Mom Guilt: The Working Parent Edition

work mom delilah

Want to hear something ironic? I work for a parenting magazine, and a huge part of my job is finding fun stuff for people to do with their kids and sharing the stuff I find with the community. But I spend so much time looking for fun stuff other people can do with their kids that it takes a load of time away from me doing fun stuff with MY own kids.

First, let me say this: I love my job. Let me repeat (and not just because my boss may or may not browse through my blogs from time to time), I LOVE my job. I can’t say I’ve ever had a job that I love, doing something that I truly enjoy, and feeling like I am making valuable contributions to society using the skills and creativity that I have always known I possessed. As much fun as it was slinging pastrami sandwiches at a kosher deli in Brooklyn for eight years, it wasn’t exactly my calling.

But this job? This is as close to “my calling” as I’ve ever been. Don’t get me wrong, it comes with quite a bit of stress and pressure, but what job doesn’t? At least, what CAREER doesn’t?

I did the Stay at Home Mom thing for a very long time, and it certainly had its ups and downs. Now that I’m working, I never realized just how much of myself I was available to give to my children when I was literally always available for them. We could pick up and go whenever we wanted. There were no schedules to coordinate, no deadlines looming, no emails to answer first. If we wanted to go to the park, we went. If we were low on groceries, to the supermarket we’d go. If they wanted to watch all three Toy Story Movies in a row, I knew we would just play together later. We were together all the time and they loved it.

And I…liked….it. Kind of. Well, as any Stay at Home Mom will tell you, being around your kids 24/7 can be draining. There are no breaks, no real help from anyone else. It’s on YOU to keep those kids happy around the clock. It’s tough stuff. So when the opportunity arose for me to take a job where I could keep a flexible schedule and often work from home, well, mentally and financially speaking, turning it down was never an option.

So while I’m very familiar with the Stay at Home Mom depression, I’m new to the whole Working Mom guilt. And, boy, is it something else entirely. When I tell people I can work from home, I think they envision this utopian ideal wherein I’m simultaneously baking cookies, overseeing fun craft projects, and emailing my boss all in perfect unison. How lucky I must be, to be able to accomplish so many tasks at once!

Well, in fact, I DO accomplish all of these things at once, but perfection it is NOT.

Allow me to set the scene for you.

It’s 3:30pm on any given weekday. My son is working on his math homework, that hellish Go Math common core homework book open in front of him. He’s crying a little because he doesn’t understand how to solve 15-7 by “making a ten” first. Quite frankly, neither do I, and I’m about to cry along with him. At the same moment, my three-year-old daughter is climbing on my back, shoving her Princess Sofia floor puzzle in my face and begging me to help her finish it. I glance over at the clock and see that if I don’t start dinner soon, I’ll have hunger meltdowns thrown into the mix. So I get up and head to the fridge to start cooking.

I wash and chop and slice and prep while my son reads his “book buddy” to me, hoping he’s actually reading what it says and not just making up random things to avoid using his brain. My daughter lingers dangerously over the cutting board, narrowly missing my razor-sharp knife with her tiny fingers as she tries to reorganize the veggies in a futile attempt to “help” me cook. I stop for a quick minute to check my work email, remembering something important I’d forgotten to do earlier. I see that I have 15 new emails and realize that the thing I forgot to do has spiraled into into an entirely new problem, and I absentmindedly spend another 20 “quick minutes” attempting to rectify it.

Suddenly I hear the sizzle of hot liquid hitting the stove and I realize my potatoes are boiling over, which is my reminder to check the oven and find that I’ve overcooked the crap out of the chicken. I look up and find Princess Sofia puzzle pieces and sliced vegetables strewn about the living room— my daughter’s passive aggressive way of displaying her resentment for my ignoring her. My son hands me his homework to check and I try to explain that “We bilted a snwmn” is spelled incorrectly, which immediately prompts a tantrum because, according to him, it IS spelled correctly and I’m the MEANEST MOM EVER and he just wants to go play video games but I WON’T LET HIM and his homework is DONE…..

And then my night-shift-working husband emerges from hibernation, bitching about us all making too much noise and waking him up, and wanting to know why the house smells like burnt chicken.

Fast forward a few hours; dinner is done, baths are done, husband’s off to work, kids are tucked in bed. And me? I’m on the couch, laptop open, typing away—finally able to get some work done.

The sad part is that I actually AM lucky to be able to do this with my family because I’m home from work in time to make dinner and oversee homework. Some working parents don’t get home until well after the kids are sleeping. And as insane as the afternoons with my family are, it’s a whole other type of insanity when you don’t even get to see your kids during the day at all.

