Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mom Guilt

You know it, you've felt it. You can't get away from it. I don't know of any mom who hasn't experienced Mom Guilt at some point in her parenting career - me included.

And I'm one of the lucky ones.

Whenever I feel as if I'm dissing my parental duties (note: these are completely different than the  areas I'm backing off of from my last post), I think about the moms who really have it rough. The unemployed moms who can't provide at all for their kids. The moms who have to work two and three jobs in order to make ends meet. The moms with health problems or the moms taking care of other family members with health problems. Pretty much any mom whose "momness" balance is so upset that the ratio of parenting to everything else is ridiculously skewed.

I can't imagine how they feel.

I was a stay-at-home mom for about seven years. Not necessarily by choice - but I'm thankful I got to do it. I wondered if I would have what it takes to stay home all day long with kids. With a husband in the military and an odd work schedule to boot, my employment outside the home just wasn't in the cards. And as much as I someday wanted to have a career, I wasn't planning on getting divorced and being shoved back into the workforce wondering what my 5 and 9 year old were going to do outside the hours of school. And holidays. And breaks. And summer.

But I digress.

As a SAHM, there wasn't much guilt. Only the pressure to perform. To take that SAHM job description to the next level. To be America's Next Top PTC Mom. To make all the birthday cakes from scratch - using diagrams found on the internet and lots of fondant. To schedule playdates and educational outings and play games that would stimulate their physical and mental growth. To limit TV and other electronics and make sure that they had enough outside time. To cook nutritional meals, provide healthy snacks, and read at least 30 minutes a day to them. I rarely had a babysitter, and if I did, it was family.

I loved having a career, and I missed having a career. But when I first went back, it wasn't quite the same. I didn't feel as focused; as driven. My kids were always in the back of my mind. Were they OK? Did I pack their lunch? Did they finish their homework? Were those just sniffles or the first signs of something worse? Was whoever taking care of them making sure they were safe? And entertained yet educated? And more importantly, did they wonder where I was? I was careful not to take on too much work. Or to be too outgoing or share too many ideas that may lead to some kind of career progression. I wanted to work, then be done and go home. My two lives just didn't play well together.

But I was lucky. Number One, that I got a job in my profession (writing), and Number Two, that my profession can be done, in part, at home. So I didn't have to be gone as much as many career moms. But my kids were spoiled by having a SAHM, and the summer days they had to go to camp ("WE HATE CAMP!") instead of spending lazy days by the pool with their friends, made me feel very torn.

As they've gotten older, it's become a little easier - probably because it's become more routine. And as they grow more responsible and self-sufficient, I have been able to settle in better to that career mode from long ago. I absolutely love my job and the people with whom I work. And I'm starting to get that itch. That itch to have my career back, instead of just a job that I go to for a few hours a day while my kids are at school. I'm starting to be able to dive in to work and (I admit) not think about my kids until it's time to go pick them up, unless there is that dreaded call from the school office. I'm starting to have ideas. To wonder how I'm going to grow in this job. To take a vested interest in where I'm working.

Then there are days like the past few, where work has been crazy, and it's been necessary to put in more hours than my kids are used to. And the guilt creeps back in. Grandparents and friends have to be called at the last minute to pick up kids from school. Kids have to be informed that someone else is picking them up, or they're supposed to ride the bus home somewhere else, or they'll be getting to school via some other mom. Homework has gone unsigned, lunches have been forgotten, and "why have you been working so much?" has been uttered more than once. It's agonizing.

And I don't even have it that bad. There are moms (and dads) at my job who are working far more than me. Late, late hours. Traveling. Working at home while the kids are off somewhere else in the house. That's not the norm for me. But it happens enough to make this single parent cringe just a little bit.

But I once again struggle for balance. Parenting is still Number One, though not quite as intensely as it was five or ten years ago. I'm still sacrificing career for motherhood to an extent, and that's fine - most days. It sucks leaving my co-workers when I know I could easily put in a few more hours in the office. It also sucks trying to explain to the kids why I wasn't there when they got home.

I'll have plenty of years to work as long and as hard as I want - or am needed - hopefully in this same job. (Hell, at the rate of my retirement plan, I'll be working for the rest of my life.) The kids won't always be kids, and they're not going to "need" me the way they need me now for that much longer. I never want to look back and wish that I had spent more time with them. I may have regrets in my career, but they are no match for the regrets that I would have knowing that I missed out on the part of their life that I was SUPPOSED to be there for. My kids are already going to look back on their childhood and say, "Well, my parents divorced when I was.....". The last thing I want is for them to have to add "...and my mom was never home because she worked all the time." So I'll try to make these long work weeks few and far between, and try to straddle this teeter-totter for as long as I have to, or as long as I can. Whichever comes first.

1 comment:

  1. hmmm -- what you have described in this post is GROWTH...both yours and your sons. amazing how that happens when we're not looking. well done!


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