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.

Finding Peace as a Working Mother

Finding Peace as a Working Mother

By Laura Henry

working mother

Every morning, I leave the house with my computer bag, my purse, my lunch bag, my bag of papers to grade, a bag of library books to return, a bag full of things to return to others or take to and from work, and usually a bag of miscellaneous. Not one of these bags is organized the way that it should be, and so I take them all for fear of losing or forgetting something. I pack all of these into the trunk of my economical Toyota and leave before my children are awake. I don’t carry around little trucks, or dolls, or mittens. No diaper bag. No book bags. No bags of extra clothes or snacks or drawing tablets. The only sign of my children is the set of car seats in the back of my car, littered with so many goldfish snacks that I could own an aquarium if they were alive. It is my husband who will drag the children and their array of necessities out the door in the morning.

I leave every morning, in the dark and alone. I leave my husband who is making lunches, feeding the pets and ironing his shirt—often while watching Sports Center, the weather or Tom and Jerry. I leave without kissing my children goodbye and I leave without a hug, or a smile or a sticky Cheerio on my face from them. My mom-side leaves. My work-side comes out.

My job requires me to be there early—to teach, instruct, and care for the children of others. I squelch periodic thoughts of what my own kids are doing. Is it nap time for my three-year-old? Is it circle time for my daughter’s kindergarten class? Occasionally, I get to take a Mommy-break during work—to schedule a doctor’s appointment, or order pictures or shoes or a ballet tutu, or a bike or a prescription. Sometimes, in order to make a connection to my children, I email my daughter’s teacher, to shamelessly find out about her day. I can’t be there, so I want to know what someone else can see—to be my eyes and ears.

After work, I load up my bags in my economical car and travel not home, not to daycare, but to another job, another place where I have to be.

On my drive, I often think of my own eleventh grade students. When did their parents stop feeling guilty about working? When did they feel okay giving up a sense of control? I had to give up that control when both kids were eight weeks old, but is it the same for everyone? I look at my students and think that their parents are giving me the best they have—all of them sitting in front of me.

“Your folders are on your desk, did you need anything else?” my manager at the tutoring center asks. It is bright here with a lot of organized files, drawers and compartments.

There are so many responses that I want to give. There are many things I need. I need time, money, patience, a snow day, my children. But for this question, I respond, “No.”

A text from my husband arrives asking where the kids’ Valentine’s money is. I quickly respond that it is in the glass jars tucked away. The kids are going to a local restaurant for a PTA fundraiser. It’s the end of a pay week and there is no cash around. I want to eat a cheeseburger and look at my kids putting French fries in their mouth to pretend that they are walruses. I put my head down and keep working. I tutor, and explain and instruct and enjoy what is around me. I have a warm and inviting job with great people. It helps.

I leave this job and drive my economical car home quickly. It’s thirty minutes until bedtime.

Bedtime is the same in most homes—the end of the day after pickup, playing, dinner, crying, bathing, snacking and resting. All of those compartmentalized sections of a child and parent afternoon and evening are gone before I can even blink. I miss those times four days a week, and I often find my mind running through the thoughts of how to change this. But, for now it can’t. I’ve been told that I’m selling my children. I’m selling their childhood for money.

I know all of this. But the questions from the concerned pour in like scrapes and scratches:

“Don’t you think you are missing their lives?”

“Don’t you think that you should be home?”

“Don’t you think that your kids miss you?”

To all of these, I would respond, “Yes.” My husband and I know what I miss, but we quietly don’t mention it—the elephant in the room. In fact, he is the most supportive person I know. He has seamlessly taken over the household duties during the week so I can go back to work at night.

We look at the plan. We have a plan. We follow the plan. In a few years it will be different. In a few years, we will have saved enough money to get a bigger house. In a few years, we will have the ability to take our kids on better trips. In a few years—it’s always a few more years until the elephant in the room will be gone. It will be long gone and I will then be able to live my life like a mother should—attentive, entertaining, creative, present. Present. It’s something that I strive to be. But that can’t happen now. Mommy has to work a lot. Mommy has to be somewhere else.

Sometimes I cry in the shower and I hide how I feel. I’ve been doing this for three years—since my youngest was four months old and we couldn’t pay a round of bills. I will buy them unnecessary things to “make up for” what I can’t give them of myself—presence. Mommy is great at bringing home cookies and treats and books and new crayons. She is a master of all holidays and never misses a beat with birthdays. But on a day-to-day basis, Mommy is something different. I miss things. I miss them. But, this morning when I opened up my workbag (one of the seven strapped to me in the morning) I found a hand-drawn Valentine. On the front it said, “Mommy, you are the best. I love you.” It was scrawled in six-year-old writing, with a smattering of odd spaces and misspellings. On the inside was a picture of me in blue pants, a yellow skirt, and big red earrings. I was holding hands with a little girl and there was a heart in between us. I blinked and saw the picture for what it was. Admiration. Gratitude. Love.

To have a sense of peace as a working mother, I pack up my bags every morning, look at the sleeping faces, kiss my husband and stick to the plan. Our plan.

