Why I Don’t Have Working Mom Guilt

Why I Don’t Have Working Mom Guilt


I started my son in full-time daycare a few months ago, when he was almost two. Before that, my partner and I traded off childcare responsibilities and got a ton of help from a nanny that came a few days a week to allow us to both work simultaneously. It felt good to be able to keep our son at home for so long, but on top of the fact that we really couldn’t afford our nanny, with two parents working full-time, no matter how flexible our schedules were, part-time childcare just wasn’t enough.

Enter Melissa: a sweet mother of a 3-year-old who runs a small, at-home daycare right in our neighborhood. She’s one of those born-to-be-a-mom people. While I sometimes struggle to deal with just my spirited two-year-old, she somehow makes juggling the needs of five kids look easy.

And the kids love her, including my son. I hung out for a while on his first couple of days. I stayed with him until he got into some toy or activity and then calmly kissed him good-bye. “Mama’s going to work!” I said, cheerfully. Still, he cried. Without missing a beat, Melissa picked him up and he quieted, lowering his head to her chest.

Watching another woman cuddle and comfort my son didn’t feel bad; it felt great. I knew he would be fine and that Melissa would take good care of him. After those first few days, he didn’t cry when I left anymore. Now, in the morning, when I pull on his pants and say, “Where are you going to go today?” he loudly replies, “Melissa’s!” He talks about dancing and play-doh and stickers. He comes home in the evenings with crafts he’s made, his clothes covered in paint and spaghetti sauce.

The thing is, he loves daycare. He’s always enjoyed being around other kids. And because there are older kids there as well, Melissa’s doing things with him I would never do with my two-year-old who, frankly, has the attention span of a two-year-old! He’s learning a lot, too. Not just about speech and shapes and colors, but about sharing and taking turns.

He’s learning that it’s okay to be away from Mom and Dad for a while. And that we’ll always come back for him.

I’m learning a lot, too. The big revelation for me came the first time he woke up on a Saturday morning and, as we were lazily playing in our pajamas, said, “I want to go to Melissa’s!” Movies and mom blogs had prepared me for this moment to be heartbreaking, but it wasn’t. It was totally fine.

After all, isn’t this movement away from us and toward independence the central goal of parenting? Isn’t this what sets parenting apart from gardening and cat ownership? That we want our children to leave us? That we don’t want to be number one in their lives forever?

I don’t feel guilty about sending my kid to daycare because he’s happy and his happiness is more important than my ego. I know that this separation is just one small step in his long journey away from reliance on his parents. But it is a step toward something great.

That first day when he wanted to go to Melissa’s, I replied by saying, “No, baby, it’s Saturday! You’re hanging out with Mama today.” And you know what? He was pretty darn happy about that, too.

My Kid Isn’t Special and Neither Is Yours

My Kid Isn’t Special and Neither Is Yours


I have decided that my child is ordinary. Gloriously ordinary. And that’s worth celebrating.

Like most parents, when my child was born, I was keen to observe and boast about all his “special” traits. How was he exceptional? What awesome genes did he win in the great Chuck Darwin sweepstakes? And, above all, how was my exceptional parenting bringing out the best in him?

Not that I had much confidence in my parenting. Quite the opposite, as is often the case when someone has something to prove. I just knew that I didn’t want to do what my parents had done, leaving me at the mercy of parenting advice books and the judgmental looks of women in the grocery store.

Parenting is hard. But we’d chosen what could be the most exhausting and masochistic approach to it possible. It nearly destroyed my health and marriage. My baby crying for a nanosecond was proof of my failure as a mother. Any infant stimulation that wasn’t one-on-one (such as an ExerSaucer, glorious thing that it is) was substandard. At six months, I was still holding myself in the same position for an hour to avoid the risk of disturbing his nap, lest his brain development be slowed. And I didn’t dare leave our son with a sitter, which meant my husband and I did not have a real evening out until our child was more than a year old.

Eventually we put our kid in a private daycare that we couldn’t actually afford. Institutions like that extract a lot of money from parents who want something “special” for their special kids.

I didn’t bat an eye when other parents chose a less intensive (read: balanced) approach to parenting. I just quietly looked down on them, and went about my special treatment for my special little boy.

