This Is The Mom Guilt No One Tells You About

by Karen Johnson
Nazra Zahri / Getty Images

They prepare us for the stretch marks and the sleepless nights. They talk about all the poop and how our boobs will never be the same after breastfeeding and warn us about car seat safety. But there are so many things no one warns us about. How come no one told me about the guilt?

There’s “working mom guilt”, “I have too many kids and can’t give them enough attention guilt”, “I only have one kid and he doesn’t have a sibling guilt”, “Why am I not more fun? guilt”…

It never ends.

And as your kids grow up, it seems like there’s a new batch around every corner, doesn’t it? Yay. Thanks motherhood!

I’m currently suffering from “my life is changing and I’m finally focusing on myself for freaking once guilt.” And it sucks. I mean, it’s awesome to be doing something for me—something I love. But the guilt part feels like tiny knives stabbing my heart every four minutes throughout the day.

I feel guilty because my oldest child had a different mommy than my youngest does. For the five years leading up to kindergarten, my firstborn had a mommy who was lonely as shit and bored stiff and desperate for friends and social interactions. So we went to playdate after playdate. After playdate. Parks. Coffee houses. People’s houses. The moon. Wherever. I went anywhere people were.

I was also all-in with the SAHM shtick. Crafts! (We made a birdhouse out of an orange juice container once. It grew mold and fell apart immediately. But yay, crafts!) And books! And educational television! And nature walks!

My life was entirely wrapped up in his life—which I thought would fulfill me. Because I had thought motherhood would fill me up to the brim. But the truth is, I often felt empty. And that guilt—the “why I don’t I love motherhood like I thought I would guilt”—that one is super fun.

But even though I wasn’t happy within myself, at least I was there every single second of every single minute, right? (Then why did I still feel guilty?)

When his sister came along, I began to transition to a new self. I wrote something one day and as it turned out, a few people liked reading my words. It was intoxicating. You mean I could do something other than wipe poop off stuff?! I fell in love with it. The concept of being and doing something else, even for just a few minutes each day, gave me life. A sense of purpose. Energy. It filled my cup in a way that motherhood never did.

Yet even though I had started writing, I still did the playdate thing and the park thing and the room-mom thing for a few more years. I still identified as “just” a stay-at-home mom. But I was starting to be something else.

And by the time my third child was born, that new mommy was too. By the time he was able to understand his world, she was already writing every day—for a good part of the day. He’s never known the mom his older brother had. His mom wasn’t a stay-at-home mom, but a work from home mom. She doesn’t volunteer at school nearly as much as she did six years ago. She doesn’t go to play dates. Playing outside no longer means weekly park visits, but something closer to “go outside and ride your bike” or “play on the swing set.” He often watches TV (sometimes Sponge Bob) or plays iPad while Mommy writes.

I do still take my kids to the park, just not as often. I do play board games and read books and, yes, we do the occasional craft. But my time is more precious now, more measured. My youngest may get an hour of my quality time, whereas the old mom had endless minutes to give.

And yes, I feel guilty.

But do you know what else I feel? Incredible fulfillment. I feel important. I feel successful. I feel smart and valuable and needed at my job. Motherhood doesn’t fill those voids for all of us, even though we know that there’s nothing more important than raising our kids.

I found myself drowning in the void. Did I value those playdates and mom friends from the early baby days? Yes, absolutely. In fact, those women were my lifeline. What may have seemed like mindless chatter about diaper rash and milk engorgement was exactly what I needed—for that was my entire life back then.

But as I delved deeper and deeper into motherhood, I knew I needed more. And once I found what it is, it meant making a choice. It meant being a different mom. It meant showing my kids what a work-from-home mom looks like. And it meant filling my cup.

At the end of the day, I look back (often with guilt) and think about how much time I spent with my kids, especially my little guy who is home with me half of the day. Did I do enough? Was I present enough? And if the answer is no, I vow to do better tomorrow. Which I usually do. I put the computer away and we take that nature walk. Or play a marathon game of CandyLand.

But I also continue to work at my job, showing him what it looks like when a mom takes care of herself, too.

Because a mother’s work is never done.