“When are you coming home, mommy?”
“Why did you have to go away, mommy?”
“Do you love your job more than us, mommy?”
My kids are masters of the guilt trip. When I go away they tear me up with it, like stale almond butter on a piece of doughy white bread. They question, they whine, they whimper and sometimes they cry. They aren’t trying to be jerks, but if mommy manipulation was an academic discipline my kids would be teaching at Harvard.
But unfortunately for them, I am 100% DONE AND FINISHED with mom guilt because being away from your kids isn’t something you should feel guilty about. And I’m not even going to qualify that statement by adding away for work, or away for a short period of time.
Yes, spending six months at an ashram while your baby is learning to talk and say your name might be a tad excessive, but mom guilt is never limited to those types of extremes; it’s something we’ve been taught to feel every time we physically step away from our day-to-day responsibilities at home, or every time we try, and fail, to find balance between work and family.
What makes mom guilt particularly fucked up is that it’s often at its worst when we’re hustling for our family in a different, less direct, more intangible way. Do you think the women who came before us felt bad about stepping away from the butter churn to sell quilts in town? Fuck no. They were like, I’m heading out, don’t let your brother drown in the well while I’m gone. And they did it without thinking twice because it had to be done and they knew being a constant physical presence was impossible and had nothing to do with being a good mother.
Mom guilt is a concept born out of other people’s discomfort with working women. Like plague-carrying rats these notions have slowly infected us with guilt and shame about leaving our kids to pursue everything from our academic and professional dreams to a 30-minute pedicure. Mom guilt was invented by people who get uncomfortable when we take the focus off pleasing and parenting, but we don’t have to buy into it.
I am lucky to have the help of a small but mighty village and a Grand Poo Bah (aka husband) who genuinely likes solo parenting and is always down for an evening, a few days or a few weeks of daddy daughter time. Pizza and no showers for dayz y’all!!! If you don’t have great support, leaving your kids is probably the most guilt-inducing thing there is, and I get that. But here’s the thing: we need to change the conversation, change the vernacular around “mom guilt” because by tying it to our jobs and/or our need to take some time away, we’re convincing ourselves our actions are something to be ashamed of.
If your kids hate going to your sister’s house but your sister is the only one who can take them when you travel, it’s okay to feel guilty about leaving them in a situation they don’t love. It’s okay to feel sad that they won’t experience an OMG THERE’S NO LINE UP FOR THE ASS ANNIHILATOR WATERSLIDE-level of ecstacy every minute you’re gone. But mamas, it’s NOT okay to let those feelings morph into guilt. Missing your kids, wanting them to be happy and hating it when they’re sad should not be labelled as guilt because it’s not the same. You don’t have to feel mom guilt because you think you’re supposed to feel mom guilt, either.
I guarantee I love my children just as much as you love yours, and I am not immune to guilt, or to feeling I have made the wrong decision or that I should be doing something different, somewhere else. In fact, this is an almost daily occurence. Whether for business or pleasure, I’ve missed several firsts including lost teeth and scored goals, and I mourn each one because I will never have those moments back, and I will not be part of those memories. But that is disappointment, not guilt, and the difference is critical because it speaks to how we feel about ourselves as mothers.
Listen, if you murder someone or start giving hand jobs for fun in the Beer Store parking lot you might have some reasons to feel guilty, depending on the circumstances. If your kids don’t know what a carrot is, or if they are expected to hail their own Ubers to daycare, some personal reflection might be in order. But going to work, going away for work, missing activities for work and loving work are NOT legitimate reasons for guilt. And neither is taking time for yourself. Period, full stop, end of sentence.
I don’t feel guilty for leaving my family because doing so is often in service to them, whether that means earning an income, taking time for myself, or a combination of the two. Even when there is no benefit to my absence other than being able to catch my breath and return home with a smile on my face, I still refuse to feel guilty because motherhood isn’t about punching a clock. Motherhood isn’t about the hours I log in a kitchen or laundry room. It’s about being there mentally, emotionally and spiritually for my kids 24/7, even when I’m not physically present. My kids are safe, they are loved and they are fed and I’m learning to ignore the noise telling me that’s not enough, especially when I’m not there.
I’ve learned to accept the anxiety and discomfort that comes from being away and to not confuse these feelings with guilt. Do I want to miss shows and games and accomplishments and milestones? Of course not, and I try to minimize the number of times that happens, but I don’t feel guilty when it does. I no longer let love and longing morph into guilt by falling down the I shouldn’t have left them, I’m a bad mother rabbit hole.
I don’t apologize to my children (or to anyone) for working, for loving my job or going away for my job because I want my kids to know those are wonderful things and aspire to them. And we can’t give our kids what we don’t have. I stole that line from Brene Brown and I’m going to use the shit out of it because I truly believe if you aren’t modelling courage and confidence in your decision-making, and independence in your life, you’re doing your kids a disservice.
Mom guilt is toxic and we need to let it go. If we can cut other bad things out of our lives, why not mom guilt? Why should gluten, carbs and Facebook creeping our ex’s have all the fun? When your kid calls you sobbing because he wants you to come home it’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to have a little cry yourself if it feels overwhelming. But mamas, do NOT let those emotions edge into guilt because that is your brain telling you a made up story that has nothing to do with you being a good mother. And that story is bullshit.
Like this topic? Click here to read my blog about refusing to participate in the I’m So Busy Olympics.