But do we really want a kid who is special? The word can mean many things. There’s special as in special needs. Then there’s special due to some amazing talent or quality, which often translates into “my kid’s special because he gets it from me.”

I don’t believe that “Every kid is special in their own way.” That’s cheating. The word “special” has then lost its meaning. I noticed this the day I looked at a collection of photos on the wall at my son’s daycare, with the title “You’re Special” placed over top. I tried looking at each one while thinking, “… and you’re special too.” By the 20th kid, I couldn’t keep fooling myself.

My child is special to me, of course. But how could he possibly be special in the vastness of life? Why should he be better than any other little one? Unique, yes. But special?

And why would I even want him to be? If I really love him, shouldn’t I want him to be surrounded by a crop of amazing kids, all excellent in their own way? Shouldn’t I want excellence, in whatever form, to be abundant?

The dark side of special has its own kind of bite. A while ago, a daycare teacher took me aside to talk about my son’s vehement protest over the music they had been playing during the day. A few days later, he was left behind from a field trip because he protested against the chore of putting on his snow pants with the brute force of a baby Tyrannosaurus rex.

He’s just going through a control phase, I figured. I tried to confirm this was normal preschooler behavior. “No, we’ve hardly seen anything like it,” she said. I burst into tears. To console me, she resorted to techniques she normally uses on those under five.

It wasn’t my son’s behavior itself that upset me: I just wanted to hear that it was within the range of “normal.” I didn’t want special any more – I yearned for regular. I was like a cheating husband wanting nothing but to make up with the good, plain and faithful wife he’s always taken for granted.

Something twigged in me when I picked up the paper and saw all the fuss about Tiger Mothers. It was the fact that a Chinese mother actually called herself (and those of her culture) “superior.” The unabashed use of that word sounded off in my head like a gong.

We all want to think we’re superior to other mothers, but most of us just keep that to ourselves. Isn’t that funny? We all want to think we’re special. It’s probably the most commonplace thing. And it’s about us as mothers. We only think that we’re concerning ourselves with our kids.

My husband and I moved our son to a regular daycare a few months ago. He is thriving there just as much as he did at his Ivy League one. And although we remain loving, engaged and attentive parents, we have relaxed many of our ridiculously high standards. The paradox is that, in doing so, we’ve become happier people who relate to each other in more lighthearted ways, which makes for a healthier household for our son. Special is truly a double-edged sword.

I wish for all kids to attain their highest potential. For the next generation’s strengths to be celebrated and shared for a greater good. My child is gloriously ordinary. I am a happy and proud mother of a normally unique, typically loveable little being.

And now that I realize this, I get to feel superior to all the other mothers who aren’t there yet.


Ann Cavlovic, mom of one ordinarily unique and totally awesome little boy, also is also a writer based in Ottawa, Canada. She’s currently working on a play that’s a comedy about human nature and climate change. Find her at: anncavlovic.com.

Illustration by Christine Juneau

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Mommy Comes Back

Mommy Comes Back

By Sally Stratakis-Allen

SSAllentoddlersOn his first day of daycare, Harry toddled off happily to explore his caregiver Jean’s toys and meet Jean’s little friends. I stood in her kitchen, feeling torn. Should the absence of drama fill me with relief or despair? All around me, children with months of daycare under their belts clung weepily to their mothers. Harry never looked back.

Then, on a bitter New England morning, after eight months of drama-free goodbyes, separation anxiety suddenly and inexplicably invades. Outside the weather is soul chilling, the kind of cold you can’t quite distinguish—are you facing the onset of winter or its last gasp? On this kind of day, only the trees provide clues: either the last resolute scarlet leaves cling hopelessly to the branches while others float gently to the ground, or else tiny clusters of pale green buds perch on the tips of otherwise bare branches. Inside Jean’s house, I pick up my Michelin baby and hold him close, trying to stave off the approaching storm.

“But I like you, Mommy,” he insists, looking solemnly into my eyes.

“I like you too,” I assure him. “You’re going to play with friends and have a good time, and then I’m going to come back and we’ll have a good time together.”

Unconvinced, he clamps his body around mine, ignoring Gracie’s offer of Kipper’s Sticky Paws. More children arrive. More mothers depart. Harry and I remain, frozen in our embrace.

