The first time my baby preferred someone else over me, it felt like a punch in the gut. I had been back to work for a couple of months since my maternity leave ended, and upon returning home after work, I greeted my beautiful bright-eyed baby as usual. As my mother-in-law held her, my little one gave me a big smile and reached out for me, but no more than thirty seconds later she started fussing and desperately reaching for her grandmother. My heart sank. She didn’t want grandma to leave, which always happens after mom gets home from work. In that moment, she preferred grandma over me. Cue the working mom guilt.
Okay, let me stop for a second and make it clear that we feel extremely lucky to have a close family member available to watch our baby a few days a week while we work. No complaining here. It is very comforting to know that she is safe and happy when I’m away. Still, as a mother, it can be difficult to leave your baby for work no matter who is caring for them. And, nothing piles on the working mom guilt like a kid who prefers the company of their care taker over their mother, even if only for a few minutes.
What is working mom guilt?
Working mom guilt is complete and utter bullshit. Pardon my blunt, abrasive language, but there really is no other way to describe it. Whether or not you have to return to work or you want to return to work after having a baby, you shouldn’t be made to feel like a bad mom. Maybe there isn’t anyone actually trying to make you feel bad (I should hope your life is troll-free), but that doesn’t stop working moms from feeling guilty from time to time. And, feeling guilty for what exactly?
Why We Work
Most moms return to work after maternity leave for one of two reasons: they have to return to work or they want to return to work.
Many families need a dual income if they want to stick to the lifestyle they had grown accustomed to pre-baby, because there is just no way around it, babies are expensive. And, let’s not forget those champions who are doing this whole parenting thing solo. So, it shouldn’t be too difficult to understand that many moms don’t have a choice if they’d like to provide their children with basic necessities, like food and clothing.
The second camp includes those moms who return to work mostly because they want to. GASP! I’m going to make my stance on what should be a non-issue very clear: choosing to work when you don’t financially have to does not make you a bad mom. It’s okay if being a stay at home mom is not your “dream job”. There is nothing wrong with you if you do not feel 100% fulfilled by the sole task of raising children and keeping house. Some moms need to work to keep their sanity, and that’s a perfectly acceptable reason to head back to the office after your maternity leave.
Where does the guilt come from?
I can’t speak for all moms, of course, but for me, the guilt is internal. No one has made passive aggressive comments or intentionally tried to make me feel guilty for working, so I wasn’t exactly sure where it was coming from. It took some self-analyzing to realize it was my own issue, but why was it an issue at all?
Before I went back to work, I used to worry about leaving my daughter. I didn’t worry about her safety, I knew she was in good hands. I worried about what I would be missing out on. Would she say her first word while I was busy helping a client? Would she crawl for the first time while I was stuck in rush hour traffic on my way home? I lamented over these fears with my husband during the last weeks of my maternity leave, and he did his best to calm my nerves.
Working Mom Mood Swings
Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed my first few weeks back at work. After months in partial isolation with a newborn, it felt great to have actual adult conversations and think about something other than when the baby last ate or whether the color of her poop was normal. I didn’t feel guilty at all, I felt liberated. Fast forward a few months, and then a year, and that guilt has started to creep its way back in.
As my spunky baby grows and develops into her own little person, it has become harder and harder to walk out the front door each morning. When she was just a few months old, I didn’t miss out on much. All she did was eat, poop, and sleep. Now, she’s 18 months old, and every day there’s something new and different. A new word, a silly thing she’s done, or a new development she’s mastering, and I want to soak up every moment I possibly can.
I returned to work because I had to and I wanted to. If we wanted to continue with the lifestyle we enjoyed pre-baby, I would need to be able to contribute financially. Aside from the monetary aspect, I’ve always to work. Being a mother is a huge part of who I am now, but it’s not all I am. I want a career, on that has meaning, and one that I can be proud of. When I envision my life five years from now, I don’t plan on being a stay at home mom, I hope to be a work at home mom. I’m hoping to find a healthy balance between being the best mom I can be and creating a fulfilling career.
How To Let Go Of Working Mom Guilt
But what about now? How do I deal with the working mom guilt that follows me out the door each morning?
My secret to letting go of working mom guilt is to simply be present.
Spend the time you have with your family in full focus. It may be tempting to plop the kid(s) down in front of the tv after a long day of work, and on particularly rough days you may have to resort to that for sanity’s sake, but really you need to engage and be present as much as possible. Read books together, go for a stroll, play at the park, sing songs and dance together. It’s easier to let go of the guilt when you’re spending true quality time with your child when you can.
As a full-time working mom with a time-consuming side hustle, I understand that it can be hard to disengage from work and other responsibilities. I can’t tell you how often I’ve wanted to put Moana or Finding Dory on, just so I could get some writing done, and I’d be lying if I said that I never give in to that temptation. How else would I know all the lyrics to the Moana soundtrack and nearly every line of dialogue from Finding Dory? However, I make a conscious effort to close the laptop and put the phone away when we’re together. I sing songs while I feed her dinner, we play with her favorite toys, and we always read a book or two before bed.
And guess what? I still find time to write and work on freelance projects. It’s not the easiest thing to juggle, and sometimes I feel very overwhelmed, but most days it’s doable. And when it’s not, I give myself a much-needed break. I’m doing the best I can, and for that, there is no need to feel guilty.