2.24.2012

Just say 'no' to the mommy guilt

I've had several careers since giving birth to my daughter a little under two years ago. Careers which have allowed me to be nearly every type of working or non-working mother you can be.
Once upon a time I had a
seriously kick-ass job.

I've been the traditional working mother; the kind that had to get up in the morning and make herself presentable, had to put on business clothes (ones that couldn't be covered in spit up or whatever bodily fluid the baby managed to project), the kind that packed up her daughter's life into a diaper bag and then carted her off to a sitter (who luckily enough was my parents or my close friend), the kind that cried all the way to work because of the guilt I felt from leaving my daughter, the kind that got home, made dinner and tried to soak in every drop of my daughter that I could because I had missed so much at work. I was the kind of working mom who pushed all of her needs aside, until the wee hours of the night, because she couldn't stand to waste any of the time earlier on herself when her daughter was around to be snuggled.

Being that kind of mom, was hard. It was really, really hard. I felt like I was letting stay-at-home mothers down by wanting a career, having a career and enjoying it. I felt guilty about not being guilty enough. I was being a bad mom, because I was choosing to let someone else be a mother to my child so I could work.

It was a difficult feeling.

And so then, in between jobs, I decided to take some time while job-searching and enjoy the perks of being a stay-at-home mom. I wanted to see what exactly I was missing out on. It turns out, a lot. And, at the same time, not so much. When I was a traditional working mother, I missed a lot of dirty diapers, a lot of smiles, tears, frowns and realizations. I probably missed the first time my daughter uttered a word without knowing it was a word and I probably missed the first time she rolled over. But there were things I missed that were OK to miss, that the Amanda in me, needed to miss. Like the tantrums, the excessive crying, the fit-throwing and the constant need to be rocked for sometimes hours on end to be put to sleep.

Don't get me wrong, I realize those things come with motherhood, I'm just woman enough to admit that the type of woman I am, needs a little help when it comes to some of those things. And my way of getting help from those stressful moments of "oh God why did I think I was ready for a child," was by going to work. It was having a career. It was allowing myself to be something other than a mother for eight hours a day. I'm not saying that one is better than the other, but I am saying that in my case, being strictly a stay-at-home mother made me a worse one. I lost myself. I got sucked into milestones, a tiny person's bowel movements and how many calories she was or wasn't taking in a day. I forgot that I was an actual person with actual needs before my daughter. And it took me a really, really long time to figure out what and who I was before I had a child; in fact, I'm still trying to figure it all out. So for me, being a stay-at-home mom just isn't an option.

So what was a mom to do? I felt guilt for not feeling guilty while being a career woman, spent commutes crying for being a terrible mom that wanted to get away from her baby, but couldn't find a way to stay at home with her daughter all day, every day without losing herself and her mind.

I found my middle ground.

Thanks to an amazing job opportunity, I'm now a work-from-home mother. The juggling act is grueling. Despite having extra hands here to help with my daughter so I can lock myself away in the office and slave over articles and stories that need editing, it's still hard. I hear my daughter's laughs from my office and want to know what she's giggling about. I hear all her cries and freak outs and find myself crawling out of my skin because I can't drive to a regular office like regular people and work. But it's worth it. I get to feel good about myself for being something other than someone's mother (which is something I need because even on good days, I still feel like I'm a terrible mother), I get to set goals and I've found a way to separate myself from my child, without really being separate from her.

Sure, there are some days I can't take the constant "where's mommy" questions my daughter asks over and over again in the mornings when I'm not there. There are days I wish I had a real reason to change out of my pajamas and put on my make up. There are days I feel like I have two faces - the working mom face who spends her hours holed up in front of a laptop - and the stay at home mother, the one who is still around her child and still hears every laugh, whimper and tantrum. I'm finding ways to balance these two out though, so that I don't lose myself or time with my daughter. I wake up at 5 a.m. so that I can work out and not think about things for a change. I exhaust my body because for one hour a day, I'm completely unaware of the mountain of tasks that await me.

I spend lunch hours with my daughter. I take her in, hug her, love her and enjoy the short amount of time I get to be with her. I appreciate the extra hour I'm saved in the day by not having a commute and I love being able to rock her to sleep now just because I have the extra 15 minutes on my lunch break to do so. I enjoy rocking my toddler, because even though she doesn't need it anymore, I now do.

I go out with my friends and allow myself to have a dinner every once and a while and not feel bad about it. I make myself shave my legs, put on make up, a dress and some too-high heels and go out with my friends. I make myself get dressed up so that I can feel like my old self, so that I don't lose everything about the woman I used to be.

I watch movies with my husband and lay on the couch. We lay low over the weekend and take in exactly what being a mother and father does to a marriage; and better yet, what it does to a man and a woman. And sometimes, when we're feeling brave, we go out with our daughter, just to practice exactly what having a family is and what family nights are going to be like.

So if you asked me to pick a side, to settle the debate on who has it harder, working moms or stay-at-home moms, I can tell you without a doubt that the hardest thing I've ever done in my life was to be a stay-at-home mom.

But even knowing that, it doesn't make the guilt I feel for enjoying my career so much (and not as many hours a day with my daughter) any less.

2 comments:

  1. I tried going back to work when my twins were three months old, I lasted a little over six weeks. I almost lost my mind trying to juggle everything, up all night nursing, trying to get out the door every morning, grading papers, changing diapers--I was a mess. I am in awe of women who can do it all, I failed miserably and of course beat myself up about it. Ugh, mom guilt has a way of making you feel like crap no matter what decision you make. I'm very happy to be home with my babies for now, but boy do I miss adult conversation and wearing pretty shoes to work. The fact that you found just the right balance for you and your family is inspiring (I'm still trying to work this out for myself).

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  2. I am trying to figure out this balance myself. I choose to be a stay at home mom to our son, but I am finding out that I really miss my working self. Hopefully I can find a at home position (or build my crunchyandhappy empire into a money making machine) so that I have some mommy time and some Leolin time.

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