Okay, so hurdle #1 to being a mom: the ever present “mommy guilt”. Especially for those of us who want to be successful at everything: marriage, mommy hood, and our careers, mommy guilt is always there. Whoever coined this phrase should be sentenced to life cooped up in a home with several small children to never get out. Then we’ll see how they feel about mommy guilt. Not too triumphant, I would guess.
Let me be clear: I didn’t feel guilty at all with my first child. I remember whipping up tears in the OB’s office for my 6 week checkup after they were born, attempting at every turn to try and get the doc to okay me to remain at home with my little one for those extra few weeks. No go there, and I was sent back to work, tearful and sleep deprived. I wanted to be home all the time with my child, and I would race home to see their little face. When I had my second child, that all changed.
That was a horrible winter, the year my second child was born. My first child would go to a daycare based on a local school schedule, so when the school cancelled, so did daycare. I wasn’t sleeping at all, even when the second would nap, so I would send my first to daycare every day I was home on maternity leave. I had so many people saying to me, “Why won’t you keep them home? It would be so nice to bond all together!” Bonding, my ass. With the lack of sleep I had, and the amount of energy my 2 year old had, and the issues the second was having with breastfeeding as well as NEVER wanting to be put down, there would BE no bonding at all. So, I sent my 2 year old. And then, the massive storms hit. Several days of my maternity leave, my 2 year old’s daycare was cancelled, so I couldn’t send them out to get some of their energy out. Now, with a month old who needed lots of sleep, a mommy who wasn’t getting any and was crabby as all get out, and a 2 year old who had boundless energy, I was hopeless. At one point during the several storms that hit, I cried so hard I scared my husband into staying home. “I can’t leave you like this”, he said, and called into work (which, by the way, he almost NEVER does).
By the time I hit the 6 week checkup for #2, my doc gave me the fast facts. I had postpartum. My lack of sleep, my overall “Debbie downer” nature, and my previous history of depression left me a perfect target for it. When she offered me, without my asking at all, for the extra maternity time off, I hesitated. This is what I wanted all along, wasn’t it? I had pleaded with my first and got no where and felt miserable. Now, I was being handed it on a silver platter and I wasn’t so sure I wanted it anymore. Sensing my hesitation (and lack of decision), my amazing OB offered another solution. “I think getting back into a routine with everyone will help you. The longer you put it off, the worse off you could be with your postpartum.” In addition to prescribing a sleeping aid, a therapist to see for the postpartum, my OB had put me at ease. There was nothing wrong with wanting to get back to “normal”. I am forever grateful to her for that. I only wish others could see how difficult it was and continues to be.
Fast forward two years. My depression under control and my children are now 2 and nearly 4. I love spending time with them, but I like to have “mommy time” too. When I can actually get this time, I try to field the questions with vague comments. A simple text, “What are you and the kids doing today?” I avoid with, “We are good. Getting some stuff done around the house.” Technically true, but just me, not the kids. My coworkers and friends always ask me to get together when we are able to, and most times I have sent (or plan to send) the kids to daycare. I dread telling them, but I can usually avoid with the fact that we have “other plans”. Again, a technicality that no one ever questions. A curveball I got happened when dropping off my kids one day that I had off and could send them to school. With our usual pleasantries, one of their teachers asked me what I was doing that day. I stopped in my tracks. She knew what my work was, and that I had that day off. Flustered, I responded with, “I have a lot to get done around the house.” My face turned red, too. Why should I feel bad about dropping them off when I had a “free day”? I thought angrily as I walked out to my now quiet car. And what right did she have to ask me, as she doesn’t have a family of her own, therefore, she has NO clue what its like?? Returning home, I shared with my husband what had happened. “Don’t look too much into it,” he responded in his laid back nature that often annoys and confuses me, “she was just making conversation.” The more I thought about it, the more I realized she wasn’t judging me. She was truly curious and trying to make small talk. (I only discovered this after the next few times I dropped the kids off – on work days or days off alike – she would chat with me about the sports teams in the area or what new things the kids and I were up to on the weekend.) The biggest judge of this whole mommy guilt thing, was me.
I never claim to be perfect, believe me. Unbeaten as of yet, yes, but not perfect. I realize now that its not a crime to want to have time to myself, and to give my kids the freedom they need from mommy, even if we both have the possibility of having days off together. Although I always need reminders…just this morning, as I was explaining to a friend how I had dropped them off at daycare while I had the day off, she responded via text, “You are paying for it anyway. Nope, no need for guilt. It is better for them to stay in their routine, too.” I thanked her profusely, as I had literally just avoided telling my own family that so as not to feel bad about it. Her simple response to my mind-wracked with guilt was perfect, and true. Why didn’t I think of that? Why can’t I train my brain to remember these simple words every time I wonder whether to send or not to send?
Now, whether or not to send them tomorrow…?