In my late 20s, I was a newly divorced single mom of a little baby girl. I worked full time for a financial planning firm and I lived life like I was on a treadmill. Rise at 6AM, Wake baby, Drop baby off at daycare, Go to work, Pick up Baby, Make Dinner, Get Baby ready for Bed, lather, rinse, repeat. I was exhausted and living in what I called “Survival Mode.” And more than the exhaustion, more than the endless repeat cycle I found myself in, was the Mommy Guilt. You know the guilt I’m talking about – “Am I spending enough time with my kid?” “Am I missing too much?” “Am I doing a good job?” “Am I too mean, too impatient, not loving enough?” and work-related, “Does my boss think I’m slacking?” “Can I keep up?” I would be at work fretting about missing my baby all day, and then on days when she would be sick and I would have to stay home with her, I would be panicked about missing work and feeling guilty that my other non-parent coworkers would look down on me because I had a kid. It was a lose-lose scenario in terms of the guilt factor. I always had the guilt, no matter where I was or what I did. All those nagging questions & fears that keep a Mommy up at night and for years I thought they were unique to working Moms.
Flash forward 6 years and I had a 6 year old daughter who was used to going to school and seeing Mommy at the end of the day and on weekends. She was happy, healthy, and well-rounded. But still, the guilt. About little things and big things – not listening to the story she told about a friend at school, not helping her enough to learn to ride a bike. Giving up on her. And always, always, I made the excuse – maybe not an excuse- but an argument, that if I didn’t work full time I would have more time for her, would be a better mother, and blah, blah, blah.
When my baby girl was 6 1/2, I gave birth to my 2nd daughter. Upon initially returning to work with the expectation of maintaining my full-time work schedule, I had a change of heart. Yes, heart. All logic told me to continue working. I was in the financial planning industry after all. It just didn’t make financial sense for me to leave a career and an income I had built over 6 years. But it did make emotional sense. So, I dropped my hard-earned licenses, work relationships, and income, and decided to become the Mom I had always dreamed I could be.
For the first 6 months, I felt like I was floating. My slate was wiped clean and this was my chance to become not only this amazing, healthy, loving, and beautiful mother to my girls, but also to spend time enriching myself, building myself, finding myself, caring for our home and family in ways I couldn’t before. Already, I had high hopes and expectations of what I would be and how I would be better with all this “time” I would now have as a stay-at-home mom. I took on projects like painting all of my kitchen cabinets. I expected it would take me a few days. It took me over a month. I rearranged rooms in my house. I took my kids to the zoo and the park and any event anywhere to build this dream Mom-daughter image. But then there were the days when I actually had to do the other tasks that we all do – the errands- the laundry, the dishes, the cleaning, the bill-paying. And I’d find myself frustrated by my kids always interrupting me and I’d just say, “Go do something,” or “Stop screaming,” or “Leave me alone.” And sometimes, okay many times, I was at the height of impatience and exhaustion and these words wouldn’t be just said matter-of-factly in an acceptable parenting style, no, they were yelled at the top of my lungs. Not exactly the Mother of the Year I had envisioned. It was a new kind of guilt, but guilt nonetheless.
When my 3rd daughter was born, the Mommy Guilt was still there and ever-evolving. Now, it was guilt about making my 2nd child lose her babyhood too soon. Guilt that my oldest was always tagging along at a toddler pace even though she really needed to do “big girl” things. It was and continues to be a helpless feeling of not being able to fulfill everyone’s needs: when everything you can give is still not enough.
This guilt is earned like a Mommy badge of honor. We guilt one another, judge one another as mothers and it only reinforces the vicious cycle. We need to try to let go of the guilt and just say we are doing the very best we can. It doesn’t matter what kind of mother you are – if you work full time, part time, stay at home – what matters is that you love your kids. That worry and that guilt is normal, but it’s time to let it go.