Saturday, October 20, 2007

Motherhood Guilt

Now here is something I could ramble on and on and on about. Man, is this a big deal for me.

I can beat myself up better than anyone I know. Okay, well, both kids have nailed me a few times in the face by unexpectedly flinging up their hard-as-anvil heads as I lean over them. The exersaucer did a pretty good job of punching me in the mouth one time, too - a toy barn flew off and whacked me right in the kisser, leaving me with a fat lip. I'm pretty sure it chipped my front tooth, too.

But that's nothing compared to the mental thrashing I can level on myself.

Many of us are prone to the "Whatifs." What if I had done that differently? What if I hadn't taken Job Y? gone to School C? moved to City R?...whatever.

A couple of Whatifs that battle for supremacy in my feeble mind from time to time are "What if I worked full time and sent the kids to daycare?" versus "What if I stayed at home with the kids and did no other work?"

See, I exist in what is commonly believed to be the "Best of Both Worlds." I work from home. I love that I have the skills that allow me to do this - I'm a writer and an editor - and I would probably be doing it whether I had kids or not. I am self-employed and work from a small space in my house. Trouble is, like everyone else, I have come face to face with another sordid truth of this life: it isn't always easy.

I think my problem is I am too hung up on labels. For a long time I called myself a "Mostly Stay-At-Home Mom" because I teach a couple of college courses and have to go to a few meetings with clients, which takes me away from the home for a few hours each week. Over time, though, I realized I was kidding myself.

I picture SAHMs as women who thrive in the job of motherhood. They bake nutritious snacks with the children, keep the house clean, complete all sorts of innovative crafts with them, have little use for the television, go on lots of outings, set up several play dates a week and arrange to have quality time with their own friends. I'm pretty sure those kind of moms exist, but I'm not one of them. Are you?

I'm a "Stay-At-Home-Something." I occupy space in the house with my children. When I have a lot of work, I am the woman who keeps the TV on so she can make business calls in relative peace, who tries but fails to keep the house clean and tidy and only attempts it when the kids are occupied with something rather than using that time for quality interaction with them, who works feverishly at the computer whenever the kids are sleeping instead of having down time, who foregoes outings because she is waiting for a phone call, and who is in a constant state of distraction.

If I were to sit down and add up the hours I actually work (for money) in a week, I betcha it would average out to just under 20. So what am I complaining about? "That's only part-time hours," my tired brain says. What's the problem?

The problem is I am not accounting for the Mom time - the very important FULL-time job that keeps getting the short shrift as I wander around the house distractedly making lists and feeling a million miles away from the present at any given moment. The problem is those other work hours have to be shoe-horned in amongst the Mommy hours and long into the night.

Who is this woman? She's not exactly a stay-at-home-mom, that's for sure.

This is where the guilt comes in and it's a war waged on numerous fronts. When I am actually doing something fun with the kids I feel guilty if my mind wanders and I am distracted about work. Sometimes I have to physically pull my brain into the moment instead of thinking of the phone call that needs to be made or the document that needs to be read or the e-mail to check. When the kids are in bed and I have time to work, I feel guilty for being glad they are "out of the way." I feel guilty that sometimes I can't give my work the care and attention I should in order to keep clients delighted. Then I feel guilty again about the kids because if I screw up THAT job it is a Really Big Deal. Nevertheless, I have to work to pay some bills and also to keep the non-mommy portion of my brain from atrophying.
I even feel guilty for feeling guilty because I know I am not alone in this and I'm doing the best I can (the kids seem happy and healthy and my clients seem to be returning). I feel guilty for being hard on myself and not looking after myself. Worst of all, I feel guilty for even worrying about this stuff when I am so lucky. I have two beautiful children, a caring husband, a nice home, great extended family - all sorts of wonderful blessings that I should be thankful for every day, hour and minute.

Is this insane?

It's not always bad. When a lot of work is coming in, it's really really hard to find the kind of balance that let's me be Happy Mommy Who Loves Being with Her Children as well as Happy Woman Who Has a Fulfilling Career - at least part time. When things are paced better it's a lot easier to live in the moment, which I have come to realize is so very important if you want to be happy - or at least content.

There will be more on this topic - oh yes indeed.