Last week, Nicki Gilbert wrote a piece for Kveller about the guilt she experienced on an unusual, unscheduled weekday morning when she wasn’t otherwise running between errands, appointments, and volunteer activities. She toyed with a list of ideas she could do on this rare occasion when she found a few hours for herself. Burdened with what she described as stay-at-home-mom guilt, she quickly dismissed “decadent” options including napping, watching TV, and going to the movies. Eventually, she hinted at the idea that she would overcome the guilt and spend a few hours on the sunny, California beach.
I read her article, hunched over my iPhone, sitting in my five-day-a-week office, while dropping crumbs from lunch all over my desk. And I’ll admit it–I felt a little rage-y. The very idea that another mom was headed to frolic on the warm sand while I toiled away in sub-zero temperatures, warmed only by the corporate-monitored heating system and whatever sweat I worked up while walking down to the cafeteria, made the hairs on my arm stand on edge.
In justifying her trip to the beach, Nicki referenced the fact that even working people have “downtime, room to breathe and think.” My (admittedly) snarky gut reaction was that if I had to choose between downtime that included a dip in the Pacific and the downtime I experience at work when I have enough time between conference calls to use the restroom, I knew which one I’d select.
But immediately after the frustration flashed, I caught myself: Where was this coming from? I had never once been a perpetrator in the stay-at-home vs. working-mom battle. In the five years since I’ve been a working mom, I had never before experienced jealously over a stay-at-home mom’s life, had never once regretted my decision to work because I honestly love what I do, and have even worked part-time myself. I wholeheartedly believe that every parent has to find the right balance and choices that work for his or her unique situation and no two situations are identical.
So what was with the reaction? What was it that cut me so deeply about her decision to make time for herself? And then it struck me–the anger came from the fact that never, in a million years, would I go to the beach by myself. Any hour I can free up from my work schedule is devoted to my kids. While I don’t feel working-mom guilt on a daily basis, I do feel compelled to spend every other waking second tending to them because I work. And so evenings are for them. And weekends are for them. And vacations are for them. On occasion, I’ll go out in the evening, but only after the kids are fast asleep.
But what does that leave for me?
This isn’t the first time the problem has been spelled out for me. One of my dearest friends takes advantage of her daycare during rare “off” hours and tends to herself. She reads. She runs. She gets it. There’s an age-old truth about the importance of taking care of yourself first. I’m so far from that truth, it’s off-putting. Because forget putting myself first, I’m not even putting myself on the list. And I know I’m not alone, because I see others around me cloaked in the same emotional shroud on a daily basis.
And so my response to Nicki is that you’re not alone. And what you’re feeling isn’t really stay-at-home-mom guilt. It’s just plain, old-fashioned, garden-variety parent guilt. Just because we could always be doing something for the family, doesn’t mean we should. And I really, truly hope that you did go to the beach that day. Because without having done it myself, I already know that, if you did, you were all the more happy and relaxed for your children (and yourself! See, I did it again!) at the end of the day.
And who knows? If I can somehow summon up the strength to cast off my own mom-guilt, maybe I’ll see you there one of these days. But on a weekend, OK?