Wherever you find a group of women of childbearing age, you will inevitably hear those two words thrown around with pride. It’s as if we have to practice this self-deprecating behavior in order to prove that we are truly loving and committed mothers.
And from what I can tell as a member of these circles, that guilt has permeated every aspect of our lives nowadays.
We’re guilty for working outside of the home and we’re guilty for being stay at home moms. We’re guilty for sending our kids to preschool two days a week or guilty because we don’t send them at all. We’re guilty for letting our kids watch television while we grill their organic, free-range chicken to perfection (which they probably won’t eat anyway!) and we’re guilty for instead choosing to spend that time reading books with them while they eat prepackaged genetically modified fruit snacks.
We beat ourselves up for not living up to some idolized, urban legend version of a Stepford wife and personally, I’ve had enough.
As I was preparing to return to work after maternity leave I was shocked by the reaction I was getting from those around me. Everyone automatically assumed that I was reluctant to reintegrate myself back into the workforce or that I’m only motivated by the financial benefits gained by working outside of the home. And against my better instincts, I found myself playing along with this misconception because I didn’t want anyone to know that I just may be one of those women for whom “motherhood, alone, isn’t enough.”
Shame on me!
As a working mother with two daughters it both baffles and saddens me that we’re still judging women for wanting more satisfaction than parenting alone can provide. To be honest, it never occurred to me to feel guilty about my choice to have a lucrative and fulfilling profession. I never believed I was letting someone else “raise my kids for me” while I ran off to play my “adult games” all day. And I’ve certainly never thought of my career as secondary to my husband’s or as a welcome distraction from my parenting. That is, until I heard other people (most often women themselves!) talk about working moms in these terms.
So here’s the truth:
I’m proud of my success. I’ve earned it.
I don’t work to escape the responsibility of raising my children or to have coffee dates with my coworkers all day. I don’t do it because I think less of stay at home moms or to avoid the messy aspects of motherhood. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t have a nanny who cooks, cleans, and washes our cloth diapers for me. I do all that too with the help of an incredibly involved husband who more than carries his share of the load.
I’m happy to admit that I enjoy wearing high heels and carrying a nice handbag, even if it’s filled with hair bows and art projects half the time. I like being reminded that I’m part of something bigger than my little family in my little neighborhood. I don’t mind waking up in the middle of the night thinking about work because most of the time I’m up already researching the latest parenting trend. And I actually believe that being away from their mommy for some portion of everyday is good for my kids. It’s taught my oldest self-sufficiency, resilience, and conflict resolution and kept me from turning into a helicopter mom.
Sure, there are sacrifices.
Without a doubt, our mornings are hectic and our evenings are worse. We cut every possible corner to maximize time because there really, truly are not enough hours in the day (but from what I hear, the same is true for families with one parent home all day). I can pretty much guarantee I will never know every parent on the class roster by name and store bought cupcakes for the school birthday party will have to suffice. But I always smile and say good morning to other parents and I treat my kids’ teachers and caregivers as if they’re part of our family. Because they are!
I work because I enjoy it. Because it affords my family certain luxuries that only a double income in the state of California can. I work because developing a solicitation strategy for a transformative gift to the university fulfills me in a way that arts and crafts with my three-year-old just doesn’t. I work because my husband finds my achievements sexy and because frankly, I’m really good at what I do.
I pray that when it’s all set and done, my girls will find more pride in my professional success and less disappointment that I missed valuable weekday moments with them. I hope that my choices will teach them to wear their own achievements like a badge of honor. As they grow up, I will encourage them to find that one thing that makes their hearts sing and pursue it with reckless abandon and free from guilt. It’s important to me that they learn that it’s not just the daddy’s job to provide for the family but that the responsibility is shared between both parents. I work because my mom did and because she represents everything I want to be as a woman.
Don’t get me wrong, I love nothing more than collapsing at the end of a long day with my girls in my arms. In fact, I look forward to it all day long. And my heart melts when Savannah listens attentively while I respond to her daily inquiry, “How was your day, mommy?” I always tell her the truth – sharing both my challenges and my accomplishments – so she learns that you can’t have one without the other.
For me, working makes me a better mommy and a more interesting wife. It’s adds a balance to our household and an (often times, exhausted) skip to my step. Frankly, four out of five days of the week, it’s just plain fun!
And while I’m riding the honesty train, I’m going to go ahead and unload yet another confession: I also strive to carve out a few minutes to take care of myself each day – to exercise, write, meditate, slap on a mud mask or just breathe – because being selfless 100% of the time is both exhausting and unrealistic.
So, that’s me ridding myself of all guilt. My life is crazy. It’s full and messy and so incredibly awesome that I’m not going to waste another minute on something as ridiculous and archaic as “mommy guilt.” And as long as you love your kids as much as I do, I encourage you to banish those ridiculous words from your vocabulary as well.
I salute you, mommies! Whether your job pays you in cash or with a direct deposit of slobbery kisses, you are working 24 hours a day/7days a week. You are a superhero and your kids have complete faith that you will make the right decisions about their education, childcare, nutrition, and extracurricular activities. Now, all you have to do is spread that cape wide, believe in yourself and trust that your super powers will get the job done.
Oh, and just for fun, try yelling, “F you, mommy guilt!”
Trust me, it’s liberating!