Q&A: Guilt guilt guilt

Anon writes:

"You work outside the home. Tell me I'm not going to screw up my son by leaving him every day to go to work. I always wanted to be a SAHM but in this economy there's no way we can make it anymore, even for a few more months, without my paycheck. And I feel lucky to have found a job so fast. It's not amazing, but I can do it and the pay's decent. Just tell me he's not going to be forever damaged because his mom walks out the door every morning and doesn't come back for 9 hours."

Ouch. Ouch ouch ouch. Being a mom hurts in all sorts of ways, big and small, transitory and lasting, and from all sorts of things, doesn't it?

Before we go any further: You are not damaging your son by working. He will thrive, because you are his mother and you come home to him every day.

You didn't say how old he is or what your care situation is, but since your primary focus is on your leaving instead of angst about who you're leaving him with, I'm going to assume his caregivers are trustworthy. As long as good people are caring for him every day, he'll be fine under their care, and ready to be with you when you're home with him.

I wish that we all had jobs we loved and feel are worthy of our time, but earning the money to support our families is honorable and right. You are a good mom. You were a good mom when you were home with him, and now you're a good mom because you work.

Those of us who've felt guilt at leaving our kids to work, how do we get past it? Is there anything we can do to make it feel right for ourselves?

71 thoughts on “Q&A: Guilt guilt guilt”

  1. I wish you the best of luck.(All the research on this is mixed, so every single thing I could say that might be reassuring would tick another person who has different circumstances off, so I’ll just keep my typing fingers to myself and wish you best of luck figuring out what to wear on your first day of work.)

  2. All debates aside, some mothers have to work outside the home. I’m one of them and have worked since my 12 week maternity leave ended. I can tell you that my now almost 5 year old son is happy, well-adjusted, and LOOOOOVVVES his Mama (and of course his Daddy, too)! As Moxie said, as long as you are comfortable with his caregivers, he will thrive. Be kind to yourself.

  3. Sorry for the double post, but I didn’t answer the question on how I got past the guilt. For me, I always knew I’d have to go back to work, so mentally, I was sort of prepared for it. It was a lot harder when he was a baby but as he got older, I realized that I’m a much happier person when I work, and my son had a much more structured, active day at daycare/preschool. That helped a lot. I also try to do special small things with him on the weekends. Nothing crazy. Just things like make pancakes together or go shopping together. We have a very strong bond.

  4. In my 34.5 long, wonderful months of motherhood so far, I’ve been each of the following: SAHM, WOHM, and now WAHM … and I have felt some unique kind of guilt about EACH and EVERY one of the above work/life choices I’ve made! 😉 In our society, unfortunately, we moms have to work really hard to silence those sad GUILT narratives swirling all around us and inside of us.Trust me, no work/life choice alone will screw up a kid!! Hate to break it to all of those Dr. Laura types out there on their hate pulpits, but daycares and babysitters are often much better at taking care of kids than their own parents are. (And too often in the rough stages that has definitely been true at our house.) We just have to do what we have to do to keep our families afloat, and our own heads above water. Be gentle with yourself! It’s a process.

  5. The only research I’ll cite is the research that finds that on average, working moms today spend about as much- if not more- time focusing on their kids as stay at home moms in the past did. I most recently came across this data in a book called 168 hours by Laura Vanderkam, but I’ve seen it other places, too. She makes the point that our house keeping standards used to be a lot more stringent. I laughed out loud at the excerpt she found from a Good Housekeeping (or similar) from the 50s that included instructions on how to iron your electric blankets. WTF? People used to do that?I actually just did a timetracking exercise based on that book, and found that I spend, on average 4.75 hours/day with my kids (either taking care of them or playing with them- and that doesn’t even count our nightly family dinners). Obviously, that fluctuates a bit, and I have more play time on weekends than I do during the week. But it was higher than I would have guessed if someone just asked me how much time I spend focusing on my kids.
    It was an interesting exercise that taught me some things. I plan to post the results soon- maybe even tonight, if I have time to write them up. Maybe doing an exercise like this would help some of your WOHMs who are feeling guilty? You probably spend more time with your family than you realize.
    I am very happy to be a WOHM, and don’t actually feel much guilt about it at all. My children (a 3.5 yo and an almost 1 yo) seem to be thriving. If I’m ruining them forever, the evidence is not apparent yet!
    There is no one right way to be a mother. There is only what is right for you and your family.

