The Working Mom Guilt Pendulum

A week ago, I felt terrible because I had to call out of work after picking up some of PJ’s germs that kept me home the whole previous week taking care of him. Even though my company is very family friendly and my boss was nothing but kind and understanding about it, I still put myself on a massive guilt trip over the parts of my job I wasn’t getting done. So I coped by telling myself that I was being a good mom and in the big picture, that counts more, right?

Cue the pendulum swing…

Sunday night, PJ’s teeth were bothering him, and he woke me up early on Monday morning. Like, 4 am early. That was rough, but I figured I could deal. Until Monday night, when the “putting baby to bed” plan that started at 8:30 stretched on, and on, and on…until all of a sudden it’s 2 am and I’m collapsed in a puddle of tired on the nursery floor next to a baby that just won’t stop crying. And because his teeth hurt, every time I pick him up, I get bit.

At this point, I know that if I go past the 24 hour awake mark there is no way  I’m going to make it to work, and I can’t call out again because I have a big meeting with several people I won’t be able to reschedule easily if at all. So I went back to my room and was tired enough to pass out for a three hour nap and get up for work.

My husband can tell you, I paid for that nap all day long in feeling guilty – I was so sad that I couldn’t stick it out and cuddle the baby all night like he wanted and then be home to sleep during the day when he finally went down for a nap. And even with Paul telling me over and over that it was OK and PJ was fine,  I totally felt like one of those awful stock photos they use on the cover of every magazine article about working moms ever published. You know, the ones where a crying, neglected child wails while Mean Feminist Mommy takes a business call, types on a laptop, and is much more interested in her cup of coffee than her kid (although I can kind of sympathize with that last one if she’s as sleep deprived as I am).

Most days, I’m happy about being a working mom – I like my job, feel good about what I do, and who wouldn’t get an instant mood boost from coming home to this every day?


But then, no matter how good I feel about what I’m doing, at some point I start to feel bad about what I’m not doing. There’s that pendulum, swing swing swing!

I feel much better today, not coincidentally because he slept last night. But I have a feeling this is just the first of many times where I’ll end up having to decide who needs me more, and then second, third, and fourth guess myself.

Tell me it gets easier, please! And yes, it’s ok to lie!

3 thoughts on “The Working Mom Guilt Pendulum

  1. Many people think because I work from home that I am able to be the kind of mom I want. Wrong. I feel guilt every other day. Many times the schedules of the children I watch has interfered with something Austin wanted to do. Even something like a doctors appointment can be hard when the parents aren’t on time for pick-up. His toys were never just his toys(although he never complained), he had to share me, and now that he is older the children are more of a annoyance. Austin does not like what I do and I did it all for him. Yes, I am lucky in so many ways, Austin is too(maybe someday he will appreciate it), but I still carry the weight of guilt. Meg Ryan, many, many years ago said that she came to accept that guilt was a natural part of parenting.

    • That’s a great point. I guess it’s just a natural part of wanting to do the right thing that even when you feel like you’re doing a good thing on one hand, you want to be doing better on the other.

  2. Oh Shanna, for me it hasn’t gotten any easier 😦 But it has become easier to tolerate! I still have (many!) mornings when I cry on my way to work because I only got to see my son for 5 minutes before I had to leave (I have to be at work very early). And every afternoon, I’m out the door as soon as I’m allowed, never staying a moment longer than I absolutely have to. Barring emergencies, I refuse conferences after regular hours because in my mind, that’s the point every day in which I cease being a counselor, and fall back into my role as a parent. And I have a whole different set of responsibilities when the clock strikes 3:30. The counselor hat comes off, and the mommy hat goes on. So at 3:30, I fly to my car and race to pick up my son. And every traffic light, every slow car in front of me, causes turmoil because I know that I have 3 hours to spend with my son before it’s time for bed. And part of that time has to be spent preparing dinner because damned if my family hasn’t decided that they like to eat every day! And on the days when I have to stay home because my child is sick, I feel so guilty about missing work. And on the days when my son is sick and I leave him home with his daddy because I just can’t miss another day of work, I feel like a terrible mom. I love my job, I feel like I make a difference. But yes, I feel ya–sometimes I wonder what kind of difference I’m not making in my son’s life. He’s happy, he’s not suffering. But could I could give him better (maybe I could, but I also couldn’t offer him a roof over his hand or health insurance…so there’s that)?

    But recently I’ve learned to describe myself not as a working mom, but as a mom who works. Mom always comes first. And that really helps me put it into perspective so that I can remind myself that, yes my job is important. But it is absolutely not as important as my family.

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