My son is nine weeks old, and I have completed two weeks back in the office full time. I have not had one moment of guilt. No tears. No pain. No heart ache. We have rocked it.
He’s my second child. The only way we accomplished this is with all the lessons I learned from my first child. I write my blog to share my stories and experiences because I believe if we all live life as an open book and share our experiences, we can gain so much from one another. Hopefully there is a mom out there, or mom to be one day, who will experience less struggle, pain and challenge than I did with my first child by reading my story.
Today I’m going to talk about GUILT in general and about mom guilt.
Before I get into the back story, I have one more preface. When I say we rocked it, I mean he thrived, and I thrived. But please understand, I’m not pretending it was easy. It is hard. He’s exclusively breastfed. I am pumping around the clock. I have my four-year-old and husband who also need me. I never stop, slow down or rest. I showed up to the staff meeting with spit up on my dress. I almost cried when three ounces of breast milk spilled in the fridge. I am juggling a million plates. I wear my hair in a clip every day because it’s a hairstyle I can do in one minute and that’s all I have. Of course it’s hard. Of course it’s a challenge. But I’m carrying no guilt or shame. That’s what I want to talk about.
In 2014 I gave birth to my daughter. Like most moms, I wanted to be the best mom I could. And in my worldview, that meant being home with her. The messaging I heard for those first 27 years of my life sounded like this:
“Daycare is paying someone else to raise your kids”
“Awww….I feel sorry for that mom. She had to put her kid in daycare at XYZ age.”
“Being able to stay home with your child is the best gift you can give them.”
“No one can take care your child as well as you can”
And many other similar messages. What that translated to for me (the over achiever who has to always be the best) is that to be the best mom I could for my daughter I needed to stay home with her. Otherwise, I was short changing her. However, my husband’s income could not support us by itself. Since I was self-employed I chose to work from home. This seriously sounded like the dream life. It was an ideal situation.
However, in retrospect, my opinion is that this is the hardest of all the options. There are moms whose full time job is their children and their home. There are moms who while they work, someone else takes care of the kids. And then the work from home moms try to do both things at the same time. My experience was that trying to do both was significantly more stressful than the other two options.
The 27-year-old me absolutely, positively, could not have put my child in day care though. My fear levels were through the roof. My insecurities were extreme. And I had a belief that I would be a bad mom if I did. Day care was only for when you have no other option.
During my pregnancy with my daughter my hips started hurting. The midwife and chiropractor said it was normal. Your hips expand to make room for the baby. After I gave birth they still hurt. I was told this is normal, they are moving back in place. I mean, you just birthed a 9lb 14oz baby. Give yourself some grace. Well, by the time she was 6 months old I had quit exercising due to the pain. I was afraid I would hurt myself. It continued to get worse. When she was 10 months old I could not sit criss-cross without severe pain. I knew something wasn’t right.
Fortunately, someone told me about John Giancarlo. He practices a form of Japanese acupressure called Jin Shin Jyutsu. I decided to give his services a try and in ONE SESSION the pain was gone. It was seriously like a miracle. While laying on his table for an hour and a half while he worked on me (you can barely even feel him touching you and you stay clothed) I fell into a very deep relaxation. I practice meditation, so while he was working I started reflecting on different words, and the word guilt came to me. It stuck. I spent a while releasing guilt from my body and eventually fell into a deep sleep.
When he finished the session we had a conversation about what was happening in my body during that 90 minutes. He explained that where I was feeling the pain was precisely where two energy centers are located. I asked what those centers are connected to, and he showed me on the chart it was joy. We talked about my meditation, and what I realized was that my guilt was causing an extreme lack of joy in my life, and my body was storing all that emotion inside.
I rarely had a moment I didn’t feel guilty. When I was playing with my baby, I felt guilty I wasn’t working. When I was working, I felt guilty I wasn’t cleaning. When I was cleaning, I felt guilty I wasn’t spending time with my husband. When I spent time with my husband, I felt guilty I wasn’t spending time with my baby. And every combination of those things mixed together. I could not find peace in the present. I was always doing one thing and spending mental energy thinking about something else I could be doing. This led to a constant state of guilt and eventually began manifesting in my body. The guilt definitely started during pregnancy when we were under extreme financial stress, and I felt guilty I couldn’t make it better.