  6. One thing I find helpful is assuming that my child will need therapy as an adult for something, and will be well-adjusted enough to get it. That frees me to just look at my choices as potential influences on what he/she will talk about when they get there.So in your shoes, I would say to myself, “Well, he can go and talk about how his mom left for work everyday and he missed her so much, or he can talk about how he lived in a motel with parents who fought over who has to collect cans after dinner, while assuring him they were staying home as a choice to show they loved him so much.”
    I may not have the details exactly right, but you could phrase it however it makes you feel most excited about his future therapy sessions.
    My own children will be working out why in hell I didn’t go to work and take my cranky out on others…

  7. I struggle with this too right now. My son is almost 6 months old and we are blessed to have an excellent Daycare Center within about 10 minutes of our home and 10 minutes from my work. I still feel bad dropping him off each morning and I always find that Sunday evenings are the hardest part of the week for me because I feel like it’s the longest time between when then and when I get to spend the whole weekend with him.I try to tell myself that in the long run this will actually be better for him. He doesn’t have any siblings right now so having interaction with other people and babies on a daily basis has to be beneficial. In the end the whole thing is still really difficult for me to manage. I wish I could be home with him all the time despite how much I love my job and how necessary my paycheck is to our family.

  8. Oops, like @Stacy, I forgot to answer the question! I got past the guilt by knowing beyond any doubt that this is the right way for me to be a mother. I guess the key for me was to be honest about what the alternative looked like- not the alternative in fantasy land, but the alternative in the real world I inhabit. So maybe in fantasy land, my kids and I would have lots of wonderful enriching experiences during the day if I stayed home, but honestly, in my real world, it wouldn’t be that way. I’m just not that kind of mom. I would be burned out, and probably a little resentful, and there would be far more Dora than I’m comfortable with.

  9. I’m a WOHM and my satisfaction with working has fluctuated over the course of lives of my 3-yo and 1-yo. Right now, things are pretty great since we have a neighbor taking care of them in our house. I still worry, but I’m a worrier in general, so, might as well use up all the worry on the daycare issue!I work in early childhood education research and so I’m familiar with the daycare research and here is the major takeaway you should always remember: You and your partner are by far the biggest influence on your child’s development. Full stop. Nothing even comes close. There are effects at the margins but the truth is, if you are engaged with your child, have them in a high-quality care situation, and are willing to make changes in that care situation if things start to not be right, your child won’t be much different than if you were a SAHM.

  10. My little boy is thriving in daycare. He’s singing, playing, creating art, learning boundaries, making friends, and when he’s all worn out at the end of the day, he goes home with me.I had a lot more guilt about leaving him when he was an infant, but, like you, I didn’t have a choice. Now, I can’t say I feel guilt about leaving him. Sometimes I miss him, but I don’t feel that I’m harming him.
    Good luck to you.

  11. One way of dealing with the guilty feelings is to look around at people in your life who are/were working moms, or who had working moms. There is bound to be someone you know who turned out to be an amazing person with a great relationship with his/her parents despite the fact that they worked, or some family with no stay-at-home parent, who nevertheless are a close family with great kids. This has helped me a lot with guilty feelings about pursuing a career in academia, which can be demanding on my time. But I am lucky enough to be in a dept with a senior woman faculty member with 4 wonderful grown kids! I don’t compare myself to her – honestly, I don’t know how she did it! – but it’s nice to think of her family when I worry about how much time I’m putting into my career.

  12. Oh the guilt! Its just awful! Having been on both sides of this as well, I can tell you my kids are just fine! My 6 yo started day care at 8 weeks old, and my 3 yo has been home the whole time with my husband (we are fortunate enough that he can stay home, but now I have guilt that’s it not me at home – ack!).Both of them are just fine! Both are outgoing, friendly, generally kind kids. I take that as a sign that they are getting the best of us and all those around them. You are mom, nothing will change that. Nothing.
    To make it feel right for me, I make sure to spend quality time with each, every day. By that I mean, no phone, no emails, etc., for a set time. That time varies, sometimes its an hour sometimes its fifteen minutes. The important thing is that they have my full attention for that time. Do what works for you. You are not harming him.

  13. Because I work outside the home and that is the right choice for me, I am a better mom for my kids than if I stayed home with them. This is absolutely true for me, because (like @Cloud and others) I would be burned out, resentful and not feel fulfilled if I did not work outside the home. I know this is true.I also know that because I get filled up outside the home in a job I enjoy (though do not always love) with my need for adult conversations, strategic thinking and praise for my efforts, I am able to enjoy my time at home as a mom and wife.
    I don’t really feel guilt, because I know that my kids are doing great and I know that there are so many kids out there and even adults who thrive in similar situations. And as @scantee said, when I began to feel that the daycare/pre-school my older child was in was no longer the right place, I moved her. Now, we are thrilled with both places my kids go (3 yo at Montessori, 1 yo in a daycare).
    @ACJ: “One thing I find helpful is assuming that my child will need therapy as an adult for something, and will be well-adjusted enough to get it. That frees me to just look at my choices as potential influences on what he/she will talk about when they get there.”
    I do the same thing! I always say, “of course my kids will need therapy. It’s just a matter of what they need it for and how much they will need.” It’s very freeing!

