By lunch time on any given day, I've probably already felt guilty at least 20 times.
Because when I heard Ryder on the monitor at 5 a.m., I let him fuss for a few extra minutes so I could snooze. And when I stepped out of the shower, I looked my stretch marks with pangs of shame and regret, instead of seeing badges of love and courage. And because I put Ryder in a bouncy chair while I applied makeup and did my hair, instead of spending quality time with him.
The guilt I feel when I hand Ryder over to someone else as I leave for work (even if it's Daddy), almost kills me. I stare into his beautiful blue eyes and my heart breaks a little, every single morning.
At the office, I feel guilty because I'm always a few minutes late when I rush through the door in the morning. I'm ashamed because even though I've vowed to give up caffeine until we're done breast feeding, sometimes I have a cup of coffee (because otherwise I just can't take it). I feel guilty because when my boss talks to me, I'm only half listening, and half wondering what Ryder is doing at that moment. I feel guilty when I call home to check in, and my baby boy reaches for me through the miracle that is FaceTime, but I can't immediately give him a kiss on his sweet puffy cheek. And the guilt threatens to drown me when 5 seconds later I have to end the call early because a co-worker needs me urgently.
While I'm pumping at work, I feel guilty that I'm not at my desk doing my job. But I simultaneously feel guilty because I'm not at home, breastfeeding my son. I feel horrible because I didn't have time to pack a healthy lunch, and because we're probably going to end up eating frozen burritos for dinner again.
I feel absolutely terrible as I shamefully sneak out the back door at 4 p.m. each day, while the rest of my team continues working for another hour.
I feel shame over issues ranging from the type of diapers I use, to the fact that I don't make my own baby food. For the amount of time I spend with Ryder, and for leaving him with another caregiver.
I could go on and on...
Guilt is the one accessory no mother is ever without. We have been conditioned to think that we should be able to do everything because "we're the mom." And when we can't do everything, then there's something wrong with us.
We live in an "all-in" culture in general. If we choose to work, we're expected to be the most dedicated employee and to give a hundred percent of ourselves to our jobs. If we choose to stay at home, then we're expected to be super-moms (or super-dads) who give a hundred percent of ourselves to our children. But it's unrealistic for someone to spend a hundred percent of his or her potential on any one activity.It also seems that guilt is primed into our generation of parents. Many women claim that their biggest guilt factor is leaving children at home in order to work. And with the common trend of working longer hours, guilt seems to be an inescapable side effect — for both men and women.
Working moms in particular often struggle with intense guilt, especially when they first go back. When I returned to my job (which I love), I thought I'd feel happy and worthwhile. I didn't expect those feelings to be so tempered by guilt. I also feel guilty because I want to work. My heart breaks when I leave Ryder each morning — but I find many aspects of motherhood to be incredibly tedious, so I also feel relieved to have some time away.
Honestly, I think you can love your child and still have that "Thank God It's Monday" feeling. Especially after a long and dreary winter weekend. And not loving your stretch marks is perfectly normal, and doesn't call your parenting (or love for your child) into question. Neither does eating cereal for dinner.
I love my son more than anything in the world, and if I had to, I would give up anything for him. But would I be doing him any favors by giving up who I am? By ceasing to exist as an individual with an identity unrelated to my mommy one, how can I give my son an example to look up to, admire, and emulate?
So each and every day, I try to come to terms with my guilt. Because I don't want it to take the enjoyment out of my life with Ryder. I remind myself that my work serves a crucial purpose, and that I'm doing what's best for my family.
After all, the best thing you can do for your baby is to be a happy mom.