I got tagged by the Bride to write about the guilt trip that mothers are susceptible to catch. If you are a mom working out of the house for gainful employment, then chances are you had many instances where you felt it! There are times when we question our decision to work out of the house, its necessity and its worthiness. We start comparing with other moms who stay at home, and sometimes start doubting if are being good mothers for putting our “jobs” ahead of the family and more particularly – children. I remember my professor from the Marketing class asked a question when discussing an assignment where we had to come up with a marketing strategy for a product targeted towards working women. Why would a woman want to work? The girls and guys started to fish out big words – like empowerment, self esteem, financial independence, personal growth and so on. Then a fellow student asked a question which got everyone’s attention and they stopped to think. She said: “Why would you ask that question? A woman may want to work for the same reasons that a man does.” That instantly appealed to me at the time. Yes. Why? What’s the big deal? What’s the difference?
Oh but of course there is. And I realized that as I grew up, made choices through different phases, and experienced motherhood. A professional career was a natural course of life. You go to school, go to college, get a job, get married, make a family. I was always convinced of the absolute necessity to be not just gainfully employed but also be “successful” in the (stereo?) typical social definitions of success. I have a mother who is a working professional, and have many working women in the extended family – aunts, cousins, et al. Plus no denying the fact that whether you ‘need’ it or not – the paycheck that you bring home does matter.
So I was asked – have I felt this “mommy guilt”? If yes, what were the instances? How did I cope? What did I do? So here is an attempt to answer them – more a reflection and some loud thinking.
Yes, I never thought I would ever, but I have felt guilty at times. Becoming a parent does reset your priorities. But I also believe that in the long run, the fact that you have your own personally enriching endeavor – it may or may not be for gainful employment – has a very positive effect on your children. It may mean some temporary inconveniences or a slightly different way of life for all in the family than what is accepted as ‘ideal’ in a conventional conservative way.
I can recall and mention two situations when I felt guilty of prioritizing my job over the kids.
Kids in daycare – We were fortunate to have our parents to care for both the kids until they were about a year old. My daughter went to daycare once they went back home.
On the first day, I sneaked out after leaving her with the care givers, and picked her up in 4 hours. The moment she saw me, she started wailing – a finger pointed at me accusingly, angrily. Her eyes pierced through me and left me completely shaken. How could you leave me like that? They said. She clung on to me for the rest of the day. The next day, I hugged her, assured her, and calmly said good bye, with a smile. She looked uncertain and close to tears – but did not protest much. The moment she was out of sight – I broke into tears. I felt like picking her up and driving back home. I will just quit – this was not worth it! But then my hubby assured and insisted on giving this a fair shot, so we continued. I am glad we did, and it worked.
In the same way, once my son turned 10 months old, he started day care too. They had fun days at the day care with all the activities and other kids for company. I think it was the best for them at that time. Just by myself I may not have been able to expose them to so many varying inputs – had I stayed back home, in that moment of vulnerability.
Plus now, the time we spent with them was more precious and we made an effort to make it a very quality one. I and my hubby staggered our work hours to minimize the time they spent in the daycare. They did catch infections initially – and we had to be on our toes to manage that. There were times when things were rough, and others when all was well. We made it a point to spend time as a family doing fun activities together. Gradually they got adjusted and so did we. We had found a way that worked!
Kids with grandparents – After we relocated back to India, to a new city, and new jobs, the kids (4 and 2.5 years then) stayed with my parents in another town for about 9 months – an entire academic year. Their daddy was abroad on a work assignment. With my new full time job, we felt it best that they are cared for by the family instead of a nanny. Again it was our good fortune to have the support of our family. I would take the overnight train every weekend to see them. I felt miserable and guilt ridden every single time I had to say goodbye. The times when they were sick, I felt terribly guilty of not being there when they needed me. The grandparents were cleaning up the throw-up mess, sponging them in the middle of the night and staying up by their bedside, caring for them, instead of me. I came close to quitting thinking that this wasn’t worth it. My mother’s advice to be patient kept me from doing it. The kids were cared for by people who loved them, and were comfortable. It was important to recognize and accept that it was a transient phase, and we were working towards making a life which we believed was the best for them and us in the long term.
Once my younger one was old enough to attend school full time, we chose a school and a home near our workplaces so that the commute time was minimum. We found a way that worked.
Now looking back, I realize that they have developed an ability to adapt, and have developed a bond of trust and love with their maternal and paternal families and relatives. They did learn many things and have fond memories of those times.
Now, as they are growing older, the instances of mommy guilt have significantly gone down. The nature of attention they now require has changed, and so has my approach along with it.
What works for me?
A routine – I have a daily regimen. We all follow it. Although, sometimes I have been accused of running a tight ship like a maniac (ahem – true lies), it works! As much as possible we make sure that the kids’ times are always kept. Their food, tv, homework, activities and bed time are fixed. Now the kids themselves are so used to having a fixed routine, they even manage their own time! See the schedule they made for themselves for the holiday! I will hire them to manage my project any time!
There is a strict time limit and content monitoring on TV. No bollywood masala movies and song and dance fair – especially item numbers. (Well – there are people who disagree with my approach).
But – have a heart – there are weekends when we all just veg out! I do try my best to back off (the hubby may claim otherwise – but I seriously do TRY). Of course, there are days when things don’t go as per plans – and we just “wing” it. But overall – an active and predictable routine for me is a key to a stress free existence!
Quality, not quantity – I consciously try to spend at least an hour or two of fully focused quality time with them during the day. Both of us converse with them about the world, science, politics, geography, their aspirations and imaginations, friend squabbles, anything, everything.
Don’t try to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ – is an advice that a really smart and very successful older cousin has given to me! The home is reasonably well kept on a daily basis. It does get messy – but I don’t split my hair over it. I take a little extra effort on the weekends to do things that usually don’t get done during the week – like washing linen and stocking up groceries. When at times it comes to either doing household chores or spending time with the family, I choose the latter and put the chores on the back burner.
Kids are tougher than what we give them credit for. They are very flexible, and absorb like sponges. They observe and learn to find ways. They will become more independent if we let them be. They learn to adapt and adjust to people. They learn to trust others who care for them. They learn to make friends and keep them. They learn to be happy and have a good time regardless!
I made a choice to have a family, and a career. Both I and the spouse have tried to balance it out, the well being of our family and our own aspirations. There were some compromises made on each front, and there were things we agreed to never compromise.
People make different choices. Circumstances, interests, context and will determine why people make the choice that they make. I know a lot of amazing mothers around me who are working outside of their homes or staying at home to care for the family. But I truly believe that women should make an effort to nurture a personally enriching endeavor – something that they are doing for their own sake, in addition to the work they do for their family. And when things get rough – just stop, step back, and take a look at the big picture. As if looking at the road map of your life. And find your way.