Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It Happened to Me: Mom Guilt

The first time I straddled with "Mother's Guilt" was in my sophomore year in community college.  I was just shy of 18 years old and we had just completed an essay in our English Composition class about the struggle of a mother's career aspirations. As the case with most liberal art-themed courses in college, the crux was the class-wide discussion of the material more than the material itself.

Looking back, it's easy to dismiss what a bunch of inexperienced teenagers had to say about the complexities of motherhood. But one thing I vividly remember was that the vast majority of students strongly agreed that the preferred ideal scenario would have the wife stay at home with her children. Coming from a family of a two-income household, I remember adjusting my answer (after listening to the majority) to offer a compromise. "I think an ideal scenario for myself is to work part-time. That way I can get the fulfillment from working and still be there for my children a considerable amount of time."

My professor nodded at this and said, "That sounds like a very good option, Lena." Being a childless male, it sounded like a minimally-thought out response. What could he have possibly known? While at the time I also had little relevance to the topic, I came from a culture that revered early motherhood (before 25) and I had to start thinking about this early on. Afterall, two of my best friends had given birth that year and naturally I felt like my time was nearing sooner than later.

Well, it ended up taking much later. Twelve years to be exact.

I stayed true to what I had envisioned for myself 12 years ago, retaining a career as a mother and feeling like I am doing a satisfactory job as a mom. Working from home and keeping my career in check while being the primary caretaker of my baby and dodging the staggering cost of daycare made me feel lucky every day. I am too blessed to feel guilty.

Or so I thought.

Despite being anchored down to my cozy dwelling where I was spending every minute of everyday with my baby...it still it hit me. The Guilt.

I think it's imperative that 'guilt' is contextualized as flash moments as opposed to a constant state-of-mind. I am not waking up feeling guilty or going to bed marinated in guilt. And it is rarely ever a result of being provoked by commentary by other people. No.

It comes when I spontaneously decide after work that rather than hop into the kitchen, I want to just play with my baby. When I look at the clock and it doesn't make a difference how much time had passed and I'm still just playing with my baby. Wow, I am actually enjoying my child. I'm not trying to keep him distracted so I can keep working or cooking or cleaning. The fact that this felt so shocking and unusual made me feel guilty. 

Because while I'm literally with my baby 100% of the day almost every single day, I rarely spend more than 20 minutes at a time just playing with him at complete ease. And that moment of truth gnaws at me. Even if for a moment. My throat tightens and my heart sinks.

No, I won't quit my job because that would invite another kind emptiness and guilt. No, I won't stop making home-cooked meals on a regular basis because I enjoy it and it is immensely beneficial for our family. And obviously, I can't stop trying to keep the house and clothes clean. So what is the remedy?

Studies reveal that 94% of moms from all across life have felt the sting at some point, making this 'mothers guilt' an equal opportunity for moms across the board. That's right, from the mom who stays home all day with her kids (like me) to the high-powered corporate mom who spends three hours a day with her children. From moms who utilize daycare regularly and those who don't (like me). This should serve as a solace and ideally end those ridiculous 'mommy wars'.

Because maybe this notorious 'guilt' we are feeling is actually an epiphany to keeping ourselves in check. An adage to our humanness, a badge of humility. Are we supposed to feel confident and satisfied with ourselves 100% of the time? Are we expected to be that arrogant that we cannot allow room for doubt, guilt and uncertainty?

Circling back to the woman's essay back in college, while my response and easy answer to work part-time isn't oafish - it is naive. For starters, part-time work is very difficult to find. I would have also emphasized that raising children is not solely the mother's job, so it shouldn't be a burden placed exclusively on women. So rather than automatically assume I would be the one that has to curtail my ambitions, I would challenge my partner to re-prioritize his as well.

Women don't fit in neat categorically labeled boxes. There are so many conflicting data on what makes mothers 'the happiest'. Some claim mothers who cut back at work are the happiest while others reveal the opposite. There are some who shift their views and feelings along the way. And what about circumstances? There are hundreds of variables that are factored in before these 'choices' are made. And that is what I should have said to my classmates, who overwhelmingly decided what is best for moms and families in one sweeping brush.

It is amazing how not a single person, not even the professor, brought up the government's role in all this. We are so conditioned to fault ourselves that we forget that in almost every developed country in the world, mothers are a lot less stressed because of a system padded with policies that did not punish them for making the right choice for themselves and their families. Better policies and more hands-on contribution by the fathers and I most definitely think we would have less guilt all together. And if we still feel a tingle of guilt, we should embrace it as an ode to our high standards to be the best.

Now if only I can feel guilty about skipping the gym...

1 comment:

  1. Hi, being a mom is a tough job , it requires time and strength. You should always take out time for your self , i wish you good luck in the future and hope you do well.