So I try and cut myself some slack. I figure I’ll be getting a guilt trip from my kids, with a little help from society, for the next 20 years or so. I don’t need to be heaping it on myself, as well.
I could go on and on and ON, but I won’t. Or maybe I will. Bear with me while I work through this.
Instead, I’ll repeat some ancedotes that I’ve heard from various people that help me when I’m trying to battle the big “G.” For some, work makes them a better, more-focused, well-rounded parent. You know that you aren’t around during the day, so the time you do have with your child, you spend it focused on said child. I know that’s the case with me. Because I have those eight hours at work, I try to enjoy every minute I have at home with him.
In short, because I still am not sure where I’m going with this, I’ll say: happy mom equals happy baby. Even at the newborn stage, I noticed when I was stressed out, my kid cried a lot more. Do the things that will make you happy, and your child will be happy, too. Try not to let it get you down.