I thought I had outgrown the cattiness that often plagues young, hormonal teenagers in high school. That is, until I became a mom.
There is nothing more alarming to me than grown women being nasty to each other about personal life decisions. At the same time, I must admit that I too have participated in the mommy wars. In the early days, I felt judged as a working mom by people in more traditional circles who believed being a stay-at-home mom was the only way to be a good parent. It made me defensive, and I wasn’t always nice or gracious with my responses.
However, in the last four years, my attitude has changed dramatically. I no longer feel the need to defend the choices I make as a mom. I’ve grown more comfortable in defining what motherhood means to me, and I’ve come to learn that I would make a really bad stay-at-home mom.
And I’m OK with it. Here’s a little about my personal journey from guilty to great.
Why I don’t stay home with my kids
Earlier this summer, I shared my story about suffering from postpartum PTSD. I wasn’t diagnosed until 15 months postpartum. In the United States, where there are no national paid maternity leave laws, many women return to work by the three-month mark, and so did I.
For 12 months, I tried to sort through an immense amount of guilt about being a working mom, and I wasn’t alone in my guilt. A recent poll by workingmother.com revealed that 57 percent of mothers surveyed feel guilty every single day, while 31 percent feel guilty at least once a week. Why do working mothers appear to be preprogrammed for guilt?
“We get the message all the time that we’re supposed to be stay-at-home moms or, if we work, that we’re supposed to be amazing supermoms on top of our careers,” says Nicole Else-Quest, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.
As unrealistic as those expectations are, we internalize them from a young age and then feel pressure. We question our competence, she says, adding: “Working moms feel torn. There are so many things to do, so many obligations. We walk around wondering, how do I do everything and do everything well?”
I was overwhelmed trying to balance my corporate job and my family. I felt isolated, alone, and guilty that everything seemed so difficult for me. Since I was in a fragile mental health state, it was easy to take criticisms about working and turn them into feelings of guilt. In turn, my guilt was compounded by the fact that I had to work. At the time, my husband and I could not meet all our obligations on one paycheck.
Around the two-year mark, and after a really good therapist, the postpartum haze started to clear and I realized that I actually wanted to work.
I am not cut out to be a stay-at-home mom.
When I am home all day with no other adults to talk to and catering to demanding children, I get depressed and angry. When I express this feeling, sometimes people act as if I don’t love my kids. I recognized this about myself and I couldn’t wrap my mind around what was so wrong about going to work and earning a livable wage that provided important necessities — especially when I enjoyed the job and being challenged.
As time went by, it became clear to me that working was a healthy creative outlet for me and that it truly made me a better mom!
Once I realized this, the question became clear: Why do I let other people make me feel bad about working?
I no longer feel guilty
I admire women who find joy in being homemakers. Honestly, I do. Sometimes I wish I loved the routine many stay-at-home moms have. It is a tremendously selfless act to stay home with your kids and not work. It is a lot of work to be at home all day long.
As soon as I started to acknowledge the sacrifices and hardships that stay-at-home moms go through, my guilt dissipated.
There is something amazing about letting go of your judgment regarding other people’s decisions and your defensiveness regarding your own. Choosing to embrace how I am wired as a person, and not judging other people for being wired differently, has been liberating.
I often tell my husband that I am not just a mom. My status as a mom is part of my identity. I am also a wife, daughter, sister, friend, and coworker. I enjoy challenging projects at work and I enjoy taking a “mommy and me” day and going to the zoo and playground. I enjoy my life so much more now that I’ve accepted that I am a better mother when I respect all aspects of who I am as a person.
I stand up for myself now
I get very irritated when I’m asked who watches my kids when I work. My husband has never been asked a single time in the boardroom where his kids are and he admits when he travels for business that men tend to assume his wife is a stay-at-home mom.
The truth is, we still live in a very male-dominated society. Half of the equation for overcoming working mom guilt is standing up for myself.
I have told male executives that asking me where my kids are during a boardroom presentation is unprofessional. I have told a female executive who advised me not to mention my kids that she was unprofessional.
It is no one’s place to critique my work based on my status as a mom, nor is it OK to tell me that I have to pretend I don’t have kids to fit into a corporate box.
I am a mom. I have a career. I am great at both! Why should I feel guilty about that?