I have come to learn that guilt is a part of the territory in the land of motherhood. I feel guilt about leaving them at daycare, taking them out of day care, going to work, staying home, there is no “right” way to Mom it out. I constantly battle the guilt grind – especially when I look at work/life balance. We all have our own balancing act to navigate, and we all do the best we can with what we have – so why feel guilty ALL the time no matter what we do? Because we are moms. It is who we are and what we do. I’m almost convinced that it starts in the first trimester, shortly after we figure out that there is no turning back. Then, our bodies and brains shift – imperceptibly at first, but concretely. We begin to worry, to fret, to stew in our own mommy juices about everything under the sun.
I don’t ever remember a time where I didn’t worry. In my teens, I worried about my weight, in my 20’s it was about college, boys and getting a job. In my 30’s it was about career and family – and now, after 40 years of worrying, I’m tired. I’m tired of worrying about the opinions of people that don’t matter, because at the end of the day, they don’t. That snarky Mom from carpool – she doesn’t matter. The chick that made your coffee this morning? Yep, her either. The one person at work that seems to think she is better than you – your boss – the world? She couldn’t matter less if she tried. The problem isn’t with any of those people, it is within our own heads – a problem of our own design, if you will. It has taken me years of struggling with my own thoughts of what motherhood should be – and reconciling that the beauty is in the mess of it, not in the perfection – to ditch the constructs that I bought into. I, like all of you, drank the kool aid. I thought I was supposed to be the perfect Mom, the perfect wife, keep a spotless house, and do it all while wearing heals and pearls. I can laugh at the lunacy now, after I have driven myself crazy trying to realize it is all myth. If I created the construct in my head, and allowed people to influence me that shouldn’t, then why can’t I disassemble it as easily as I built it? Not so easy, right? I’m done with it – and you should be too! Ditch the guilt!
The Working Mom vs. The Stay At Home Mom
Don’t give in to the chaos at work, or the friends who all seem to have it together, they don’t. Stop comparing yourself to other Moms, other women. I am convinced, that with all my faults, all my insecurities, and all my mistakes, I am where I am supposed to be. The Universe conspires to put you where you are supposed to be. It has given me charge of two tiny souls that were picked out, just for me. Two little souls who are my pride and joy. Two tiny souls that feed mine just by being themselves every single day.
As a career mom, I am guilty of bringing the stress of work home with me. I have let it fester in my head and in my heart – let it steal my joy. I am guilty of snapping at the kids or being short with Papa Bear. I am one of the lucky ones – as an administrator at a University with tenure and rank, I have the luxury of returning to my faculty position. Most working women don’t have that option. I’m ready for the change, and am taking the opportunity.
What you can do as a working mom is take the opportunities that you have. You don’t have to change jobs, especially if you are fulfilled by yours. We need that as women, the intellectual fulfillment we get by working outside the home. I like to think I would be a kick butt stay at home mom, but the truth is, it would get old for me. That isn’t the case for everyone, but it is for me. I used to feel bad that I needed the validation and stimulation that my career gives me. I wondered why staying at home wouldn’t be “enough” for me. Why I enjoyed the time out of the house, working on projects and with others that were meaningful to me. I let that go. I am the mom I am because I am fulfilled in my career. I can be a better mother because I have outlets outside of my family. That isn’t the case for everyone, but it is for me.
Whatever your situation is, take stock. Are your kids happy, healthy and safe? If your answers are yes, you are doing a fine job, mama. Are your kids well grounded, kind and empathetic? Then mama, what are you worried about. Do you hear more laughter than arguments? More I love you’s and thank you’s than tantrums? Well mama, isn’t that what it’s about? I have been focused on the small stuff for too long, for so long that I lost sight that the small stuff wasn’t the big stuff, and those tiny moments that make the days bearable and the years memorable were the moments that should be the focus, but weren’t.
Don’t Use Your Mom Voice On Yourself
Mamas, we are too hard on ourselves. We would never talk to our children the way we talk to ourselves. We would never make them feel like they needed to obsess over their hair, a presentation or how many times each week the floor is swept. We would sit our daughters down and tell them to be kind to themselves, be loving, live kindly. We would never allow them to speak to us or others the way we speak to ourselves. The contempt, the criticism, the negativity, they all have to go. We are the moms we were equipped to be – all imperfect and beautiful. We are the sun and moon to our children, and we are the examples they mimic when they face difficulty in their own lives. If they see us being kind to ourselves they will begin to be kind to themselves and others – the most important gift we can bestow on them. So mamas, ditch the guilt. Throw it out and don’t look back. You are doing just fine, working at home, outside the home, being the person you were created to be – the person you already are.
Don’t be so quick to give that you forget to take a little for yourself. You can’t pour from an empty pitcher, mamas. Fill your pitcher when you can. Fill it with anything that brings you joy – yes, I know that the tinies bring you joy, but you are more than their caregiver. Think back to a time before the kids, before the family. What did you enjoy doing? Find that passion again.
In the quiet moments, when I look into the peaceful face of my smallest when he sleeps. In the moments when it is just me and my thoughts, I wonder if I am good enough. I wonder if I am doing everything I am supposed to do to raise a strong woman and a strong man. I look into his tiny face and see the future unfold before me. I see ball games, first girlfriends, dances and graduations. I pray that I give him the emotional support he needs to grow from man cub to papa bear of his own little clan. I let doubt creep into those moments and steal some of my joy. No more. I will no longer let doubt creep in. I will no longer allow those precious quiet moments to be intruded upon – to be stolen. I will trust that I am giving them what they need. I will trust that I am enough.