Mommy Guilt: Does It Ever Go Away?

Here I go again, dissing the women’s movement. It’s not that I’m ungrateful for having choices, opportunities, and the hope of true equality; it’s just that I’m so damn tired of feeling guilty.

To be a mom and also hold down a demanding full-time job is to feel perpetually guilty. When I’m focusing too much on work, which is often the case if I want to do my job well, I feel guilty that I’m not spending more time at home. When my mind is on my family, or when I take time off to tend to them, I feel guilty that I’m dropping the ball at work. And never mind taking time off to tend to one’s self.

As I write this, I feel guilty. My students are on spring break so I’ve taken a day off. I should be at the gym right now, exercising away stress and making my body strong, or at least cleaning the house. Instead, I’m sitting on my rear-end indulging my need for creative self-expression. Interjected into this is the guilt-ridden remembrance of something I was supposed to do at work before I took the day off, but forgot.

Then there’s the lunch date I made with a friend today, which means instead of being a good mom and picking up my son after school, I’ve decided my father-in-law can pick him up as usual. I feel guilty that I have a day off and am not picking him up, something he loves for me to do. At the same time, I feel guilty that I’ve neglected my dear friend for too long and don’t want to rush our lunch.

Working moms aren’t the only women that feel guilty. I know stay-at-home moms who question whether they should be contributing to the family financially. Some hold college degrees and feel guilty they’re not utilizing them via a career. Others feel guilty because  though they’re home all day, they can’t seem to keep up with the housework or stay organized.

There are stay-at-home moms who love their lives, but feel guilty for being happy when so many of their mom friends are miserable and stressed out from jobs. There are moms who love their jobs and feel guilty that they prefer working over staying home. Some moms with full-time jobs would love to quit and stay home, but feel guilty for wanting this after being told all their lives that they should pursue a career.

Does the cycle of mommy guilt ever end?

Men don’t seem to agonize over such things, at least not the ones I know. Guilt seems to be primarily a woman’s burden. When the feminist movement propelled more mothers into the workforce, an unintended side effect was guilt. This is serious because guilt can eat away at one’s psyche and soul, draining vital energy.

Now, back to the lunch with my friend, which started off great, but ended with guilt.

We had a lovely afternoon that began with her practice teaching me a yoga class in her basement. Following this we enjoyed a delicious lunch at an organic vegan restaurant. The best part is that I was home in time to be there when my son was dropped off. I’d told him to have his grandfather swing by the house after school to see if I was home yet.

I was feeling pretty good until I opened the refrigerator to put in my leftovers. Sitting lonely on a shelf was the lunch bag I’d packed for my son that morning that I forgot to put in his backpack! My stomach suddenly felt like dead weight. The soundtrack to the murder scenes in the movie Psycho played through my mind as guilt sliced through me.

What did he eat for lunch? What did his teacher think when he told her he was lunchless? Would he ever forgive me?

I texted my friend to tell her what I’d done. My final words to her were, I suck! She was quick to reply, No you don’t shit happens. It’s how you take it that matters. Please Kim be kind to your self.

Could it really be that simple? Do we guilt-ridden moms simply need to be kinder to ourselves, and to each other?  Regardless of your job status, if you’re a mom, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. If you’re a dad reading this, I welcome your perspective.

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13 thoughts on “Mommy Guilt: Does It Ever Go Away?

  1. Great blog Kim. Rick feels guilt as well. When he had to work instead of spending time with his son. Even now when he goes to work at the
    Church, after working all day and not spending time with me. I do understand and would never add to those feelings. So yes, men fell guilt as well.

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  2. I came to the conclusion that you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t surrounding parenting matters and our kids know we are human! As long as they see us trying then we are good 😉

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  3. Every Mother Feels Guilty! You have to laugh about it more. I sent my daughter to school with no show and tell. She dug in the trash and found a clothing tag. Wow. That one still stings a little and I didn’t even ask her what she told the class. I don’t need to know.

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    • Your daughter sounds resourceful! Maybe our occasional mistakes help them to be. As far as my son goes, he ended up being glad I forgot to pack his lunch because he got to get hot lunch for the first time all year and it was pizza day. I agonized for nothing!

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  4. I think guilt just goes hand in hand with motherhood! I quit working when I had my first child, which meant I always felt guilty about our very tight budget, and if I did get a bit of free time while she was napping (she was the baby that didn’t sleep) I felt guilty if I wasn’t accomplishing great things because I was at home, “not working.” And I know my friends who worked full time felt guilty about the pull between their job and their children. Working part-time as a free-lance writer didn’t take away the guilt, because I didn’t make much money and yet I still had to juggle the family schedule to go do interviews and make deadlines.
    Maybe it’s the notion that “women can have it all” or maybe guilt is just hard-wired into mothers, I don’t really know. But I do know that honest discussions about the struggles all mothers go through help make us feel a little less alone and overwhelmed. So thanks for keeping this conversation going!

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    • Thanks for commenting Ann! I think my friend was right when she texted back that it’s all how we think about it. Some us agonize more than others. Society doesn’t help by airing commercials depicting perfect moms with super clean houses, etc. doing it all with a big smile on their faces. That’s not reality.

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  5. That must be a tough feeling to always have. I’ve always believed women have it so much more difficult than men on many different levels, many of which are not as obvious to most people. Guilt is obviously part of motherhood. Doesn’t seem fair at all. I wonder if it goes away as your children get older.

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