Working Mom Guilt

by Jennifer Weedon Palazzo
Originally Published: 

I feel guilty. About working. About not working. About not feeling comfortable one way or the other. The working mom guilt? It’s brutal.

I thought that by being a stay-at-home/work-at-home hybrid, I’d have the best of both worlds. But instead, I feel like I’m half-assing each one. I barely have time to work and when I do, I feel like my son is getting the short end of the stick.

Before becoming a parent, I had lovely fantasies of how life would go. I’d be working on my laptop, writing a script or editing whatever film I was working on at the time. And my children would play quietly at my feet with Waldorf-inspired wooden toys that stimulated their imagination.

The reality is more like, if I need to do some work that requires deep focus during my son’s waking moments, I let him watch an episode of Sesame Street or play an “educational” Disney Jr. game online.

I’ve had conference calls where the corporate entities on the other end would be horrified to see that I was still in my pajamas, cleaning up spilled mac and cheese in a puddle of geriatric cat pee. And that the only reason my son was quiet is that I promised him ice cream if he could be silent for thirty minutes.

At the playground in my neighborhood, I see mostly nannies. I’ve become friendly with some of them. And when we compare our daily schedules, it occurs to me that the nannies’ entire job is to give attention and care to the children. They pack the kids’ schedules with adventures, classes, and playdates. My son is lucky if we get to the park once a day. And while I’m there, try as I might not to, I usually have to answer an urgent email or two.

Before you get the wrong idea, it’s not like he sits in front of the TV for eight hours a day while I work. I never let him watch more than an hour of TV a day. Most days it’s a half-hour. I try to fit my work in during his naptime and after he goes to bed. I take him to the library, museum, park, etc. But on your average day, he also gets carted around to the bank, the post office, a coffee meeting. He’s not getting my full undivided attention.

I think I often hear reproach from others when maybe they don’t intend it. My husband with, “Oh, you finished editing that episode today? Did he take an extra long nap?”

Or my mother-in-law the other day. We were talking about where we may move and the possible commutes into New York City. When I said, “It would be tough if I worked full-time but since I don’t need to be in the city everyday, it could work out.” She shocked me by saying (innocently I suppose), “Wait. Don’t you work full time now?”

No. No, I don’t. I work for the length of a Little Einsteins episode, a mid-day nap, and for two hours between my son’s bedtime and mine. I felt defensive. Like her impression from spending time with us was that I was always on the computer.

I could stop. I could be a full-time stay-at-home-mom. My husband brings in the bulk of our income anyway. My son would certainly love to be my sole project in life. It would relieve me of this guilt.

But I would lose me. I know it. I’ve been doing this acting/film-making thing since I started a theater group my freshman year of high school. It keeps me going. It motivates, excites, and sometimes infuriates me. Sometimes I’m resentful. My husband doesn’t have to make this choice. Whatever hours he works, I’ll be there as the primary care-giver. While he misses our son terribly when he works long hours and travels, society makes him feel like a “bad” father for doing so. He’s just providing for his family.

If I had to choose, of course I’d choose motherhood over career. My son is the most important thing in my life.

But does that mean he has to be the only important thing in my life?

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