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The Guilt Of Being A Working Mother

Ali Wong, the mother-comedian-entertainer extraordinaire, once said (and I’m paraphrasing), “My husband and I work REALLY hard to pay someone else to raise our children for us.”

Now, if you’re a parent – particularly if you’re in a partnership in which both spouses work – this comment is every bit as hysterical as it is bitingly accurate.

That’s because any mom or dad in America, regardless if they work back-to-back shifts at IHOPs or run a Fortune 500 company, is acutely aware of the emotional, mental, and physical sacrifices made to the family unit in exchange to guarantee financial stability.

We’re all painfully aware of the choices we have made — to forgo being readily available for our children — so that we can provide them with the things they need and deserve in life.

It never gets easier, no matter how many ways we try to rationalize our lack of omnipresence as we fight traffic at 7 a.m. on our way to some depressing, corporate landscape while our children are back at home, eating Cheerios in their onesies with the nanny.

To avoid any confusion, it is not a NECESSITY or BETTER to be a stay-at-home parent. It is also not EASY to be a stay-at-home parent, (I know from personal experience).

It IS, however, a LUXURY to be able to be a SAHM.

It is also a luxury to be able to CHOOSE if you want to stay with the kids or make a paycheck. I, for one, was blessed with the ability to raise my son throughout the first two years of his life. I was blessed and lucky and (quite frankly) ecstatic to get back into the workplace. I just got to a point where I realized I needed an identity outside of being both a wife and a mom.

Many American families don’t have that choice or luxury. They HAVE to work to keep things afloat. In fact, according to the National Bureau of Labor, 61% of American households have two working parents. Which kind of means that 61% of children are pretty much being raised by other people whom we pay and entrust to keep our kids from turning into delinquents.

Simply put, whether you decide to or not – working while having a kid is probably one of the hardest decisions a parent has to face, and I’m going to go ahead and address moms, in particular (though I acknowledge that plenty of fathers struggle with similar guilt and pressures).

Rejoining the workforce after having a child pretty much means the floodgates of guilt will open and probably won’t stop until they move out of the house. You feel guilty because you wonder if you made the right choice. You feel guilty because you wonder if your decision was selfish. You wonder if your lack of presence through these critical years will cause unforeseen developmental and behavioral issues (for your kid, not you… but maybe you, too).

You wonder if that babysitter or that daycare teacher makes him or her happier than you ever could. You catch glimpses into who your child is and what they know through pieces of evidence – sent-home macaroni art and songs you don’t know that they recite in the car on the commute home. They babble on about friends you’ve never heard of or use words you had no idea they knew. It’s like looking into a telescope and trying to understand the constellations, hoping you, too, may catch a shooting star.

Then, there’s the exhaustion.

Feeling “refreshed” is not part of my daily vernacular, so functioning after an 8-hour shift requires whatever strength I have left to muster.

You know, that kind of exhaustion I mean? The kind that makes your knees tremble and the simplest task feels like the world’s greatest feat? Imagine feeling that fatigue when you pick your toddler up from school and every word hurts to speak as you try to excitedly match his own enthusiastic banter.

Imagine this ball of energy and information just exploding to get out and you desperately want to make up for your lack of presence, so you do the walks or the park or help with a puzzle or tumble around on the ground when REALLY, you just want to sink into a couch and zone out for an hour.

My point is, raising one or multiple children is rewarding but it’s equally draining, and I think it’s ok to admit that without feeling like a bad parent.

It DOES suck that we live in a world right now where it’s nearly impossible for both parents not to work. Our children ARE being raised by other people – people we pay with money we earned because we either chose to or had to join the workplace.

If you feel guilty like me, try not to beat yourself up, dear mom, as difficult as I know it can be. There are days I forget to brush my kid’s teeth or to bath him and sometimes I opt for movie night over reading his customary bedtime stories.

Sometimes, I feel like such a bad mom, the guilt is almost tangible. But when I pick him up from daycare, he always comes running up to me, yelling “Mommy!” with this unrivaled grin on his face and a hug to match, and I remember I’m still his whole world as he is mine. And though he may not appreciate my abscesses now, I hope someday he realizes this was all for him. All of it.

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About Mcclain W.

2 comments

  1. I’m not sure how I started getting your emails, probably from something else I looked at. I really struggle when I hear moms say they need an “identity” outside of being a wife and a mom. This implies that this vocation is not a worthy goal. I believe this whole attitude has so infected women that they feel guilty for wanting to “only” be a wife and mom. Yes, I get it that some women have to work, I have no problem with that. What about women who financially don’t need a second paycheck? Isn’t raising children to be good, productive citizens who contribute to society more important than what I might want to do? Maybe some of us need to reevaluate what things and possesions we really need, so that we might be able to stay home with our most treasured children.

  2. Beating yourself up is useless. Being the best mom you can be under the circumstances you are in is all that can be asked of you. It is one of the hardest things in life to learn, male of female. You make the best choice you can, and live as best you can with the results. Could have been or should have done are no help at all. What is, is. Start each day from the point you are in and make the best of it.

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