I know a lot about guilt. Perhaps it’s in my genes, or maybe I’m just a sucker for angst. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling guilty for a wide variety of things, including but not limited to not calling my grandmas enough, leaving my dog alone all day, throwing my newspaper away on the train because there’s nowhere to recycle it, and watching Millionaire Matchmaker.
But all of this practice guilt has not prepared me for the ultimate guilt.
The guilt of the working mom is a vicious cycle. I’m guilty when I’m at work because I feel that I should be at home with the baby, and I’m guilty when I’m at home because I feel that I should be contributing more to the family checking account.
My three months at home on maternity leave were both exhausting and exhilarating. I became accustomed to waking up with Ben in the wee hours of the morning, snuggling with him throughout the day, toting him along to Trader Joe’s or the dog park. I loved waiting with Ben by our front door for his dad to come home from work, and reading to him at night before bedtime. For better or worse, I was in a stay-at-home mommy state of mind.
Despite the fact that I had negotiated a 4-days-a-week schedule with my boss, the return to work was like a bucket of cold water on my head. I left my house at 6:45am, before Ben woke up, and returned home at 6:00pm, with time enough only to feed him, bathe him and put him to bed. I missed our early morning cuddle sessions, and wondered if he did, too. I worried that something terrible would happen in my absence, and I would be helpless to do anything.
On the other hand, I was again part of the workforce, and re-discovered parts of my brain that had been on “sleep” mode for the previous 12 weeks. I looked forward to my quiet time on the Metra, as it was my only opportunity to read a good book. I had lunch with my friends. I reconnected with the real world.
I came to realize that wearing both a mom hat and work hat, and doing the best I could in both roles, made me a mommy to be proud of. Instead of leaving the house in the morning and feeling instantly guilty about what I’d be missing, I began to think about what I could do at work that would make Ben proud (and yes, I realize his 8-month-old brain lacks the capacity for pride, but just go with it).
Six months into my return to the workforce and the guilt is finally starting to subside. Of course, as only a Jewish mom can, I am now feeling guilty about not feeling guilty. And thus, the vicious cycle continues.