Secondary Guilt

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Categories Balance, Guilt, Perspective, Twinfant Tuesday, Working

This is my fourth week back at work since the birth of our twins 13 weeks ago.  In the weeks leading up to my return, I had many people offer support (sharing their stories of tearful returns to the workplace) and some asking if I was really going to go back.  For much of my maternity leave, I felt this looming deadline.  I wondered how I would feel once back at work.  I’ve nearly always had two jobs since I was 19 years old, and for just as long, have known that I would return to work once I had kids.  But, I also knew everything could possibly change once I met their little faces.

Four weeks ago now the deadline was in front of me.  I re-entered the office that I left prematurely in June for a month of bed rest.  I chuckled a little at the decaf keurig coffee pods in my desk drawer, and my eggless Caesar dressing in the fridge, along with other things I couldn’t ingest while pregnant.  I noticed outdated paperwork and a card from my co-workers meant to be handed over in a shower that I missed due to sudden bed rest.  But, ultimately, I was shocked by how easily I fell back into the flow of working.  Granted, we did have our nanny start a week early, so that I could get to know her a bit.  That definitely helped to ease back into the work force.

I always thought that I would feel guilt about returning to work.  Instead, I felt guilt about how not guilty I felt.  I mentioned this to a close friend, an attorney who is pregnant with her third baby and a working mom.  She said, “Katie.  I work so that I can afford a cleaning crew and a nanny.”  My mom remarked, “Yes, we do need to work to afford these things.”  My friend clarified: “No, I mean, I work so that I can justify getting help with my kids and cleaning and don’t have to do it all myself 24/7.”  I applaud her honesty.  It gave me permission to be more honest about my feelings on this subject.

Let me be clear.  I am a feminist who is absolutely in awe and support of ANY moms, whether you are a SAHM, work multiple jobs, or have tons of help while you lie in bed and eat bon bons.  I am not here to judge, and believe we need to create a society that celebrates all choices that moms make.  I also recognize that I’m blessed that this is a “choice” for me, and that it’s not for many women.  Not to mention, I’m aware that working a mile from home, with pretty sane hours make all this far easier of a decision.  That said, with all the recent talk about “Leaning In,” and the like, this is one perspective.  I already feel like a better mother when I am able to nurture other parts of my identity, in addition to the newest part called “mom.”  I’m so grateful to have a job where I can go use the skills I learned in graduate school and in my work experience, and then go home and completely shift gears for the rest of the night.  I look more forward to the nights and weekends when I can spend a few hours just staring at our daughter’s face light up or listening to my son coo.   I get more excited to meet the needs of our little ones when (as Sadia brilliantly put it in a previous post about working) I’ve already met some of my own needs and am not looking to my babies to meet my needs.  The whole oxygen mask on an airplane metaphor, you know.

I wonder if it’s reasonable to hope that someday our society will make space for women to say they want to be a working mom.  Period.  Without any qualifiers.  Because, while I can write this somewhat anonymously for a blog, why is it that I’d still feel guilty sharing this around certain audiences?

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5 thoughts on “Secondary Guilt”

  1. Katie, I love, love, love this post. It resonates with me. I think that a happy mom is so much better for kids, even at fewer hours per week, than one who is resentful. I found mommyhood to be much more satisfying than I originally anticipated, but I think I enjoy both my kids and job more for having the contrast between them in my life.

    I’m so glad that your return to work has gone so smoothly. I’m sure your coworkers are giddy to have you back!

  2. I love how you wrote this. Honesty is a working mom’s best tool and it’s the same reason why the society can’t move away from the working mom-SAHM debate. To move on would require people (women especially) to be honest and unapologetic about the choices they’ve made regarding work during their kids’ formative years.

  3. You pinpoint something that runs around my own head – regardless of how others see us, we have certain mommy expectations engrained within ourselves. I’m on year 2 of SAHMville, but I have to return to work next year…I think. There are days I look forward to it and days I dread it and days I practically drown from guilt about both feelings. Thanks for adding a voice to the dialogue that says, we should be able to tell ourselves that this is okay! :o)

  4. This working mom (Period) applauds you. While I was pregnant, people all around me kept saying I would have a terrible time returning to work. Nope, I said, not a problem! When the aliens were born, people all around me kept saying that now that they were here, I would definitely have a terrible time returning to work. Nope, I said, I am ready to go back to being “just” a lawyer by day! When I came back to work, people all around me kept asking how I was “coping” and was I “doing ok”. I found it very difficult not to snap at them by that point. I am a mother. It is part of who I am but it does not define me. I’ve been a lawyer a lot longer than I’ve been a mom. I love my job. I love the freedom it gives me to engage my brain, make a difference in my broader world, and be judged for my skills and not for the cleanliness of my kids’ onesies or how many word babbles they have. At the end of the day, I go home where I am not judged by how hard I work or how many hours I put in. I’m judged on my ability to kiss away hurts, make a mean mashed sweet potato, and play with the bubbles in the bath. A co-worker recently returned from maternity leave, and I finally have an ally at work. We both agree – our jobs keep us sane for our children, and our children keep us sane for our jobs. It’s a perfect balance.

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