My 2-year-old has a way with words, and these were the word she used to express how she felt about my husband and me attempting to get out the door for a night out. Walking out the door right in the middle of toddler tears really amps up the guilt, doesn't it? For me, being a working mom only compounds that guilt. Some date nights, I find myself asking if I should really be going out since I am away at work as well. It is so easy for me to wander down the dangerous path of blaming any and all parenting difficulties on the fact I spend time away from my girls each week because of my work.
I have become a self appointed cheerleader for working moms. I have worked hard to defend myself and other working moms when criticism is thrown our way, to remind skeptics: We are simply doing what is best for our family. After all, research suggests our kids are doing just fine.
Even so, as a working mom, I am my own harshest critic. As most moms do, I make hundreds of choices of varying importance every day. Play time or chore time? Let it slide this time or come down hard on some misbehavior? On particularly difficult days, it seems to take only one misstep on my part before I start on negative self-talk. "If I only could be home more, I could handle the housework and have plenty of time leftover for play ... If I was working less, I could get more sleep, and be a more cheerful and more patient mother."
How do you move past the guilt so you can make clear-headed decisions daily? How do you know who to disappoint, who needs to be told no, when you can't do it all?
As it turns out, I am not the only one finding myself regularly plagued by working mom guilt. Even baby boomers, who worked so hard to have a career and family, and endured criticism from their family and friends, got what they wanted and still felt guilt at the end of the day. And that guilt did something to the way they did parenting and marriage, says Dr. David M. Allen. They "began to monitor their children carefully for any sign of distress that might indicate even the slightest parental failing. A good percentage of them became so obsessed with their children that they spent every spare moment with them, usually at the expense of their marriages."
"For the career women," he continued, "The guiltier they felt, the more concerned they became with turning any time they did spend with their children into 'quality time.' They tried to make up for their frequent absences to their children by catering to their every whim."
Obsessed with their children? Catering to their every whim? I will be the first to admit I have let guilt cloud my decision-making time and time again, but that seems a little extreme.
Danielle and Astro Teller don't seem to think so. In fact, in their piece "How American parenting is killing the American marriage" they go as far as calling American parenting a religion, which gets put on a pedestal at the expense of the very union that brought the children into the world.
That one stings a little. I am sure it isn't reaching to say my marriage gets put on the back burner due the demands of being a career woman and mother. How many times have I worked into the wee hours or given my children every last drop, and then rolled over and fallen asleep without a word when my husband crawled into bed next me? How often have I been absent and distracted during date night because my daughters weren't happy I was leaving them with grandma?
It's a hard reality for me to come to grips with. It isn't easy on my pride to admit I often let guilt over being a working mom fuel decisions in a way that negatively affects my marriage and my children. There is no easy answer to this problem. How do you move past the guilt so you can make clear-headed decisions daily? How do you know who to disappoint, who needs to be told no, when you can't do it all?
I have to find a way to move forward to a new way of doing life as a wife, mother and career woman, and simply giving my husband whatever is left at the end of the day shouldn't be a part of the equation anymore.