Like most families these days, we need two incomes in order to make ends meet. So, when I got pregnant I knew I would become one of the tens of millions of women in the workforce who are also mothers. I’ve never really had a desire to stay at home with kids, and I have a fulfilling career in marketing — so I knew that I would take some time off for maternity leave, find a daycare for my child, return to work and get used to my “new normal.” What I did not anticipate was the amount of guilt that accompanies all of this.
I can’t speak for all the fathers out there because, obviously, I’m not one. But from my perspective as a new mother, the guilt that comes along with having a family and a career is sometimes staggering. I feel guilty for having someone else care for my baby for the majority of every workday. I feel guilty that I would rather be with my child than be at work and have a hard time focusing some days as a result. I feel guilty that I don’t have time or energy to keep up our house the way I’d like to. Not working out? Guilty. Not putting forth that extra effort for the big work project? Guilty. Letting out a sigh of relief when my baby goes to bed for the night at 7:30 PM even though I’ve only had 3 or 4 waking hours with her that day? Guilty to the max.
Part of (maybe even the majority of) this guilt is self-inflicted, I realize. I am a perfectionist and an over-achiever by nature, so juggling everything and not feeling like I can give 100% to anything leaves me feeling uneasy, and, if I’m honest, like a failure. I’m learning to let go of some of the expectations I have for myself and what I can accomplish. That assuages some of the guilt, but what I have the most trouble with is leaving my baby in someone else’s care 45 hours of the week. It helps that we have found a wonderful school with warm, loving teachers who take great care of her. She is happy when I pick her up every day. She does art projects and they sing songs to her and she’s learning sign language. It’s an enriching, safe environment.
But it’s not home. And she’s not with me. And I feel terribly guilty about that every. single. day.
I know that I can provide for her so much better by working. I know that I’m probably a much better mother to her by having a fulfilling career and coming home to her excited to see her after having missed her all day. I know that she’s at a great place and making friends at school. I know that I’m not the first or only woman in the history of the world to be working through this conundrum.
But that doesn’t make it suck any less.
I used to think I wasn’t cut out to be a stay-at-home parent, but now that I have a baby, I think I could do it. That realization was a bit of a surprise to me, but I completely understand why people give up careers to stay home with their children. That’s not an option for me, and while I probably could do it, ultimately, I’m not sure I would want to full-time.
I think, probably, that it gets easier as children get older. They’re more independent and have the ability to communicate and make friends. At least, I hope it gets easier. Until then, I have roughly 600 pictures of my baby on my phone that I can stare at when I need a fix at work. I spend as much time with her as I can in the evenings and on weekends — and yes, even during those early morning wake-up calls. I savor all the moments I can get, every precious one.