If you are a mother, it would be remiss to think you’ve never been plagued by the infamous Mom Guilt. It creeps up suddenly and experience has taught me it’s most fierce in those moments you are already at the brink of a complete mental break-down. Well, hello Mom Guilt (said in my best narrator voice). But how do we break this cycle which can often feel like a life sentence?
I had my two children during what is likely considered the prime of my career climb. For certain, I was considered by social standards the “appropriate age” and in the “right years of marriage” for having children. Based on all of their statistics (who is “their” anyway?), becoming pregnant was clearly the next and most logical step. Jury is still out if we really did have children at this point in time for ourselves or because it’s what we were “supposed to do.”
I’m absolutely not downplaying my amazing blessings, nor do I regret being a mom. Generally, I’m just making the observation of social norms and how they influence our decisions on the right timing, or the correct way life should play out.
One incredible miracle came in the form of my son Jake, but after a maternity leave, I continued to work. Admittedly, there were people who looked at this in an understanding way. On the contrary, others made comments along the lines of, “well, that’s just how it is in this day and age.” Ouch. Or maybe my favorite, “hopefully you can figure out how to balance all of this.” Um, no pressure there.
THE ART OF DEFLECTION
But if we’re being honest here, I didn’t really care about the comments. I have always beat to my own drum and do not take much to heart when someone says I should or should not do something. “You are going to move from West Lafayette, IN to Boston, MA to take a non-paid internship with the Celtics? Why?” Because I think it would be really cool and I want to! That’s why. I’ll figure it out.
And guess what? I did.
“You are going to continue to work AND travel for your job with TWO kids???” By the way, sometimes it’s not even the words themselves causing the sting in these statements. Moreover, it’s the tone in which the comment is made. The body language and the look of suspicion that children could actually be cared for in this crazy environment I have created by having a career. The questioning eye of whether or not I REALLY loved my children.
Fortunately, I was able to lessen the sting because the topic was one I could share with those in my mom huddle. In particular, my fellow teammates who ran into this same sort of sideways glance on the regular. Even the sideways glance where the person thinks they are delivering a compliment, but it’s laced with something else entirely.
Yeah, we heard you.
However, even embedded within those of us confident, career-driven ladies of this Earth, the social norms and the expectations of what women “should do” when they become a mother can get in there deep. Gnawing at our hearts like the proverbial dog with her bone. Likewise, breaking down even our bravest attempts to be who we are authentically. Allowing us to question how good of a mom we truly are. The curse word… BALANCE. Do we have it? Can we have it? Is it even a thing?
I went through the gamete of emotions as I’m sure you have as well. First, returning to work after each of my pregnancies. Questioning if this was the right decision for our family and unsure if I could emotionally handle it all. Guilt over being happy to have a job and a purpose. Then in the next moment, guilt over not being with my baby.
FROM THE MOUTHS OF BABES
Second, and likely more predominantly, the emotions of working and traveling as they grew. Ladies, kids can lay on one heck of a guilt trip. Mom Guilt at it’s finest right there! When they are itty bitty and sense of time is not a thing they comprehend, leaving for one day versus four days really makes no difference in their little minds. I’m not a psychologist. Subsequently, maybe later in life I will realize my traveling when they were babies really did have some long-lasting effect on their development as a well-adjusted human. On the other hand, I doubt it.
However, when they start to talk and can express those emotions…. Dagger to the heart when you say you are going to be gone for a few days. They may lay on the, “you are leaving AGAIN?” or “why, momma?” Tearing at those heart strings fully laced with Mom Guilt with a heaping side of self-doubt. Furthermore, the inner voice of every nay-sayer who has laid it on thick to you at a family reunion, college get-together, church gathering, pre-school pick-up or…. you get the picture. Yep, Mom Guilt.
Incidentally, this same guilt tripping, sweet faced, snuggle bug is going to be just fine. I know. It’s hard to believe in the throes of it, but hindsight for all of us is 20/20. Even the hindsight of the slobbery, booger face making you feel like a failure in the moment.
BREAK THE CYCLE
I recently took some time off of work before making a career move. In the car with my now 10 and 8-year-olds, a discussion began regarding my old job.
You have to understand, I used to take them to the office with me a lot when they had a day off of school or day care. Loaded with a Starbucks hot chocolate to mirror my coffee, an iPad, coloring books, reading books, tracing books, and enough toys to entertain for a week, we would march into the office with our stuffed backpacks like a momma duck and her ducklings. I felt an overwhelming guilt.