The part I hate is when my daughter looks at me with her heart-meltingly innocent baby blue eyes and asks me “mommy can you play with me?” and I have to say no because I have work to do. Or when my son’s school sends home a note about yet ANOTHER school fair and I try to move heaven and earth to make it there, every single time, because I never want to let him down.  Or when I’m up very late, typing away into the wee hours of the night, and it causes me to wake up like Oscar the Grouch, ready to bite the head off of anyone who dares to ask me for plain Cheerios after I’ve already poured milk on an entire bowl of the honey-nut ones.

Sometimes I worry that my kids’ happiest childhood memories will be overshadowed by mental images of Mommy hiding behind a computer screen.

I love that I love my job. I don’t know how many people can say that and mean it, but I love having a job I enjoy, a job I’m proud to do. And financially speaking, I REALLY love that I can finally start putting some money away to someday, somehow, possibly, hopefully, maybe be able to afford my family’s first real home. Or our first trip to Disney. Or maybe even start up a college fund (well, after I’m done paying for my own college loans).

As stressed as I feel most of the time, I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. I’m sacrificing a lot, I know. But I do believe that in the end, it’s worth it.

I just wish it wouldn’t feel like my kids are the ones making the biggest sacrifice. Hopefully someday they’ll understand why.

Not A Happy Camper

Last month, Little M received the “most enthusiastic” award from his pre-k teacher at his preschool graduation ceremony. She said he brought “an energy and special sparkle” to their classroom every day. I was beaming with pride.

However, of the words I would use to describe my son’s disposition when leaving for his second week of day camp this morning, neither “enthusiastic” nor “special sparkle” come to mind.

Not only did he cry hysterically the whole way there, he then refused to go inside the building and begged me to take him home.

I almost gave in and took him back home after about ten minutes of tears and protests but then his camp teacher came along and promised to let him play with the iPad during free play time. He reluctantly decided to give in, since he’s kind of obsessed with video games of any kind. Thanks for passing that on, Big M!

Please don’t think I’m a monster for making him go to camp during his summer vacation, even though right now I feel like one. While I admit I did it partially because I feared that having both kids up my ass nonstop for 75 straight days would drive me clinically depressed and/or insane (again), I honestly thought he would get used to it quickly and be loving camp by the second week.

Boy, was I wrong.

After I dropped him off, my heart was heavy with the guilt of having talked him into doing something he didn’t want to do partially for my own benefit. So a little while later I decided to risk looking like a pedophile in stealth-mode and creep super-slowly past the camp’s playground with my windows up to see if the kids were playing outside– if I could catch a glimpse of Little M on the monkey bars or playing tag with some new friends then perhaps I could liberate my conscience and reassure myself that I’d done the right thing by leaving him there. Sure enough, the kids were all outside, running through the sprinklers, playing hopscotch, and having a total blast. Well, most of the kids were.

Little M was sitting on a bench in the corner all by himself, looking like his puppy just died.

What’s that sound you hear? Oh, that’s just my heart breaking into 40 billion pieces.

I learned a new interpretation for the word “restraint” today, because it took every ounce of restraint in my entire body not to immediately throw the car in park, snatch my baby off that wretched playground and never look back.

Why didn’t I just do that, you ask? Well, when Little M started school two years ago, he was also miserable at first. Crying, bargaining, refusing to go, the works. That smart little mofo even used to lie and say his stomach was hurting so that they would have no choice but to call and make me pick him up.

But eventually, as expected, he began to enjoy going to school. He actually started to look forward to going and seeing his friends every day. Added bonus for me? I got to enjoy doing my grocery shopping in the morning without being tempted to leave my children alone in the candy section until I finished checking out.

His pre-k teachers were not at all kidding about Little M’s enthusiasm; he really is a silly, fun, happy, energetic, sweet, crazy little boy. But the problem is that he just doesn’t do well in new places or around new people, a characteristic he admittedly gets from me. When I was a child and my parents put me in camp, I used to cry so much that they usually broke the rules and put me in the older groups with my sister and brother just to shut me the hell up. I refused to eat, to make friends, or to participate in any activities at all. I was a camp counselor’s total nightmare. Come to think of it, I’m surprised someone even bothered to jump in and save me that time I fell into the deep end of the pool….

Luckily for Little M, he and my introverted younger self differ in that sooner or later he WILL warm up to camp and his true, amazing personality can emerge and help him make some new camp buddies. I just don’t know how many more tearful mornings we have to endure until that occurs, and this guilt I feel may drive me to give in before it does. It also may drive me to drink before noon, but that I can live with.

Is it just me, or is this whole “parenting” thing getting harder and harder every day?