The Guilt of a Working Mother
I’m just now getting back into working, and it’s been exhilarating and terrifying. It brings up more mom insecurities and yet validates others. It is yet another example of how motherhood is a dichotomous experience of conflicting feelings: joy and guilt, adrenaline and fatigue, fulfillment and loss. These emotions course through my body as I tend to my children and my burgeoning career.
For my career is its own member of the household, making waves and offering succor. It helps our family financially but takes me away from them at the same time. It can put stress on my responsibilities as a mother, but it soothes my soul as a woman. Which is more important? The answer is both. Both are important. Both are valid. And both are possible.
I find I am a better mother when I have something for myself. Something that does not belong to anyone else. I share just about everything all day long with either my children or my husband, and I am left feeling drained. But what fills us up? For me, it is my writing. I absolutely need to write to process my day and achieve a sense of purpose outside of being a mother. Sometimes I feel that I am drowning in motherhood, and writing is my life raft.
But I cannot do this alone. We need the support from our families and caregivers. Transitioning from a stay-at-home mom to a working-from-home mom means my husband has to help with more of my previous responsibilities. My children have learned how to get themselves a snack or play with their baby sister, while I’m wrapping up a few things for work. And I have to be okay with this. Even though I tend to do everything, I’ve learned to relinquish some control in order to achieve my goals.
Is that something you struggle with too? I have a hard time watching someone else tend to my children when I could do it better. But the truth is, help is absolutely essential if I want to accomplish anything else in my life. At first, I just accepted this, begrudgingly and with some guilt that my children weren’t getting the best. Then I realized that as much as they were losing me, they were gaining something I couldn’t offer them: a new perspective. Keeping my children to myself meant depriving them of the opportunity to learn from other people. This realization made it a lot easier to pass the reins to someone else, so I could have a little time to myself.
Waking Up Before Them
Even with help, there is still a lot of work to do while my kids are home. I have four young children, and trying to work in the chaos, especially when no one is in school, can be overwhelming. So, I’ve learned to wake up early. I try to do the bulk of my work before my children wake up, which allows the rest of my day to go smoothly. I begin the day feeling triumphant. I’ve done something for myself, uninterrupted, and I am fully awake to greet my children. This helps me strike a balance because I get to be fully present for myself first thing in the morning and fully present for my children later in the day.
I have a friend who described this perfectly. She said, “When you wake up early, you wake up as Jacque, but when you wake up with your kids, you wake up as Mom.” And I need to wake up as Jacque. I need to start my day as myself with no demands on me, other than my own. I have needs that must be met, and they come first before my children’s. I can’t take care of anyone, if I’m not okay.
I Come First
And my work makes me okay. My work gives me something that no other person or activity can offer: it feeds my soul. How can I feel guilty about something that offers me so much? Because I also love being a mother. I love being a wife. We have competing priorities that pull at us all day. How do we choose one, when we want to choose them all?
I give a little time to each every day, to the best of my ability, but I always start with myself. I put my own oxygen mask on first before putting on anyone else’s because otherwise I could pass out. And that would hurt everyone else. On the days when it’s hard to see myself as a good enough reason, I remind myself of this, and it helps.
I think this justification of why we need to take care of ourselves is natural. This mom guilt is natural. How could we not feel torn between multiple things we love? But I think we can work on believing we deserve to have something for ourselves. A kernel of existence set aside just for us that we don’t have to share. The more I engage in these practices, the closer I come to achieving balance, and the richer my life has become.
And to those mamas out there who wish they were working, who wish they had something to call their own. Your time will come, and it will embrace you, welcoming you back like an old friend.
Author Bio: Jacqueline Pinchuk lives in North Idaho with her four children, small dog, and giant husband. She has no free time and wakes up early to put her counseling psychology degree to good use by writing about emotional angst and thought-provoking questions. Step into the craziness by following her blog, Instagram, or Facebook where cute kids and shenanigans run unbound.