It all started innocently enough. I had Veteran's Day off and decided it would be great to do something mothers of young children rarely get to—watch a movie and grab lunch with a friend in the middle of the day. I had planned this day at least three weeks in advance, which, as you probably know, is the only way moms of young kids ever get to see any of their friends.
That morning, I woke up and was ready to tackle my fun day. We are very fortunate that my mother provides care for my son and she showed up that morning ready to take him for a walk around the neighborhood. As he walked out the door, he kept looking back at me. So I walked out on the porch with him. He then walked towards me and reached out for my hand. He walked down the porch steps, down the driveway and into the sidewalk clenching my hand.
When I let go and told him I had to leave, he turned around and continued to walk—but not without looking back every few steps to reassure himself that I was still there.
I know many mothers have experienced moments like this. I do, too, on a regular basis. But that morning was different, since I wasn't leaving for a work event, rather for a personal one. My friendships are important to me, my career is important to me, my parents and extended family are important to me, but my son is the most important thing to me. That moment captured modern motherhood for women like me: We believe taking time for ourselves is important but are riddled with guilt every time we do.
The night before I had read a parenting article that talked about how short-lived childhood is and how we need to enjoy it so we we don't miss any of the precious moments. Which sounds nice. But this advice directly contradicts the other advice moms receive, which tells you that in order to be a better you need to take time for yourself.
There are no perfect options. Balance isn't constant. Some days we will feel like great mothers, but bad partners. Some days we will be great friends but feel like awful mothers.
As I've become more comfortable with motherhood, I know that I need to take time to nurture the relationships with my friends, my partner and myself in order to stay sane. But, I confess, I often say no to things because of my son. Not because I feel I have to be with him, but because I am compelled to be with him.
We all have those incidents that trigger mom guilt in us. Mom guilt might be the unifying sentiment that bridges racial and socioeconomic lines. Moms of all types experience this emotion.
A stay-at-home mom recently shared with me that she feels guilty, because she often feels like she's the disciplinarian while her husband gets to be cool, fun-loving parent. A mom who runs a successful business told me that her nanny will ask her to hug her baby for a few minutes before she leaves for work, because the baby misses her during the day. Of course this was a well intentioned request. But it immediately triggered feelings of inadequacy. My hard-working friend, who's also a great mother, asked herself, "Am I a horrible mom for working outside the home?" Another mom told me she feels guilty for not being more active with her daughter. She explained that seeing moms on social media doing all these classes and playdates with her kids made her feel like she should do more.
If mom guilt is universal, how do we appease it? Here are the two Golden Rules: First off, stop comparing yourself to others. Second, remember that you need to mother in your own way. There is no right or wrong way.
As one mom told me, it is more important to mother your own way than it is to shame yourself into believing you're a bad mother.
In the end, I kept my date with my friend. After all, she had also made sacrifices to spend time with me that morning. In fact, she drove in traffic both ways just to meet me closer to home, since she knows I have a young child.
It was then I remembered that expending energy on feeling guilty is a waste.
What's the take-away? There are no perfect options. Balance isn't constant. Some days we will feel like great mothers, but bad partners. Some days we will be great friends but feel like awful mothers. Many days will be all about our children. But some moments are reserved just for us. That should be allowed and encouraged.
We are also allowed to be imperfect. We are also allowed to wake up every morning and try all over again to be the best mothers we can be.
I went home that evening, and my son greeted me with a big hug and a smile. That Saturday he woke up in the middle of the night, which is unusual for him these days. After he woke a few times within the span of an hour, his father and I and l placed him in bed with us in the hopes that we could all get some rest. I barely slept the rest of the night, in between his attempts to jump on the bed and his numerous requests for me to read a book to him. As he quieted down, he reached over for hugs and kisses, and we sang bedtime songs.
It was then I remembered that expending energy on feeling guilty is a waste. Because, you just never know when you're going to need that extra energy for late night cuddling sessions or a round of favorite bedtime songs.