Mother’s Day has always been a bittersweet holiday for me. I adore the crayon drawings and extra snuggles that usually accompany this special Sunday each year. However, with so much celebration and attention, I usually find myself wondering if I deserve it. Inevitably, at some point on Mother’s Day, I question if I’m being the best mother I can be.
This year, I’m attempting to make a huge change: I’m hoping to cut the working-mom guilt and just enjoy both my family life and career choices.
I hate the phrase “working mom” almost as much as I hate the guilt that goes along with it. All mothers work, regardless of their employment status, and for many there’s a basket of emotions that go along with the “working” title. Many women continue to fight internal arguments over the decisions they’ve made. Should I stay at home? Should I return to work? Which is better for my family? Which is better for me?
I’m stressing the internal arguments here. The mom-on-mom carnage of the Mommy Wars is frighteningly real. Instead of focusing on the other side (whichever side that might be), I want to focus on the internal struggle or, in other words, the guilt.
Guilt is a very personal thing. As humans we experience it in varying degrees for unique reasons. Some people feel guilty if they don’t go to church every Sunday. Others feel terrible if they eat meat. Still others feel great eating bacon at a strip club on Sunday morning until they realize they haven’t called their grandma in a while. Few among us live guilt-free.
I can’t comment on a stay-at-home mom’s guilt any more than I can speak for the guilt of another working mom. I can only express my own.
Guilt is the reason I log on in the evenings to check work emails. And guilt is the reason I stuff our weekends with trips to the playground.
I constantly struggle to find the right balance between being a mother and having a career. The guilt I feel is two-fold: the guilt that I am failing to be the best mother I can be and the guilt that I am failing to live up to my professional potential. Just when I think I’ve found a happy medium, a child misbehaves in school or my boss finds a few too many typos in my draft of the company newsletter.
I feel guilt when I’m zapping yet another frozen pancake for my daughters’ breakfast as we rush to get ready in the morning. I feel guilt when I run out of a meeting at exactly 2:45 p.m. so I can get to school in time for pickup.
In some ways, I have the perfect schedule. I’m in the office five days a week, but I’m with both my children by 3:30 p.m. every day but Friday (when my husband is with them, and I’m at the office a full day).
But in some ways, I have a terrible schedule. I’m pulled in opposite directions daily. I miss kindergarten parties. I miss important client calls. I’m harried and hurried. Some days it feels as though I’m running on caffeine and, dare I admit it, guilt.
Guilt is the reason I log on in the evenings to check work emails. And guilt is the reason I stuff our weekends with trips to the playground and baking cookies and doing all the things my stay-at-home mom did with me.
While guilt motivates me, it’s also crippling.
Some days, I fight back tears after dropping my youngest at daycare. I spend the rest of the day with the ghost of her fingers curled around my leg and her cries of “Mommy, I stay with you, please” playing over and over in my mind.
Some days, I sit in my cubicle the size of Porta-Potty and ask myself “How did I get here?” I have a business degree from a top school and two master’s degrees. In my early 20s, I had a supervisory role in charge of marketing analytics for a large community bank. During my last review, my boss said to me the company didn’t need someone who wanted to work on Madison Avenue. I was a good fit for them. And they were a good fit for me because they allowed me to work part-time.
In other words, I’m not career-oriented. I’m not Madison Avenue material. Or rather, maybe I am, but instead I decided to run out of meetings at 2:45 p.m. every day and be with my kids.
I promise to be kinder to myself and to appreciate that the choices I’ve made, while sometimes hard to balance, are the best for my family.
I’m tired of feeling guilty. So, for Mother’s Day this year, I’m making myself a promise to reframe the inevitable guilt, both on Sunday and the days that follow.
When I run out of meetings, I will feel thankful that I can be with my kids after school. When I slide into my cubicle, I will feel proud that the work I do, even if it’s not on Madison Avenue, helps grow a company I’m lucky to be a part of and with people I genuinely like.
I will be grateful for the opportunity to work only 30 hours a week and still use my skills. When the mommy guilt starts to creeps in, I’ll remind myself that my kids have excellent healthcare, my husband and I are saving for retirement, and we are able to live in a town with an exceptional school system because I work.
When the career guilt pops up, I’ll remind myself that I’m a better employee because I’m a mom. I’m more patient when faced with challenges. Toddlers have trained me to work well with all types of personalities. Plus, there are many days, when the kids have been absolute terrors, that I practically skip into my coffin-sized work space and type with enthusiasm.
I hope someday, perhaps when my toddler no longer clings to my legs and I no longer aspire to a job that warrants an office with a door, I’ll be able to let go of the guilt completely. Until I do, I promise to be kinder to myself and to appreciate that the choices I’ve made, while sometimes hard to balance, are the best for my family.
I hope that as you celebrate Mother’s Day, you will do with the same. Because while guilt can be motivating, it’s also exhausting, and I’m sure you’re busy and tired enough without it.