The mother’s ‘guilt cyst’

Effie2 (2)I suspect that for nearly all women, soon after our first-born makes the exit out of our bodies and into the world, a “guilt cyst” begins to grow inside us — metaphorically speaking, that is.

When my first child was born, I quit my job and became a stay-at-home mom. That decision came as a surprise to me, but it felt right at the time.

However, once the overwhelming feelings of immense responsibility and sheer exhaustion subsided, guilt started take over. I felt guilty for my lack of financial contribution to our household. With me not working — in the “professional sense,” that is, because we all know that stay-at-home parenting is work! — we lost 50% of our combined income.

A few years later, another nagging feeling started to creep in: I missed having professional ambitions and a career. I felt guilty for not being a career woman.

One afternoon at a friend’s house, over a nice glass of wine, my friend Heather and I had a heart-to-heart conversation. Heather is a sweet, shrewd businesswoman. She is married, has three kids and a live-in nanny. She confided in me that she envied me and our stay-at-home mom friends. She explained that, unlike her, we get to spend time together and we are able to dedicate a lot of our time to our kids and attend their school activities. She added that she felt guilty for spending so much time away from her kids while her nanny spends a lot of time with them.

I responded that I envied her for having a career, for being able to drink a cup of coffee while it’s still hot and for being able to walk around without a “shadow” following her every move. I added that I felt guilty for not working and I was wondering whether I provided my little girl with a good example of what a strong, independent woman should be like.

We went on and on until I tired of our kvetching. “Listen to us!” I said. “We are different women who made different choices for ourselves and our families. Why can’t we just accept our choices and live with the pros and cons, whatever they may be for each one of us?” We toasted to that and decided to move on.

I tried to move on. I thought I found the perfect solution in quest for more balance: I became a work-from-home mom!

I used to pride myself on being an excellent multi-tasker. It didn’t feel that way anymore.

Some days, I found myself drafting a work email, making dinner as I tried accommodating each of the family members’ often very different ideas for what should be served on their plates, helping my kids with their home and answering my husband’s texts, often responding to the dreaded message “What’s for dinner?” — all at one time!

At the same time, the thoughts and feelings circulating in my mind were along the lines of: I am underpaid for my contributions and skill set at work. I am depriving my family of a nice, elaborate dinner. I wonder if my kids sense that I am not fully present; I am certain they are feeling my agitation. I hope my husband is not thinking I am neglecting my “wifely duties.” Hey, I’m doing my best here!

I felt like I was doing so much, and I wasn’t excelling at any of it.

Then, I heard TV news anchor Barbara Walters say: “You can have it all — marriage, kids, career — just not at the same time.” That hit a nerve. I found it to be my truth. Nowadays, I am a stay-at-home mom, contemplating on the next chapter of my career.

More importantly, my “guilt cyst” subsided and is under control. I suspect I will never completely rid myself of it, but I am at peace with its existence. I attribute this acceptance to the support of my friend Heather and my growth as a being.

This subject of mother’s guilt over working or not is one that has been debated for many years and will be debated for as long as we have choices as mothers. I now decide to focus on how wonderful it is that we have choices.

I never worked harder to stay-at-home

I wish I had known how much I would love being a mother.

How could I have anticipated the depth of this love?

My heart opens with wonder when I watch my 18-month-old son lift his arms, snap his fingers, and gently sway to music. Any music. We could be in the check out line at Walgreens and if he hears music, he lifts his arms in praise.

Oh, the world is good to him. Despite the little, blue bruise on his forehead from a sad encounter with the edge of an antique bureau, it’s a loving world overall. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to be a gentle and consistent source of kindness as he learns to walk, speak, and jump. May he internalize this love and bring it forth as an inner light in days to come, days when I am no longer by his side to wipe away the tears of sad encounters.

A foundation for trust is being built. I am his “secure base” and he then sets off to explore this magical world full of rocks, leaves, sunshine, and scrumptious raisins. We co-sleep. He nurses on demand. His organic rhythms are honored.

I love being a stay-at-home mom.

I didn’t anticipate this.

Because of my blindness, I scramble to make up for the financial mistakes of the past. If I only had known to save so staying-at-home would unfold with greater ease.

Today, I acknowledge choices made and make new ones. I find creative and wonderful ways of bringing in money whiles nurturing my son. We teach Mommy and Me Yoga together. We stretch, sing, dance, and play with other mamas and little ones. It’s delightful.

And when my son sleeps, I write.

I write and weave together story, philosophy, and gratitude. I knit the love I feel into the words appearing on my computer screen. I smile, marvel, and sigh as tears and syntax flow.

Being a mother awakens a fierce and gentle strength. I know I’m not alone in staying up late at night while my son sleeps to bring in extra money for the family. A “gap” exists between what my husband makes and what we “need”. It’s all about priorities. I won’t capitulate to pressure to return full time to paid work. Instead, I navigate as skillfully as possible, as fearlessly as possible, as boldly as possible, a way to give my heart , and my best, to our son.

These precious early years are priceless. They are worth more than all of the world’s gold. I’m investing in the future emotional health of this little one. I’m investing in the health of all of those who will one day cross his path.

I’ve never worked harder to stay-at-home. On good days, I smile at the irony of it.

