On Guilt

On Monday we went to a mommy and baby fitness class at the pool.  It’s pretty great – I wear a deep water running belt and Jess sits in a tethered boat floating behind me.  So as I do laps of the deep end, she follows along, kicking her feet and chewing on bath toys.  I never feel that I’m working that hard (10 years of competitive swimming means that if doesn’t start with 5×100 meter set, it doesn’t count as exercise), but I’m always beat afterwards.  Plus, Jess often has epic naps afterwards.  It’s a great class.

After the class, I sat in the baby pool with two of the other mothers and chatted for almost an hour. I’ve talked to these ladies before – in fact, have even been in classes with them before.  (Strollercize with one, and library class with the other.)  We’ve been doing this for the past month, and despite the fact I cannot remember their names, I know a good deal about them, and their parenting style, and their babies.  This time, we ended up talking about going back to work.  (We live in Canada, where year long mat leave is the norm.  I’ve only heard of a few women, generally self employed, who don’t take at least most of a year.  Most people take the full 52 weeks, and corporate life hasn’t fallen apart.  1 year contracts for temps are super common.)  The other two ladies were so totally uncomplicated about their choices, and it made me feel deep envy.

One works in a high pressure group at a large corporation and is not going back.  Her work is very family unfriendly, she feels if she works she can’t give 100% in either role, and she loves spending the days playing and snuggling with her daughter.  The other works as a coordinator for a major charitable organization – a job that is much more family friendly and also is very rewarding.  She is going back to work, and seems very un-conflicted about it.

I’m going back to work, in large part, because the last 8 months has shown us that I am, in fact, not very good at being a stay at home mother.  And that makes me feel like shit.

Look.  I love STAYING HOME, but I don’t love STAYING HOME WITH THE BABY, if you can parse out the differences.  I love sleeping in, and spending the day puttering around the kitchen, and going to lunch with friends, and long walks around the reservoir, fitness classes, and surfing the internet for hours,  and puttering around the house.  I like being able to take care of chores during the day so our evenings are clear for hanging out.  I like getting to read a lot, and being able to shrug off insomnia nights and make up for it later with naps.  I like the lifestyle of being at home (a Lady Who Lunches), but I am well aware right now it’s totally dependent on a baby who is rarely awake for more than 2 hours in a stretch, has 3 naps a day and isn’t yet mobile.  I find it hard enough to entertain the kid for 2 hours at a stretch, and she spends a good deal of time (delightedly, but still) in the exersauser /on the playmat / in the stroller as we run errands.  That’s not exactly the reading/playing/snuggling bliss that I genuinely believe some people love to do.  I don’t.  I try, but I can only try to read at a kid who spends her whole time trying to eat the book while ignoring my words utterly before I just hand her the book and watch her chew on it.  I just don’t have the patience now, and this age sounds a fuckload easier than having a toddler, who needs entertainment and attention all the time.

And yet, I don’t feel like a failure as a mother.  I breastfeed.  I make baby food.  I cloth diaper.  I know my baby well: I have identified two different legitimate medical problems that the doctors didn’t (the second tongue tie and the weight loss/sleep/milk issue, although I didn’t know exactly what the problem was, I was able to get them to help me find the solution.)  I feel capable at the daily tasks of raising this tiny baby of mine.  I just don’t feel as up to the daily task of entertaining her, and that makes me feel like shit too.

I think it would be easier if I was going back to work at something I was passionate about. I like my job, and I’m proud of the promotion I got before I went on mat leave, but I don’t love it.  It doesn’t complete me, or is my passion, or anything like that. It’s a good job, that pays well, that challenges me in good ways, and allows me to live the life I love and to travel.  My work isn’t as meaninful as working with sick kids, for example, or creative like running websites, or involved in any way with my undefinied passions.  (I don’t think fraccing is anyone’s passion.  It’s a good job that needs to be done, and that’s it.  For all of us at work, I think.)

I feel like shit about going back to work. (Giving up all the time with my baby!  Giving up the nice relaxed lifestyle I’m enjoying!)  I feel like shit at the through of having to stay at home for years.  (Failing at being the kind of stay at home mom I coulda/shoulda/woulda be!)  I feel like I’ve set myself up for being unable to win.  I also feel like this is entirely in my own head, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

Linked are three unrelated posts that were all very helpful in helping me pull my thoughts in to some for of order.   Meghan about not being guiltyLiz on staying at home with her sonJill about making parenting less stressful.

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5 responses to “On Guilt

  1. As someone who isn’t yet a mother, I can only imagine how hard the go back to work or stay home decision is. I’ve always maintained that I want to be a stay at home mom, at least until all my children are in school full time but I definitely recognize that actually being in the position to have to make that decision is a whole different matter.

    Whatever you decide though you’re doing *something* to fulfill your family’s needs. And keep in mind some people may present their decisions as being less conflicted than they actually are, especially once the decision has been made and finalized.

  2. Man, you are hard on yourself! I think part of being a good mom is recognizing your strengths and limitations – we all have them. You have recognized yours and made the decision you think is appropriate. Many people, including many mothers, have jobs or careers that they are not passionate about – it’s okay. I agree with Sheryl 100%: you will be doing something to fulfill your family’s needs when you return to work. Your baby will benefit from the extra money (probably both directly and indirectly), and as she gets older she will see you as a role model for a working woman. The 1st year is most important in establishing a secure, loving relationship with your baby, and you have done it. Try to give yourself permission to move on guilt-free.

  3. I’ve been thinking about this. (You’re my favorite to read because I’m drooling over your national healthcare/mat leave and you tell it like it is). I love your distinction about loving to stay home but that’s different than staying home with the baby.

    I kinda am more impressed with people who sort through all the crap and figure it out vs. knowing immediately what they want, be that staying home or working. It’s harder, requires more effort. Respect.

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