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.

Mom Guilt

I’m a sucky mom.

Well, realistically, I’m probably not all that bad.  But I still think I suck at parenting.

Please don’t give me that stupid “you’re a GREAT mom!” spiel that people deliver whenever you whine about your mom guilt.  I don’t need to hear it.  It doesn’t make anyone feel better and we both know it.

You’re probably a sucky mom too.  I’m guessing that’s why you’re reading this right now.   Well, you know what?  Your best friend also sucks.  So does your sister, and your cousin, and so do your coworkers, and your neighbors, and every single stranger you pass on the street.

We all honestly believe we suck at this mom thing.

Mom guilt is one of the shittiest feelings you will ever know, and it NEVER goes away.  Once you have kids, you’re a victim of mom guilt for the rest of your life.  You are destined to spend the remainder of your days on this earth second guessing every decision you’ve ever made when it comes to your kids, comparing yourself to every other mom you know, criticizing your parenting skills (or lack thereof), and regretting your choices before you’ve even made them.

Today my daughter asked me to read her a book, but I was in the middle of folding two million loads of laundry so I quickly put the book away and turned her attention to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  Awesome parenting right there.  “Sorry baby, The Very Hungry Caterpillar can wait until later.  Ooh look at the TV! It’s a special DOUBLE EPISODE! Woohoo! Now please go take your zero-nutritional-value fruit snacks to the couch and watch your show.  Folding Daddy’s underwear is slightly more important than your growing literacy skills right now.”

So then I stood there like a jerk, folding away, feeling all crappy because it wasn’t the first time I did that to her and it surely wouldn’t be the last.  I almost felt bad enough to change my mind, but by then she was so engrossed in Mickey that shutting the TV might have caused a meltdown that neither of us were in the mood for.

Stupid social media doesn’t help with the mom guilt either.  Because people don’t exactly Instagram pictures of their kids parked on the couch watching Nicktoons on a warm spring day.  No freaking way.   And when it comes to old Facebrag, EVERYONE is mom of the year.  They’re all taking their kids to parks and museums and libraries and freaking Disney World, and all of their kids are reading way above grade level and getting straight A’s and joining NASA’s space program, right on track to becoming the first preschoolers to land on the moon.

Just once, I want see someone post: “The school called today.  Junior farted in someone’s face at lunch and landed detention for a week.”  It would be a refreshing change, donchathink?

Some pictures don't make the Facebook cut.

Some not-so-shining moments fail to make the Facebook cut. Why do you hate Mommy?

Social media antics aside (because as you probably know, I could go on all day about that topic), when it feels like everyone else is raising the perfect kid, it’s hard not to feel like you’re doing everything wrong.

But I have a secret.  And no, it isn’t that everyone is a wonderful parent – because that’s just not true. Some parents really do suck, like in real life and not just their head.  You do know that, right?  That you aren’t the worst mom in the world?  ‘Cuz I’m pretty sure Casey Anthony grabbed that title a few years ago.

My secret is that there is NOTHING you can do about the never-ending mom guilt. Nothing! It will always be there, hanging over your head like a poison-filled rain cloud. Okay, maybe that’s not such a big secret, but it sure makes me feel better.

You can practically bust your ass trying to be the MOST AMAZING MOM EVER, planning enough activities, outings, and educational moments to fill every waking minute of every day, but it will never be enough.  In your mind, you are still going to scar your children for life somehow, and you’re going to give yourself a nervous breakdown in the process.  Stop trying to be perfect.

No one is perfect.  There is no such thing as the perfect parent.  Some parents appear perfect, and I don’t know what the hell is the deal with those people, but they aren’t perfect either.  They probably just put on a good show and we’re all buying it.  Behind the smoke and mirrors of those so-called perfect parents you will find regular old people, like you and me, who feed their kids chicken nuggets and let them watch all the Spongebob they want.

I think the trick with mom guilt is to channel the guilt.  Embrace it.  Learn from it.  Pinpoint exactly what you feel shittiest about and use it to motivate the hell out of yourself.

I’m not telling you to do it every day.  Hell, I’m not parent of the year and neither are you (right?).  But once in a while, when you get those days where you are just feeling like one big steaming pile of mom garbage, and you are literally on your hands and knees praying that your kid doesn’t turn out to be a giant asshole because you suck so badly as a parent, you’re going to have to take action.  Pick your sucky ass up off the floor, grab those crazy kids, and go do something awesome together.  Anything at all.  Whatever will put a smile on their little faces and alleviate the sting of mom guilt for at least a day or two.  Like I said, it will never go away, but at least there can be a temporary fix. And that’s better than wallowing around in self-pity, right?  Hmm, I guess there is something you can do about it after all.

Oh, and don’t forget to post the pictures from your day on Facebook 😉

`