  14. I am a working mom with a 2 year old who has been in daycare since he was a year old. The way I got over any guilt was to remind myself that my own mother also went back to work when I was 6 months. I had a nanny for the first couple of years, and then I went to preschool. I never, ever doubted my mom’s decision, and I never, ever begrudged her for going back to work. She was a role model for me in that it never occurred to me to not go back to work. I think I’m pretty well adjusted today, and my relationship with her is fine (we have our issues, and she thinks we’re not as close as we should be, but I doubt that has much to do with the fact that she went to work when I was an infant. I’m also not that close to my sister, for whatever that’s worth.)I haven’t done the research, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find studies out there showing that the strength of your relationship with your child is basically unrelated to whether or not you stayed home with them as an infant/toddler.

  15. The way I get around the guilt is to spend as much quality time as possible with my boys once I get home. Our house isn’t spotless (or even close!) but we do have nightly family dinners together and we spend quality weekends together doing fun things.I’ve worked since my boys were 8 weeks. In the first year it was actually a relief to go to work. 2nd year had its moments. Third year was the first year I actually wished I could stay home one or two years or work part time hours. Same thing with 4 and 5. However, me wanting to be home is more about me and how I want to spend my time and less about how adjusted and happy my boys are. Do they love the occasional day when I stay home and so I get to take them to preschool and pick them up? Most definitely. Would they feel the same way if I did it everyday? Maybe not so much. They have said it would be so nice if I could be home in the AM with them but then I thought about it and I’m home pretty much every afternoon (I have good hours so I’m hope typically when they wake up from their nap around 4). They take the afternoons for granted now because it is the norm. We are lucky we have that opportunity, I know.
    I think the hardest part about working full time and dealing with the guilt is that you feel you should/need/want to spend any non-working time with your kids so you are less inclined to carve out you-time just for you. Just finally getting to where I feel a little more comfortable doing that from time to time.
    Good luck with your transition!

  16. Well I have a few things to add to the discussion.My mum decided to be a SAHM in the 70s. It was awful. My parents fought a lot about money (never enough), chores (ditto) and my mother was miserable and took it out on her kids, alternating between resentment/stress at us, or ludicrously pumping up our achievements so that we would justify her 24/7 care. (Which wasn’t, but that’s another post.)
    By the time I was a teen my mother worked part time, but still spent so many hours hyperfocused on ridiculous things. I’m not saying all or even most SAHMs are like this, I’m just saying that there are serious downsides to some SAHP situations. I wish TO GOD my mother had become a doctor as she had originally planned.
    Flash forward to me. I’ve been a SAHM, WAHM and WOHM and each situation had pluses and minuses. Here are the pluses to WOHM:
    – I give my son the world. When I was SAHM and WAHM, I was so distrustful with others’ care…and you know, some of that is good and necessary. But looking back I see that if I’d continued that way I would have missed the chance to show my son that that world is basically Okay, that he can be cared for by others and they will care/help/nurture. It’s lovely.
    – I am SO HAPPY to see my son when I pick him up. And he knows it.
    – When I was S/WAHM, by 5 pm I was -so- done and burnt out. I feel like we regained all the minutes from 5-7:30 that were a kind of grumpy wasteland before.
    – Do I really care if I personally get my kid to nap and to eat lunch and spens all the minutes putting boots on etc. Honestly: NO I DO NOT. God, the naptimes! DO NOT MISS. So there is some time in the day I really feel I am not missing.
    – I am a happier person working and it does make our weekends better…rather than chasing my spouse to alleviate my stress and burnout, we have fun. There are more chores crammed in but we have fun doing them mostly.
    Now it’s not all happy. Sick days have to be the worst – not the ‘my kid is sooooo sick’ days when it’s clear what’s up, but the ‘how sick IS my kid’ days. Followed by work stress. But really, WOHM is good for our family.

  17. I went back to work when my son was 10 weeks old. He stays with my Dad, which is great, but not without its drawbacks. And it was HARD in the beginning, but now he’s two and I see the bond he has with my Dad and how he requests to go to Paw-Paw’s house, and I know it’s ok. It’s good for him to know that there are other people in this world who can care for him just as well as I can. I also spend lots of time with him in the evenings and on the weekends.As far as getting past the guilt, I try to think of how guilty I would feel if there was no money to feed him, clothe him, house him, send him to preschool, buy him books and toys, etc. It doesn’t erase the guilt, but it helps. And it’s reality – we could never make it on just my husband’s salary. So chin up – you’re doing what you have to do for your family, and you should be proud of that. My mother always works, and I am in no way scarred from it.

