by Jennifer Sey
For Mother’s Day this year I am going to give myself a gift. I don’t generally do this. For birthdays yes, but not Mother’s Day which is generally reserved for kids and dads presenting flowers, homemade cards and breakfast in bed. Don’t get jealous, I’ve never actually been served eggs and coffee in bed, but they show that one on TV a lot so it must be real. Right?
I don’t want bouquets or cards or Denver omelets anyway. I don’t want anything they can give me, truth be told. I’m in need of a little self help as I’m feeling somewhat overworked and overwrought. And so, in the spirit of fiscal conservativism and eco conscious giving, I am going to honor myself with the ultimate bequest: a clear conscience. I am going to release myself from guilty mommy syndrome.
The fires of this affliction are fueled daily. Just last week I met a potential job candidate for an informational interview, a woman with two college aged kids. She recently found herself out of a job, as many have. I asked her what she wanted to do. She said: take a breather, visit with my kids, while poking around to see what might be out there in the way of job opportunities. But not rush into anything. She told me she’d loved her career of the last twenty five years but she regretted having worked so hard when her kids were young. Though their adult relationship hadn’t suffered for it, she felt she had missed too much when they were little.
Dagger in the heart. I’m working my butt off right now. I’m in a new job. Trying to get myself immersed in a new business, meet and motivate a new team. Right a ship that hasn’t been right in a while. It’s a lot to take on but I’m committed. And it’s actually kind of fun – I love a challenge. The steeper the hill, the faster I start climbing. If I need to get in by 7a.m. I do it. If I need to stay until 7p.m. I do it. Ideally not both of those on the same day, otherwise I miss my kids entirely. But it happens on occasion. In fact, just today I took a one day trip to the mid-west. I caught a flight at 6:15 in the morning, returned home (not yet, I’m writing this on the return flight) by 8 in the evening. I’ll get a tuck in if I’m lucky.
After interviewee wounded me as only other mothers can do, I fell into a fiery guilt spiral. I panicked about the summer because I will be traveling for three out of four weeks in June. In a frenzied I need to see my kids panic, I started doing the math on flying home between business trips, to and from NY on red eyes each weekend. The hours and the cost weren’t adding up. I had to face facts. I won’t see my kids for the first few weeks of summer vacation. My husband will shuttle them to and from camp or swimming or whatever activity they are signed up for that week. He will fix and eat dinner with them. And I will talk to them on the phone every night and bring gifts back from wherever I’ve been. Guilt flames fanned, roaring, in fact.
Until, an unexpected but not unwelcome dousing…(forgive me, I’m going to take this fire metaphor all the way)…
My new boss told me that upon accepting his new job, he moved to the Bay Area without his family. His wife and three kids were still living in Los Angeles while he took up residence in a rented apartment pending their arrival at the end of the school year. The temporary arrangement of the last few months, while not ideal, has caused him little angst. Sure he misses them, but he sees them on weekends. I didn’t ask him if he cried about being away from his kids each night. I got the feeling he didn’t; his eyes weren’t red and puffy. I got the feeling he didn’t worry too much about his kids rejecting him because he had the nerve to take a job and support them. They’d join him soon enough. These few months of separation were a minor detour not a major catastrophe. No fiery death guilt spiral for him.
Men can do this. Work work work then see the kids on the weekends without any fear of repercussions; of walking in the door one day and the kids saying: we don’t love you anymore. Dads are fairly confident in their ability to maintain the love of their children while spending most of their lives at the office. And lets face it, they are probably right. Kids love parents who spend years in prison. If a kid can love a parent in the pokey for possession, can’t my kids love me when I make it home for dinner and book reading most nights? It would serve to reason that they can. This rational thinking and man-identification was helping to extinguish the flames of guilt.
Men today, by and large, get to feel pretty good about their parenting because they do better than their dads did. (This is a gross generalization, I realize, but go with it.). A lot of dads did next to nothing in the way of parenting back in the day. Went to work, came home and sucked down a double Dewars while watching the news. Mom did kid duty all day, even all weekend while Dad hit the links for a little relaxation. We still loved our dads. Their absence made our hearts grow fonder, as the saying goes.
All of this is to say that today’s involved fathers who make it to recitals and the occasional parent/teacher conference feel pretty darned good about their daddy-ing. While we working moms feel torn. If we were fortunate enough to have been raised in middle to upper middle class families, many of our moms stayed at home. They fixed snacks for us after school, toted us to sports practices and checked homework. They lived their lives through us and were wholly dedicated to raising children. Thus, for those of us moms who go to work out of choice or necessity, we are left feeling less than good enough because we don’t measure up to our moms in terms of sheer time spent with our children. Never mind the fact that I was and am very close with my father, despite the fact that I spent a lot more time with my mother. This isn’t rational, this mommy guilt thing.
But I am going to try to attempt to be rational here. I am going to apply the same analytical thinking to my self view that serves me in the workplace. I am going to pour water on the scorching self-blame and aspire to daddy-type, cucumber-cool, guilt free living. Wish me luck in the form of euphemistic buckets of water. I’ll wish all you hard working moms the same. Happy Mother’s Day. Go forth, guilt free.