As I attempt to extricate myself gently, he begins to cry and hugs me tightly. His sobs arrest the other four children—Gracie, who has found a willing recipient for her book, huddling with Ella in one corner; Christopher, pushing a large bulldozer back and forth in the center of the room; and Tess, standing by the sofa clutching a nervous-looking plastic Gumby bunny. The children, previously absorbed in their usual play, stop what they are doing to gaze, pensive and sorrowful, at the drama unfolding between Harry and me. Four sets of eyes train on us, four delicate psyches, recalling their own unwelcome separations moments before ours.

Jean approaches us and holds her arms out to Harry, but he only clamps himself more firmly around me, burying his head in my neck.

At moments like this, Jean often invites the other children to comfort the child in distress. “Christopher feels sad right now,” she’ll observe. “Can someone give him a hug?” And without fail, like pack animals responding to the alpha member’s call, the children abandon their books and their bunnies and wander over to offer their support. Earlier in his daycare career, Harry would be the one offering words of encouragement.

“Mommy comes back,” the small sage, marshalling two years of life experience, would encourage, repeating the mantra Jean and I had taught him. Then he would wrap his arms around the crying child’s shoulders, patting gently. Later, when I would pick him up, he would inform me of the day’s events.

“Christopher cried today,” he would apprise me. “He missed his mommy.”

On this day it is Harry, missing me before I am gone. I walk him over to his bag in which we packed, just this morning, a collage we made together from pictures of ceiling fans. It has the look of a ransom note. Jean comes too and proffers a stack of magazines, each collected for its promise of a Hunter Douglas advertisement buried between how-to guides on reducing clutter and features on restored Connecticut farmhouses.

“Would you like to see if there are any fans in these magazines? We could sit at the table and cut them out,” Jean suggests with the studied air of nonchalance practiced by power brokers and paparazzi. “Would you like that?”

Harry pauses, his sob fading like an echo. He frowns, brow furrowed, eyes fixed intently on the magazines in Jean’s arms. Our watershed moment has arrived. Harry will have to decide whether or not to accept this compromise: Mommy will leave, but there will be magazines. Silent contemplation ensues. Tick tock.

“Yes,” he finally decides, a small smile spreading slowly across his face.

My blood resumes circulating. Jean produces a pair of blunt, child-safe scissors. Harry anxiously clutches Architectural Digest in his two plump fists.

Having said my goodbyes, I start to back away as unobtrusively as possible. Only then do I notice the little band of toddlers forming a circle around him. Jean had followed us, and they had followed Jean. Perhaps they sought an answer to the hidden messages contained in Harry’s collages: would today reveal their meaning? Perhaps they smelled insurgency: if Harry prevailed, what might that mean for them? Or maybe they knew the outcome was already written in stone, and they came simply to show they understood. You can have hugs, and you can have Gumby bunnies. You can have Kipper’s Sticky Paws, and you can have bulldozers. You can even have pages of ceiling fans. But it still sucks when mommy leaves.

The moment of separation aches. Space filled by mommy becomes empty space then space filled with magazines and glue and snacks and the playground and an unconscious hour on the mat until daddy comes back, when the real fun gets going doing all the things mommy always says no to. But still mommy does not come back.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the ache, the 10:05 to Grand Central carries me dozens of miles away, where I will fumble with my MetroCard just long enough to miss the downtown express, drink a giant latté, teach in a cave-like library classroom, attend meetings in an intimate conference room overlooking Fourth and Broadway, walk back to the subway, admiring the city lights, the velvet blue evening sky. I will do so many things.

Until that happy moment when our lives converge again. In Daddy’s arms on the train platform, Harry watches two white circles of light in the distance, their circumferences gradually expanding. Inside that train, I have watched the landscape change as first buildings then trees drift past, anticipating the moment my foot crosses the threshold between train and platform, between other life and this life. The train glides to a halt, the doors part with a slide, and I take that step. Harry launches himself against my chest. We smile and look into each other’s eyes. And I don’t need to say it, really, because already in that embrace, the wisdom of Jean’s words pierces the dusk.

Mommy comes back.

Brain, Child (Summer 2006)

Art by Caty Bartholomew

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