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.

Using TV as Sanity-Saving Tool

My kids are bugging me a bit today. Yes, I’ve said it: Every parent has moments when they’re discontent with their children. I think that’s important for everyone, especially parents who are new to Attachment Parenting or who are struggling at this moment, to remember – even the long-time, forever AP parents have their moments, or days, or weeks.

What are they doing? The usual kid stuff. Pulling all their toys out of their bedroom and then dilly-dallying when it’s clean-up time. Taking a bite out of an apple and then deciding they don’t want to eat it after all. Complaining that her sister got the fuller cup of juice. Eating a couple pieces of Easter candy and begging for more. Not using soap while hand-washing right after I’ve sent them back for a second try. Nothing extraordinary, and usually nothing that I can’t handle without a smile and patience and compassion. But today, it’s just not working for me…

Oh, I try not to let it show. But kids are perceptive, and I’m sure they notice. So, I’m taking a break.

Certainly, since I work from home, I can’t go too far. In fact, I’m still in the same room. I’m on my computer, writing this, and the girls are watching a movie. The baby is with me.

We don’t watch a lot of TV. I try to limit it to the evenings when my husband is home. Not only does this serve the original goals to reduce screen time, avoid inappropriate media, and increase imaginative free play, but when the kids do watch TV, they really value that time. So, I use TV to keep my kids occupied while I’m on conference calls that require more of my participation than listening…and on days like today when I need some me-time (well, me-and-baby-time since I don’t expose babies to direct viewing until about three years old). I prefer DVDs, because there are no commercials to monitor, and there is a definite end time.

Then, I take my me-time. Sometimes, I work on a project that really needs some undivided attention. Sometimes, like today, I write something purely for emotional release. Sometimes, I don’t work at all. I sit down to nurse, with a book and a glass of iced tea. If my husband’s home, I might take a bath or a nap. But I find that whatever I do that I’m in the mood for at the time will rejuvenate me. If I try to ignore that I need me-time or, alternately, I try to something that needs to be done but that I’m not in the mood for, like folding clothes or washing dishes, I only get more wound up and that’s when I’m in danger of losing it. Balance is so important for all moms, work-at-home parents, too – perhaps more so, sometimes, since we’re working on high-pressure deadlines while trying to maintain the slowness that it takes to raise children.

I, like any mother, put a lot of pressure on myself to be better, smarter, wiser… On one hand, what does that say about me that I use TV as a babysitter? On the other hand, should I care what other people think if it works for my family?