The guilt is real for me. I try to keep it at bay but inevitably it creeps up. Telling me I’m not doing this motherhood thing right. Whispering I’ll never advance in my career. Trying to convince me that my husband deserves a better wife.
Most days, the guilt is like a light breeze, brushing past me as I walk down the street. It’s there, I feel it, but it doesn’t slow me down. Other days, it feels like I’m walking face-first into a gale-force wind, pushing me into a dark storm I can’t control.
I recently had one of those very windy days. Our daycare had a power outage. The AC went out so they asked all of the parents to pick their kids up early, at 11:30 AM, in the middle of a workday. I called in to better understand the issue and ask if my son was in imminent danger. As it turns out, he was not. So, I let them know I would get there as soon as I could. Hopefully, around 2:30 PM but maybe closer to 3:30 PM.
It just so happened that I had some very important meetings that day and it’s REALLY hard for my husband to leave work (he won’t get paid and they could choose not to renew his contract, hard). Well, at 2:30 PM the daycare called to inform me that my son was the last one there. They were very clear that all of the other parents had been able to pick up their kids.
So, again, I asked if he was in danger. They said no, and I let them know I would be there in the next hour.
I know this was the right thing to ask to help me make a decision about whether or not to cancel every meeting, let the folks at work down and push deadlines. I know I made the right decision to stay, deliver what I promised and support my team. And yet, the guilt set in. The wind picked up.
The whispers in the back of my mind started:
“You picked work over your son, bad mom”
“You love your job more than your baby, what kind of mother are you?”
“Your son is the last one there, what’s wrong with you?”
“Your son will think you don’t love him since he’s the last to be picked up.”
“You’re being an irresponsible parent.”
This time, the guilt quickly transformed into indignation. I was angry that they had to tell me he was the last one. Why does that matter? Our daycare costs thousands of dollars a month.
When he is sick I drop everything and pick him up. I follow all of the rules, labeling food, clothes and diapers. We pay our bill on time. Why do they need to make me feel like a bad mom?
On the train ride to retrieve my son from his non-life threatening situation I got deep into my own mind. All of these thoughts started to flood my head as anger and guilt swirled in my heart. And then, as if through some divine intervention, like clouds parting to let the sun in after a storm, I had a revelation: I am NOT a bad mom. I am a mom who needs to make choices.
That day I chose work. My son was not in danger and my job had serious demands. Choosing work is something I will have to do sometimes and it’s okay. I am a whole being. A woman, not just a mom or a worker or wife.
All of these facets of who I am will always compete with each other. And I will always rise to the occasion and make the best choice for me and the situation. Choosing not to drop everything to rush and pick him up that day doesn’t change how much I love my son. It simply reflects that trade-offs and decisions are an ongoing part of life.
When I arrived at daycare, it was clear he was having a grand old time with one-on-one attention. And, I can’t lie, as annoyed as I was to leave work early, I was grateful to have a couple of extra hours with him that afternoon.
Choosing between work and family is inevitable. Whatever choice I make doesn’t make me bad. It makes me human.