Managing Mum Guilt Is a Daily Struggle That I Can’t Win
Being a mum is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. For most of my 20s, I didn’t really picture myself as a mum. I was focused on building a career; I loved having the freedom to pick and go whenever I wanted; and I loved spending my own money on myself. But here I am, in my early 30s, with a small child (that it turns out I’m obsessed with) and a career that has grown more in the two years since he was born than ever before. How times have changed.
As a working mum, I often feel like I’m failing in both realms. Neither home nor work get 100 percent of me, and that’s not acceptable. Projects take longer than they used to – not an excessive amount of time, but longer than my single, 20-something, look-out-glass-ceiling self would have considered appropriate. Some days, I only have a few hours with my son before I go to work and he’s off with our caregiver. He’s experiencing and learning so much every day, but not necessarily from me. Shouldn’t I be the one who’s teaching him those things? I feel selfish and guilty for working.
But two truths exist. I feel all of those guilty feelings, but most days I also feel immensely fulfilled by both identities. And I know I’m not alone. Figuring out how to balance being a mum while still holding onto what makes you you is an incredibly hard thing to master, and, as much as I wish it would happen, nobody is ever going to come up with a magical solution. To try and deal with this, I turn to my top coping methods: faith, a good partner, and other mums.
Participation in a faith community has been imperative to making this working-mum thing, well, work for me. It gives me the “peace that passes understanding.” Some days, that peace is all I have – other days, it’s all I need. Even if you’re not religious, try joining a parenting class or even a book club. You can turn any place into a therapy session as long as you’re willing to talk. And I’m willing to bet that you’ll walk away with a little more faith than when you arrived.
I’m very lucky that I also have a great partner. We ebb and flow to support each other, but in parenting, our responsibilities aren’t 50/50. Sometimes he’s doing 90 percent of the parenting and picking up the house while I’m working a late event. Other days, it’s the reverse. Often, he tells me he thinks I’m a good mum. And no matter how many times he’s said it, I still always need to hear it. Being honest with your partner about what you need can make such a huge difference. They might not know you’re dying for a night out unless you say so. Talk and support each other.
My company offers a monthly working-mums support group that I try to attend whenever I can. While I don’t connect with every woman in the group on everything, it’s reassured me that I’m not alone. Motherhood can be a terribly lonely place, one where you think nobody else could possibly be this tired, happy, sad, and excited all at the same time. Other mothers get it. You’re never alone.
I know that this chaotic stage of stuffed animals, work emails, tantrums, and business calls is only temporary. This will not be the pace for the next 18 years . . . or even the next year. I’m sure I’ll have a million more things to feel guilty about as he gets older, but for now, I’m doing OK. I’m tired, but I’m OK.