I have never met a working mother who said she did NOT feel mom guilt. Whether it’s a small twinge when you give in to a cookie before dinner or a life-changing decision to put your kids in daycare to go back to your career, we’ve all experienced this universal phenomenon that is generally reserved for women.
No one asks a man if he’s going to quit his job after he has a child.
I felt it the worst when my family faced financial difficulties that I attributed to my decision to work part time instead of full time. I felt that decision was a selfish decision that hurt my kids.
Many moms feel guilt for being away from kids at work and hearing about all the exploring their kids are doing and milestones they’re achieving when that mom is not around. I didn’t feel that because I was with my kids the majority of the time, but that didn’t absolve me of the dreaded mom guilt.
I didn’t make the decision to work part time because I thought it would be best for my kids, although I assumed that would be an added benefit. I had dreamed of the kind of mother I wanted to be – very hands-on, coaching their teams, leading their scout troops, watching every practice and game and recital, helping with homework, having flexibility to be spontaneous, taking my kids on adventures like the park and zoo, delving into questions by spending hours reading to them, being proud that I was the biggest influence in their life. That was my motherhood vision, and I was determined to live it.
So I quit working after my first child and only went back to my job as a reporter when I got a dream schedule of two days a week after jokingly suggesting it during a visit to the newsroom with my newborn. At the time, my husband’s job paid enough to cover our bills. I decided that getting ahead financially wasn’t as important as enjoying all those special moments of childhood with my kids. I even decided that I could advance in my career later, even if there were gaps during child-rearing years. I was wrong on both accounts.
After my husband got laid off, neither of us could find full-time jobs during the Great Recession. I had previously started a real estate business as a way to help with our finances while still having enough flexibility to be just as involved in my children’s lives. But during the years after the crash, the real estate business was losing money, and my part-time reporting and my husband’s part-time teaching wasn’t enough to pay the bills. Previous offers for full-time reporting positions had disintegrated along with the nation’s wealth. No matter how hard we tried to find any kind of full-time job and how many freelance projects we took on, the financial struggles were relentless. My children now say the parts of their childhood they remember the most are the yelling and fighting and the frustration that we couldn’t afford things their friends could. I initially blamed my husband and later myself after realizing that my value as an employee had diminished because I only worked part-time for 10 years. I came to the conclusion that I had made the wrong choices – by choosing a career I loved that was historically low-paying, by choosing to stay home with my kids five days a week, by choosing to start a business in an industry about to face calamity.
I eventually got seven different part-time jobs and worked nonstop for five years to transform my real estate business from losing money to bringing in a small profit. I resented the time and energy and stress required to pull us out of our hole. My kids were constantly angry at me for being late to pick them up and having to arrange carpools with other moms when I was delayed by business meetings.
Now that they are grown, I’m trying to make peace with the heavy weight of mom guilt I carried around during our financial hardship and even the guilt I felt for not regretting my choice to spend more time with them than on my career. My daughter says I was too involved, and she believes her struggles with mental illness are related to my tendencies to be a helicopter mom. But a Gen Z colleague who is the same age as my daughter helped me to see a new perspective recently. He said he remembered the years during the Great Recession as a time with “a lot of yelling and crying” in his household. It made me realize how our family’s difficulties were not only caused by my choices; similar scenarios played out all over the country because of the financial challenges faced by millions during that unsettling time. For the first time I realized I could have made a different decision and taken a full-time job when my kids were babies, only to lose it during the recession and face just as much uncertainty and struggle.
We may not be able to avoid mom guilt, but we can accept it like a distant relative who shows up at the family party and criticizes our parenting. We can’t avoid them, and we cringe imagining they might be right. But we do what we want anyway — because they don’t know or understand our reality.
And neither does Mom Guilt. It’s based on unrealistic expectations from society, family and ourselves. We don’t know what the future will hold, but most of us do know in our heart what we want. Mom Guilt lives in our head, not our heart. Our desires for ourselves and our children live in our heart. Now is the time to make a choice based on your heart.