Laura Henry is a working mother of two, and teaches high school. She lives outside of Baltimore with her husband, two kids, dog and cat.

My Bunny Slippers

My Bunny Slippers

By Lisa Tucker McElroy

BUNNYSLIPPERSThere are days, I tell you, many, many days, when all I want to do is come home and put on my bunny slippers.

Now, if you were to ask my teenaged daughter, she’d tell you that they aren’t my bunny slippers at all. They’re hers, poached from under the Christmas tree one year we can’t quite remember, a year in which “her” ornament (yes, we do that thing where each member of the family gets an ornament to represent that year’s passion) was a NASA astronaut in full moon landing gear.  They’re hers, except that she never wears slippers.  I mean, maybe she would, but she never has hard days that must end in slipper heaven.  OK, she has hard days.  But bunny slippers just don’t do it for her.  Not that I’ve ever given her a chance to find out.

Because the bunny slippers—they’re mine.  And as a lawyer, I know that possession is nine-tenths of the law.

I’m a cliché, I think, because I’m that forty-something working mother of two who presses snooze instead of hitting the gym, eats lunch in front of her computer, and constantly rummages through the laundry room to find clean socks.  Sometimes, the socks are even my own.  Sometimes, small tween socks or giant husband socks will work.

But nothing does the job like bunny slippers.  After three or four years, one bunny has no tail.  The other bunny has a hole where his nose once sniffed.  Neither bunny is particularly white where the white parts should be or pink where the pink parts should be.

Yes, both bunnies are perfectly molded to my feet, padded in just the right spots when I scrunch up my toes.

They sit patiently on the coffee table, propped up while I type on the computer on the couch.  They walk out to the driveway to find the permission slip that got left on the floor of the backseat or the dog’s leash that got dumped in front of the garage.  They narrowly avoid the spitting spaghetti sauce that drops from the stove burner all the way to the floor.

They nuzzle.  They cuddle.  They hug.

Now, naturally, my bunny slippers (not my daughter’s, mine) come with a large helping of grief.  Think I’m exaggerating?  Well, you try opening the door to the UPS delivery man wearing a business suit and bunny slippers.  You dress up in jeans and bunny slippers to welcome in the mortgage broker who’s there to work on your refi.  You drive the kids to French horn practice in yoga pants, a day-old sweatshirt, and  . . .  bunny slippers.

You try being a mom to two teenagers who are embarrassed when you let your hair go au natural, for goodness sake.  Then tell me how much you hear about humiliation, and boys who will never look at them, and moms who should get a life.

And moms who should just put on some shoes, IMHO (in my humble opinion).  That’s teen speak for “as the whole world except my totally embarrassing mom knows.” And lose the bunny slippers.

So why the aggravation? Why make the traumatic memories for my teens?  Why take the daily ridicule?

Because the bunny slippers have oddly (OK, I know how weird this is going to sound) become a part of our daily life, our family, even.

Because if the kids get all worked up about my bunny slippers, the bunny slippers become the source of teenage angst, and the AP World History test sort of loses its power.

Because if my husband needs a reminder that I need some TLC, all I have to do is lift up one bunny-shod foot and look at him meaningfully.  (Yes, bunny slippers can be sexy.  Don’t knock it ’til you try it.)

Because when students and editors and deans and husbands and teens and dachshunds and goldfish have each wanted something from me today—something different, mind you, something that has sent me in seven different directions—the bunny slippers ask for nothing.  Nothing except that B1 belongs on the left foot, and B2 fits on the right.

Nothing except that I attach myself to them firmly and acknowledge the better-than-fabulous way they make me feel.

Speaking of feelings, and speaking of fabulous  . . .

Yesterday, while I worked on the couch and propped my bunny feet on the coffee table, right next to my third or fourth cup of the day, my husband and daughters hit the post-holiday sales at the mall.  I looked around the quiet house, tucked my toes in tight, and sighed with a mother’s delight.

Yep, just me and my bunny slippers.  The way it should be.

The door opened.  The teens came in shrieking.  The husband followed, hollering that I just wouldn’t believe their shopping success.

An Abercrombie shirt on clearance?  I asked.  A sale at the Pandora store?  Two for one day at Auntie Anne’s?

Nope.  Whatever it was was wrapped in tissue paper.

“Be careful!” the younger one shouted.  “Don’t let it fall!” the older one warned.

More giggles.  “Come on, Mom, unwrap it!”

I was pretty sure this was some kind of bad joke.  And I was going to be the laughingstock.

Sometimes, it’s just beyond awesome to be wrong.

Peeking out of the tissue was a pink spot.

I looked at the girls and started to smile.  “Is it . . .”

“Yes!” they shouted.   The big one fell over the little one to pull the tissue off.

There.  In my hand.  Made of glass.  White, with pink whiskers and, yes, two tiny pink noses.

This year, my ornament was my very own pair of bunny slippers.

Lisa Tucker McElroy is a freelance writer and law professor.  She writes for outlets like Redbook, AARP, Huffington Post, Slate, and the New York Times’ Motherlode.  She is the mother of two teen girls.

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.