Through that experience with my body, I began working on being present in the moment. It’s a learning process, but four years into the journey I have come so, so, so far. I release the weight of all the other things I could be doing and focus on the moment in front of me. I have found this skill to be like a muscle that must be grown over time.
Another major “aha” moment I had with guilt is one conversation with a wise woman I met at a girls night out whom I have never seen again. I truly believe she was sent to me that night to teach me this one major life lesson. The context of the situation is that we were both very clean eaters. I was detoxing at the time (pretty much every January you can count on that from me) and she just in general ate an extreme lifestyle of cleanliness for her body, many of which were allergy related. The restaurant we were at offered nothing on the menu either of us could consume so this was the conversation:
Me: “Man, I can’t eat anything here. I feel bad. I need to come up with something to order.”
Her: “Oh, you’re a guilt catcher.”
Me: “A what?”
Her: “You’re a guilt catcher. I have found that in life there are guilt throwers and guilt catchers, and I choose not to be either.”
Me: “What do you mean?”
Her: “Well, you just said you feel bad. That means you are feeling guilt for not ordering. I don’t. I came to enjoy the company. The menu has nothing I can eat. I’m not ordering. But you are experiencing guilt. You feel obligated to order. You have probably had people in your life who made you feel guilty about choices you have made.”
Me: “Oh, for sure.”
Her: “Well, you don’t have to receive it. If someone is saying something to me that involves something I ‘should’ be doing, they are probably a guilt thrower. They throw guilt on other people. I won’t receive it. So if after one or two times of them telling me something I should do and me declining wanting that, I then say to them with a big smile ‘__(person’s name)____, are you trying to make me feel guilty?” And they always immediately say no and start backing off.
I had flashes of all the conversations where someone told me something I “should” do, and I internalized it. You should eat like this, dress like this, have a job like this, practice religion in this way, raise your children this way. The messages of all the SHOULDs that are thrown at us are endless.
Shortly after that I had a friend disagree with something I was allowing my daughter to do that she would never allow her daughter to do. She kept reiterating that I “should not _____.” I found myself having to defend a choice I made for my daughter that I felt perfectly fine with. After the third time of her using different words to say the same thing I smiled through the phone and said “______, are you trying to make me feel guilty for allowing my daughter to ______.” Bam. It was over. She said “Oh! No! Absolutely not! It’s fine if you want to do that.” And has never brought it up again. All I was thinking was “Holy crap! It worked!”
What I realized is that when these people make these comments to us about what we should do, what they are REALLY SAYING is “This is what I would do.” But I think we can all agree that every single one of our lives and situations are completely different. What works for you, may not work for me. And visa versa. I have been working hard to remove the word should from my vocabulary because I certainly don’t want to throw guilt onto someone else. The word could is often a great substitute, or just personalizing it. Rather than saying “You should….” you say “If it were me, I would…” Or, just don’t give advice at all and ask more questions. That’s usually the best response.
You ready for a heart break story? My daughter was 2 years old, and I had a family friend watching her part time, two or three days a week. It was amazing. I totally regretted not getting help sooner. I needed time for myself to work and have self care. It immediately increased my quality of life.
One day I was working. I was at a meeting in Tampa, a women’s event with a panel of incredible speakers, when I got a text message. It said, “Oh my gosh. Eleanora is so cute. She just gave me a hug and said I love you ____.” I had to fight back the tears. My daughter had not said “I love you” to me yet. She told her before me.
On the way home I called my business partner and cried and cried and cried. It absolutely broke my heart. She said to me “Sophia, she’s two years old. You know she loves you. She’s obsessed with you. You’re her mother. She’s just learning vocabulary. Depending on how long this woman watches her, she may not even remember her when she grows up. But she is going to love you the rest of her life and already loves you more than this woman. She just can’t vocalize it. She will tell you I love you thousands of more times than this woman.” She was right, but it didn’t make it hurt less.
At that panel event that day, during Q & A, someone asked about how to manage work/life balance. I was struggling so hard with the fact I loved working and loved having time apart from my daughter, but did everyone else have this same guilt I did? A couple of the speakers recommended the book Lean In by Sheryl Sanberg. So I picked it up.
