About a year ago during a hectic and exhausting time in my life my sweet five-year old son told me (with wisdom beyond his years), “Mom, I wish there were three of you. One mommy who could work, the other could clean and do the chores and the other could just play with me.” Of course I cried, stopped what I was doing and played with him. However, part of me thought that sounded quite nice. I have seen the movie Multiplicity and know that it doesn’t end up so well for Michael Keaton though, so I won’t be pursuing cloning anytime. Maybe a maid will suffice for now.
Being a mother, I experience a wide range of emotions daily, but one emotion I don’t go a day without feeling is GUILT and I know I am not the only one. During a conversation with a fellow PTA volunteer the topic of work came up. She told me that she works part-time from home and is raising four young children. I commended her for being able to juggle it all and she replied, “Yeah, thanks. I’m not sure if I am doing any of it very well though.” This made me sad. I wished she could see what an amazing job she was doing.
Mothers who feel guilt on a daily basis are nothing new. We have been beating ourselves up since the dawn of time. However, with the advent of social media, blogs, Pintrest, Google etc., we now have fuel to feed the fire. With the click of a mouse, you can take an all expense paid guilt-trip courtesy of the Internet. As we browse through others’ seemingly perfect lives, we reflect on our own shortcomings. I try hard not to take myself too seriously, however. I know my home will never look like a Pintrest board and I’m okay with that. What bothers me however, is the constant barrage of articles attacking the choices we make as mothers and the defensive rebuttals that follow.
Why are there so many of these articles being written? Are we really that insecure with our decisions that we feel we have to attack others or constantly defend our choices? Yes, we are. At least at times we are. It’s that stupid guilt thing, again. No matter how certain we are with our decision to be a stay-at-home mother, working mother or part-time working mother, that guilt will creep in making you question if you’re doing the right thing. Whatever our role may be, we seek and need a little validation from time to time especially when everyone seems to have an opinion on what’s best for our family. Instead of making flash judgements about a mother, let’s step into her world for a moment.
The Stay-at-Home Mother
As the stay-at-home mother struggles to stretch a one-income budget she feels helpless because she is not able to financially contribute and wishes she could help out her over worked husband. Guilt. She pays a monthly student loan on a degree she is not utilizing in the workforce or longs for that diploma she never earned. Guilt. Her professional ambitions are happily shelved for the time being but sometimes she wonders where she would be. She feels guilty for wondering, as if somehow that means she wishes she weren’t home with her beloved children. Guilt. She yearns for a little interaction with an adult or something to get dressed up for. Oops, she was on her iPhone too long and missed a precious moment. Guilt. She beats herself up because she has been home all day working her tail off and instead it looks like a tornado swept through the house and dinner is still not started. Guilt.
She spends the majority of her day as a chauffeur or a thankless maid. Sometimes, bedtime cannot come soon enough and she feels guilty for thinking that. Day after day it’s much of the same routine. Most of her hard work goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Sometimes she’s depressed and questions her self worth, especially when she hasn’t done a single thing for herself in over a month. A simple trip to the store without a screaming child feels almost like a vacation, as does a shower without little ones pounding on the door with some “emergency”. Staying home is extremely rewarding, but sometimes it is hard. Really hard. She loves her role and it’s what she has always wanted to do. She has mostly good days and many amazing moments that remind her why she does this. However, no one told her about the “grind” of motherhood and she feels guilty for not always facing each challenge with patience or enthusiasm. It’s no wonder she needs some validation from time to time.
The Working Mother
The working mother has had an uphill battle from the start. Working mothers have been slapped with the stigma of being selfish from the day they ditched the house slippers for the high heels. Some mothers work fulltime out of necessity and some because it is what they want to do. It helps them be their best. Whatever the reason, it does not make you any less of a mother. In an article I read recently, the authors questioned whether a mother was thinking clearly when she delegated the care of her children to another. Thinking clearly? One thing a mother never does is takes the welfare of her children lightly.
I guarantee her heart breaks a little every time she kisses her child and hands them over to someone else for a good part of the day. They say it gets easier with time, but it never does. I promise that her children are never far from her mind. As she sits in a staff meeting her mind drifts off to her sweet kindergartner and how she is not one of the room mothers at the class party. Guilt. She stresses about stepping out of her office four times a day to pump her breastmilk in a not-so-private locker room or bathroom stall. She skips her lunch to pump again and simultaneously staples and prepares book orders for her child’s teacher because it is the only way she can volunteer. She feels like a failure when she looses her milk at six months and has to put her baby on formula. Guilt. It still stings each time someone says, “Oh, I could never leave my children!” They will never understand her situation or how maybe she is a better mother because she works.
She tries to leave the office early and is bombarded with problems. Finally able to get away at 5:00 pm, she jumps in her car and is immediately slammed by rush hour traffic. This shaves precious time out of an already small window she has before her children need to go to sleep. Guilt. After picking up the kids from daycare, she arrives home and wonders what in the world to make for dinner and so she makes spaghetti, again. It’s not organically grown homemade pasta sauce from her own garden like a stay-at-home mom would probably have. In fact, it’s Spaghettios. Guilt. She spends a few hours with her children and loves on them like crazy until she has to put them to bed. The kids stay up later than they should because she just wanted a little more time with them. Guilt. She spends the rest of the night cleaning the house and folding a mountain of laundry and barely makes a dent and then falls into bed exhausted, wondering how many times the baby will wake up that night. Sometimes she wonders if it’s all worth it and if her kids are doing okay. Is she making the right choice? No wonder she needs some validation from time to time.
If mothers could be in three places at once, as my son wished, we would. In fact, sometimes we try. For about a year and a half I worked graveyard shifts. I was desperate not to work fulltime, but we needed some extra income so I took a job working until 6:00 a.m. four nights a week. I tried to keep up on work, household chores and spend time with my children, but it was a huge struggle. I pushed through, propelled by the guilt that I was failing in so many areas. I finally pushed so hard, my body started to say no. Apparently three hours of sleep a day can cause heart palpitations. Mothers…..please, whatever your choice, don’t do it at the expense of your health. Your family needs you around for a long time.
Whether a woman is at home, works part-time or fulltime, it is though. What we DON’T need are scientific studies “proving” which is more exhausting. We are all exhausted, I promise. We don’t need strangers weighing in on our most personal family decisions. We don’t need people telling us we are wasting our education if we choose to stay home. We shouldn’t have to tell you what we do all day. If we want to “lean in” that’s okay. If you don’t want to “lean in”, you are still a success. And, for heaven sakes we don’t need this thrown in our faces.
What we DO need is support, especially from other women and mothers, sometimes our hardest critics. If we all suspended judgment and supported one another, together, women would break more barriers and change the world for the better. We need women at home and we need women in the workplace. Together, we can raise a happy, healthy generation and together, we can climb the corporate ladder.
I am honored to be a stay-at-home mother but it is only possible because my sister works fulltime and I watch her children. I know, pretty lucky, right? We respect each other’s choices and recognize each has its unique challenges. Each of us is in a place where we can thrive and I am forever grateful for her. When mothers thrive, their families thrive. So, let’s take off the gloves, ditch the guilt and thrive together.
P.S. You’re doing awesome.