I didn’t anticipate this and yet, I embrace it with determination and grace.

Brain, Child’s Pep Talk for Moms Returning to Work

coverBrain ChildFor obvious reasons, I don’t intend to share all the details about my process of going back to work on API Speaks. I have wrestled with the choice to work or not work since my first baby was born over three years ago. I always knew that I wanted to be home with my babies; and I always knew that I found personal fulfillment in work and would like to continue in some capacity. I opted for consulting part-time from home with the intention of eventually going back to work full-time when the timing felt right.  A solid dose of economic pressure combined with a bit of SAHM burn-out has helped me determine the time is now.

Yes, I’m nervous about the time lost with my girls while they are little, about finding childcare I can trust and making sure my girls remain securely attached.  And I choose to believe we will find loving care and that I can nurture our bonds with continued nursing and co-sleeping and my loving attention when I’m home.

After I’m hired, I’d like to share a post with tips on how to put your best foot forward to successfully make the transition from proud Stay At Home Mom to shining employee in the job of your choice.

While I’m still somewhere in between those two realities at the moment, I am generally excited when something crosses my path that I think will guide me through this significant life change. I saw the latest issue of Brain, Child — a magazine I like for its thought-provoking content and delightfully cerebral reflections on motherhood — and the headline, “Mama Wants a Brand-New Job” popped out at me like a neon sign.

“Sweet,” I thought. “Maybe they’ve got some great pointers in here for me,” so I immediately tossed it into the grocery cart for future reading.

I didn’t really pay attention to the sub-heading until I got home and was able to read it eight hours later when all was finally quiet on the Cravotta front. “Opting in during a recession,” it read.

A little depressing, but I was still hopeful for the “How to Opt In” pep talk. Continue reading Brain, Child’s Pep Talk for Moms Returning to Work

Mellow Monday?

This past May, I instituted Stay at Home Mondays at our house as a way of easing into the work week and my husband being gone after the weekend. We’ve been missing them lately. We went on a trip, then my husband was out of town, then I got a kidney infection. These were my particular circumstances, but I’m sure you could make your own list of reasons why your schedule doesn’t stay on track

This past Sunday night I lay in bed thinking about getting to have a dedicated Monday at home for the first time in about six weeks. Then “Manic Monday” by The Bangles started running through my head:
“It’s just another manic Monday
I wish it was Sunday
‘Cause that’s my fun day
My I don’t have to run day
It’s just another manic Monday”

Each day I try to decide if it’s a fun day, run day, or if we can somehow combine the errands and play, the housework and time to just hang out with each other. Thankfully, staying at home on Mondays erases most of the questions about what we’re going to do. If I have any household to do lists, I put them away on Mondays. We aren’t available for checking off tasks. So I went to sleep thinking about how peaceful Monday would be, even going so far as to consider mellow Mondays a great substitute.

My Monday was not mellow. Giving a nearly-three year old attention all day long and just following his lead makes for a lot of activity. First, he lay on my chest facing up so we could both raise our arms and legs in the air and wiggle them. Then we hid under the sheet and I’d ask, “Where did Mama and Cavanaugh go?” to which Cavanaugh would respond by saying, “I don’t know. Where is them?” Next the under-sheet turned into a rocket ship so we could fly back to New Mexico.

MuffinI mentioned the possibility of baking something at some point in the day. “Let’s bake something now” was Cavanaugh’s response, followed up by pushing his Kitchen Helper over to the table and instructing, “You get the ingrements,” then, “You get cups and spoons,” and “Where’s the brown fleura?”

After guessing brown sugar and baking powder, I scored with “Vanilla?”

By the end of our pumpkin muffin mixing, Cavanaugh was leaning over the table pointing to indicate which muffin cup to fill up next. “Them need pumpkin in them. They feel very sad. Give them some nice pumpkin and them feel happy.”

After breakfast, we pulled out the supply of glue art materials: pom poms, beads, metal confetti shapes, googly eyes, glitter, a popsicle stick for spreading glue, glue, and construction paper. We did that for two hours, interrupted by Cavanaugh needing to poop, which he did on his potty as I read Not a Box (one of my favorite toddler books because it encourages pretend play and turns cardboard boxes into robot costumes, race cars, and elephants to ride). After more muffins and three times of Not a Box, Cavanaugh had successfully pooped and gotten red glitter on his penis. Of course, that was a fine accompaniment to the green glitter on his arms and gold on his chin and cheeks.Glue Art

In his room, we measured his height on the growth chart and hung up a memory board I’d made over the weekend. We put pictures of Cavanaugh’s cousins and grandparents on there and went to look on my computer for more photos. He had an hour of quiet time that he narrated as he did puzzles and hid under the sheet. Then we looked on the computer for more photos to a Jellydots soundtrack. That was all before three in the afternoon.

So my Monday was neither mellow nor manic. Instead, I got to hang out with my kid all day, play pretend, make art and food, laugh, and watch my son turn like a dog chasing his tail as he tried to see the design on the bottom of his brand-new big boy underwear. This may have been one of the best Mondays of my lifetime.

What happens in your house when you put the to do lists away and just follow your kid’s lead?

Sonya Fehér love love loves glitter and blogs at