They are going into the office with me instead of some magical day at the Children’s Museum or the Zoo or SkyZone or the million other places I made up in my head where they would rather be for a day. “I suck, but I have to get this project done.” Or “There are too many meetings for me to re-arrange today, PLEASE just behave.”
Consequently, life’s a funny thing. Flash forward to this car ride, six months removed from the job. Discussion of our current summer of activities (we made up bingo cards) and the boys are looking back on those days in the office fondly. “Mom, if you were working this summer, we would have added going into your office onto our summer bingo card. That would have been a fun one!” Looking at going to work as a fun thing?? In a bit of amazement at this observation, I dug more.
Me: So, you guys liked going into my office?
Bryce: Oh yeah, remember when we went and helped pack gift bags for March Madness? That was super fun! I packed all of the hats for the gifts and stood in the tote thing so I could reach the hats. And we got to play on the iPad in your office while you were on the phone. I got a new game. Jake, that’s when we got the racer game. Remember?
Jake: Um, sort of.
Bryce: Yes, I wanted the minion one, but you said racer would be better and it was. Oh, and Jake, remember when we would help with NBA All-Star stuff?
Jake: Yeah, that was fun. I packed Dwyane Wade’s bag. Can we do that again mom? We should go in the office and see John and everybody. Who’s in your old office? Remember when I got the LeBron James short sleeve jersey because I pretended to rip it like he did? Then everyone in the meeting thought it was so funny, so they told me to keep it?
Shock. Utter shock. Their memory of me dragging them to the office for another juggle of mom and career woman was not one of me not being present. Rather, they enjoyed these memories and looked back with fondness. In fact, they wanted to go back!
DIFFERENT VANTAGE POINT
If we’re being honest here, some of the above was pure child labor! Call CPS!! However, I put them to work doing things they could do at their age and not only did they do it, they enjoyed it! While this was not a total surprise as I know they enjoyed it in the moment, the epiphany is the way in which they looked back on those moments. My mindset looking back at this time included guilt about what we were spending our time doing and my multi-tasking of motherhood with work. Reality, they enjoyed the time and being able to be involved. Taking part in what I was doing. Furthermore, just being with mom and feeling loved with a sense of belonging.
They can be cheerleaders if we let them, like I discussed in the Mommy’s Soul on Fire post. In a similar way, they can feel a part of your passion and a good reminder that just like our looking back lens is 20/20, so can theirs. Why not let go of the guilt?
HOW TO BREAK THE CYCLE
Grace. We must give ourselves grace when the feelings of Mom Guilt creep in. I read this quote recently on LinkedIn and besides being just mind blown, I love the different vantage point of our mindset as a working mom.
Believing in the lie that [working moms] are just slated and fated to constantly be feeling miserable and guilty and like we’re failing in all the areas – I say we can reject that, and we can actually choose something better, then we can encourage other women to do the same. – Liz Forkin Bohannon
Can I get an Amen sister?!?! First, why do we have to feel we must be miserable to be a working mom? Plagued to an eternity of trying to pursue a mythical balance. Instead, we know there will be days we will kick butt and take names. And days we hit the pillow, give the day a middle finger, and then start over the next day. However, the key being, we move on. It’s a bad day, not a life sentence.
Second, allowing ourselves to view motherhood and career through the mindset of positivity means we allow ourselves to find enjoyment in both.
IN CONCLUSION: NOT A LIFE SENTENCE
Are you a better mom because you work outside the home and have an outlet? Good! Conversely, are you a better mom because you stay home with your kids and have better focus? Also good! Do you need to travel to focus on your career and come home with a renewed spirit to then be more present as a mother? Equally good!
Ironically, none of these have right or wrong answers. The answers live in you. And no, not with the internal voice of the infamous Pam, Sue, and Karen influencing your Mom Guilt. JUST YOU. This is your life. Let go of the Mom Guilt. Train yourself to not ignore the feelings but give them a good reality check. If you love your children and show them in ways which work for your family, then move on. Giving yourself the best gift I can think of for not only a career-driven mom, but really any mom. Grace.
In conclusion, go be the best version of yourself today. Even better, give yourself the same grace you give your child. I believe in you, and so do they.