In theory, this sounds like a wonderful thing. It takes the edge off the guilt. Why, might you ask, do you feel guilt, Dawn? Well, it’s easy. I’m a working mom.
I wonder if men ever experience this: how it feels to go to work every day with the weight of guilt bearing down. The weight of it literally feels heavy. When I drop my child off or pick my child up at daycare there is a dull ache in the pit of my stomach that I feel because my child is there, instead of with me at home. I notice all these room moms who have part-time jobs or don’t have a job who get to be there participating in that precious experience, maybe with a little bit of envy? What is wrong with me? What kind of mother would choose instead to have a career; making money instead of spending every possible minute being there for and nurturing her children? Cooking meals from scratch, cutting up carrots and celery to give them when they get home from school? That is what MY mom did, after all!
I work in accounting. Generally speaking, with an accounting job one must work late at various times depending on the deadlines. At some companies, I worked late the first 7-10 days of every month, at others, I worked late ALL THE TIME. Presently, I work late pretty much the first 3 months of every year, after which things tone down a bit. But that grind, that anguish, that guilt. I’m missing out on being with my kids. I already work so many hours, plus I have a long commute. I come home after a day at the office and my child looks older. How dare I even think about going to the gym to get some exercise, or go out with friends, spending even more time away from my family? I can hear my grandmother in the back of my mind, even though she has passed away: “You shouldn’t work. You should be at home, your children need you!” Guilt.
Well, to start, I live in California. This beautiful, mystical land where you can be making a pretty decent salary and still feel like you live check to check! Why can’t I feel like what (I’m guessing) a father thinks: that it is my duty and my obligation to make our family financially viable so our children can do anything they dream of? I am a provider! Because of my career, the kids can have dance lessons, take swimming lessons, scouts, band, tutoring, clubs, gangs, sports, horses, college tuition, braces, Botox, WHATEVER THEY NEED AND DESIRE! And yet I feel it is not enough. Because I am not there. And that is a Mom’s job, being there for her children.
Why is this? Is it because of my conservative, church-going upbringing? Is it my grandmother’s ghost haunting me? Or is it something deeper, beyond that? Is it biological? Because we are female, because we carried them for 9+ months, and because they were a physical part of us?
Whatever it is, it is difficult. But I have to say, I love having a career. I’ve worked really hard to build one. I worked my ass off to put myself through school. I love accomplishing feats and growing in my career. I love knowing all that I know and doing what I do. I love the fact that I can support myself, that I am completely self-sufficient if I need to be. We working Moms shouldn’t have to feel guilty. And if I’m being honest, I would HATE being home all of the time. My favorite part of a working career is the social aspect: camaraderie, the professional and personal friendships, the bonding during hard times and deadlines; and celebrating and team-building during the good times. I love utilizing the skills that it’s taken me a lifetime to acquire and hone.
Everyone should get to feel that and participate in that, and not feel guilty, and it shouldn’t have anything to do with motherhood. But what should be and what is are worlds apart.
So. How does one cope?
I’m not a therapist, so I don’t profess any expertise in this area, other than living life.
Here are my coping mechanisms.
- Suppression. That’s right. I bury this sucker down deep. My typical childcare drop-off scheme consists of escorting her to the school, the sitter, wherever her destination is, and immediately distracting myself by making a phone call to my mom, listening to a podcast, or playing music and singing along. If I’m not thinking about it, I am fine. If a thought creeps into my consciousness…”LALALALALA,” gone! Before I know it, I’m at the office and totally immersed in the issues of the day.
- Involvement. Being part of my child’s activities during non-work hours. Driving to lessons, attending shows and recitals, volunteering for the scouts, participating with my kids as much as possible. Providing them with any tools they need for success. Helping out with homework. Sharing in their dreams, doing everything I can to help those dreams become realized.
- Humor. Laugh as much as possible, and do so with your kids.
- Cuss. It is more fucking liberating than you can possibly imagine! (I try not to do this in front of the kids, though).
- Pep talks. Yes, sometimes I literally sit there and give myself a pep talk.
- You can do this
- Am I out of my mind for taking this on? No, I am not.
- Baby steps
- I need a bowl of ice cream. Now! Do not pass go, do not collect $200!
- I AM doing enough. My kids are happy!
- Self-care. Admittedly, I’m bad at this. There is so little time, you see. But hey, once a week I go to the most amazing yoga class that really does make a difference. Since I’ve started this class, I’ve completely stopped going to a chiropractor. I reward myself with a glass of wine. Or a beer. Or another glass of wine. I like to watch a really lame show or a baseball game on TV to unwind. Late-night TV/comedians are great, too. A spa day. Visiting a friend. Whether it’s reading, relaxing, exercising, any small amount of me-time is the best thing you can do. Reward yourself. You deserve it!
- Vacations or staycations. Take them. Recharge the batteries.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the reason I have this career is that I want to have a career. I shouldn’t have to feel guilt and I shouldn’t have to justify or explain it to anybody. That I do feel guilt is beside the point and is a work in progress. I am so satisfied to know that someday all of my hard work will ultimately lead to happy, fulfilled lives for my kids. If I’ve stashed enough money in the end, they won’t have to scramble to figure out how to take care of me. My husband and I will leave them with enough assets that they can live comfortably and not struggle the way I’ve had to. So, it’s all OK. They’ll be OK, and so will I.
By Dawn Day
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