I still remember the plane ride I read it on. I still remember the moment I felt free from caring that I had my daughter in child care.
All the guilt and the tears washed away. I realized that I had a calling. Yes, I was called to be a great mother. And I am. But I have more dreams. Some women dream of being a mom. That’s their happy place. That’s all they want. They want to take care of their home and raise their kids and that is awesome. It’s admirable. And it would probably make my husband’s life a heck of a lot easier if I were that way. But I am not. I burn almost all the food I cook on the rare occasion I attempt composing a meal. Truth be told, I mother better when I’m not around my children 24-7. This doesn’t make me a bad mom. It makes me ME. And I have to reflect on what talents and gifts I have to offer the world and LEAN IN to them. It is my responsibility to show up in this world in the most powerful way I can and contribute in ways only women can offer. The world needs more of our perspective around the table.
A few months after that book I upped my daughter to four days of child care a week, but I found that I was still stressing on that day home with her trying to get the work week accomplished. Soon after, I went to five days a week, and I found great happiness. It was my balance. I could set healthy boundaries on the hours I worked. I could walk away from something at 5pm knowing I was going to pick it up where I left off the next morning. When I was with my daughter I could be fully present with her. Laugh with her, play with her, and enjoy her, without thinking about the email or text message I needed to reply to within the next hour.
I realized I had dabbled in the at home world and it wasn’t me. It did not bring out my best. I became a much better mother when I entered the 9-5 world. My husband commented on how less stressed I was. I was more pleasant to be around, and he felt like he got his wife back. My daughter was three years old before I put her in full time childcare, and if I could go back, I wish I did it so much sooner.
A few months after I realized I loved the 9-5 lifestyle, I was offered a 9-5 job. It’s funny how God’s timing works. Any moment before that I would have turned that job down. I would have felt like I was putting on hand cuffs and trading in my freedom. But I accepted it because I realized it was an appropriate fit for me. It actually GIVES me freedom because it forces me to implement a schedule and routine with the healthy boundaries I need to thrive. Not to mention, the job is very unique and plays to all my greatest strengths. It’s a gift to find as much fulfillment in your work as I do.
I was in the job for 6 months when I got pregnant. It was not planned. And it was a hard pregnancy. I powered through it and then enjoyed a few weeks of no emails, phone calls, text messages or project management, but then….per my usual, I was bored. I can only change so many diapers and sit on the couch nursing so many times before I need to do something. I am a busy body, always on the go. I planned to work part time for a few months and go back to work full time when he turned four months old. However, that plan didn’t work out. I work with a very small team. It’s busy season and everyone is drowning. My husband and I sat down to figured out a new plan for the family that would make sure our son was cared for but that allowed me to get 40 hours a week in and it works.
Oh, and last but not least, I did a ton of reading. I looked up studies on success and happiness in adults. It turns out there is not one proof anyone can find that says children actually turn out better if their moms were home with them or if they were in day care. They have looked at so many different ways to measure success in adulthood and it turns out, kids come out fine either way. What matters is that they are loved, nurtured and their needs are provided for, by whomever. It’s my job as a mom to make sure my children are well-fed, well-loved, and well-nurtured.
So, how can I leave my baby for 40 hours a week and not struggle? Here’s how:
I love my job. If I didn’t find fulfillment in my work, it would probably be a lot harder
I don’t actually like being a stay-at-home mom. I tried it already with my first and it’s simply not me. It’s not in my DNA
I fully trust the people watching my children (His father some of the time, and a friend the other. My daughter is at a preschool)
He’s a good baby. He takes the bottle fine, he lets anyone love on him and cuddle him and he sleeps great. I know that he is happy whether I am there or not
I’m not accepting any guilt anyone tries to throw on me
I am fully confident I am making the right choice for my family
I no longer believe that it’s better for the children if the mom stays home. It’s better for the children if they are surrounded in love and have a mom who enjoys and treasures their time together
I can work full time with no guilt because I know I am a kick-tail mother and when they are apart from me they are smothered in love by people who love smothering babies and children with love. It’s a win-win-win.