Pop culture tells us that Jewish mothers are supposed to lay on the guilt as thick as a mountain of schmear on an everything bagel. Countless books, TV shows, and movies feature neurotic Jewish mothers guilting their sons and daughters into becoming doctors and lawyers, into marrying Nice Jewish Girls and Nice Jewish Boys, and — naturally — into breeding an army of grandchildren.
And it’s not just a media trope. My own grandmother could have taken home an Oscar for Best Guilt Trip: “What, you didn’t have time to call your ailing Bubbe here in Boca? All my friends are dying; the least you could do is call! Thelma’s granddaughter calls twice on Thursdays …” (Goodness, I miss that woman, guilt-trips and all.)
Now that I’m a mom, however, I haven’t found myself doing the guilt-trip thing. In fact, I’ve been experiencing the opposite: Instead of laying on the guilt, I find that I’m the one who’s feeling guilt.
I never expected this, and yet, I find myself feeling guilty almost daily, particularly about being a working mom. This morning, for example, my 4-year-old son overslept. I went to hug him goodbye and he clutched me around my neck in a death grip. I breathed him in — his soft blond hair, his face still warm with slumber— and watched as his eyes began to well up. “But we didn’t get to spend any time together, Mommy!!!” he cried into my shoulder, snuggling deeper into our embrace, as though I was leaving him forever, not eight hours.
I heaved a sigh and held back tears pricking at my own eyes. You’d think after seven years of mitigating my emotions as a working mother, I’d be unfazed by an interaction like this, but you’d be wrong. No matter how much I enjoy my job or feel satisfaction from my work, guilt-ridden mornings like this are what make it tough.
While not every mother feels the same intensity of guilt — and some may not feel any! — as sure as the sky is blue, I feel it. But I try to do my best. Not working isn’t an option for me. So I’ll always be a working mom — which means that some days, my home life suffers, while other days my job suffers — and I’ll always feel some guilt about that.
But over the years, I’ve come up with three coping mechanisms to get me through the guiltiest of days. Hopefully they can help you, too.
1. Savor the time you DO have with your kids. It’s easy to get caught up on all the things we are missing (chaperoning field trips, play dates). But I’ve learned a more productive outlook is to find joy in the time we do have. This doesn’t mean it’s all perfect — I’m a confessed yeller, after all — but I try not focus on the time we have together in the evenings. Family dinner where we discuss our days is a must, as is bedtime reading. These rituals help me feel more connected to my kids even though we’re apart most of the day. In fact, I tend to learn the most about my kids’ days in the minutes before they go to sleep. It could be they are delaying their bedtime but, honestly, that’s when they share the sweet, funny, or sad moments of their days.
2. Mommy & Me Dates. This one I owe to my own mom. She used to take each of us out for special dates, like to go shopping or get a bite to eat. I cherished that solo time with her (and I still do!). And I know she loves that I’ve continued her Mommy and Me ritual with my own kids. Sure, weekends are perfect for that, but I’ve discovered half days from school are also great opportunities, or even a random Wednesday night after soccer. Your child will feel special getting getting extra attention, and it’s a deviation from the normal dinner/bath/book/bed routine. Plus, you can always make it a surprise — kids love surprises!
3. Remind them (and yourself!) why you work. Sometimes we lose sight of why we do things, yet it’s at the crux of who we are. My kids know I genuinely love what I do. And though they’re too young to grasp the value of goals and ambition, the reminder to myself doesn’t hurt on those extra-tough days when throwing in the towel sounds so appealing. I also remind them that I work so that we can take trips and do fun things together as a family.
So, struggling mamas with little ones, let’s remember to keep some perspective! We may be on the receiving end of the guilt-spectrum now, but our time is gonna come. (Right?) One day, when our little ones are no longer so little, we will to follow in our mothers’ and grandmothers’ shoes and dish out all the guilt.
How do you cope with working mom guilt?