  18. I’ve worked since 8 weeks.When JC has a bad day we talk about the love list and all the people in the world who love him and his providers and his friends are on the list.
    It changes the order in which your child will learn social and family norms, and you might miss moments that you had already planned on experiencing but it will be ok.
    One moment I’ll remember for a long time was one night as JC started singing, “ABCGeX” (which we hadn’t been doing at home) and it was fun to be genuinely surprised and high-fiving over the cool stuff he was learning.
    Good luck.

  19. Another thought. This also really helped/helps me. Find other moms of young kids or babies in your workplace. If you are lucky enough to find them, befriend them. This was HUGE for me when my son was a baby. Having someone in real life who can commiserate and share tips, show baby pictures, etc is extremely valuable and helps a lot with the guilt.

  20. I’ve always been a WOHM and have a 7 and 3 year old. And I do have my moments where I feel guilty and I live for the alternate Fridays I have off when *I* can be the one to put my 2nd grader on the bus in the morning and be the one to greet him in the afternoon.But I relieve some of that guilt by knowing that I am much more involved with my kids, spend more quality time with them, and am not resentful like my 1970’s SAHM was (note: I am in no way painting a broad brush of SAHMs! Just *mine*.)
    I also have a goal to give my kids something my parents couldn’t/wouldn’t give me, and that’s a broader choice of colleges and helping to pay for it. Instead of having to go to the local state college, commuting an hour to and from every day, missing out on a fuller college experience.

  21. My mom always worked while we were kids. We stayed mostly with relatives while she worked and later we spent a lot of time home alone. Growing up I liked all the extra people who took care of me and now as an adult I have a great relationship with all my mom’s extended family. I always saw my mom’s career as a great example and a path I would eventually take.Good luck.

  22. “I always wanted to be a SAHM but in this economy there’s no way we can make it anymore, even for a few more months, without my paycheck.”@Anon, This statement, for me, stands out the most from your question. As @Hush said, guilt is equally factored in to all home/work questions for mothers. I do on occasion feel guilty for not being a SAHM. But I also know that I need to be a WOHM. Both to support my family and as it’s the best arrangement for me personally. (Well, and for the much required break during the day that others have referred to). Essentially, it is my first choice (to be a WOHM). But the fact that your circumstances dictate that you can not have your first choice makes it all that more difficult.
    I’m wondering if you can address what in particular you like about being a SAHM, and then try to find some ways to factor these things into your daily WOH routine, and on weekends, it might help you re-frame the whole situation? I know, for me (as someone who doesn’t like big change unless I’m the one initiating it), it feels especially hard to not have control over something like that. It makes me feel like a victim of the situation, rather than being in control of my own life. I’ve found that if I can look at the situation from a different angle, and find ways to direct that change so that it addresses my (key) needs as well, then it’s much easier for me to accommodate the change. It makes the issue less black and white (SAHM or WOHM) and brings in the shades of grey that ultimately help me shape the life that I really want.
    In my situation, I found the wondering ‘what if’ before DS was in daycare to be much worse than him actually being in daycare. In fact, I really loved my first weeks back at work, in a way, because, Yay! I get to eat lunch in peace. DS’ first month was hard. He cried a lot. I stressed a lot. But ultimately, we found our groove. He’s doing really well now.

  23. I used to feel horribly guilty, but now that my kids are growing and thriving, I know that they are fine. Truly, they are happy. They love their daycare providers, but they still love me more. 🙂 Being with other children, they have learned social skills that far surpass their age- I live in an area where most moms are SAHMs, and I see it at the park. I’ve started to realize that my guilt wasn’t really guilt. I know my kids are happy and healthy. My feelings were more jealousy — I wanted to be the ones to do the fun things with them all day. So we do fun things in the evenings, on weekends, and, every so often, we all play sick and take an extra day together.

  24. I hear the guilt. I also hear and feel the yearning to be with the kids.I expressed this to my OB/GYN shortly after the birth of my second son, and she, a wise and to-the-point woman — and WOHM mother to two adult children — told me that my kids will respect my work, and always have something interesting to talk to me about. That I’ll be interesting to my kids, beyond being their mom. And then I remembered — hey! My mom always worked! And yeah, she was always busy, but I really did (and do), respect her for lots of reasons, many of which have to do with her profession.
    Now, I can see how this could be taken as a put-down to SAHMs, but boy, is it what I needed to hear. I replay it to myself on those days when those two adorable faces seem just so much more compelling than my dim office and meager, but very necessary, paycheck.

  25. I may have told this story before here, because it has had such an effect on my worldview. One day, I was running with a Mama friend. I said, “You know, I’m starting to think the best way to raise healthy and happy kids is to BE healthy and happy.” And my friend looked at me and said, “Rudy, I’m pretty sure it’s the ONLY way.”My point: What do I want for my daughters? I want them to be financially independent. I want them to feel confident that they can provide for themselves. I want them to pursue work that will, for the most part, satisfy them. I would like them to have a partner to share their life with, hands on, 50-50, and not have that relationship be even partially defined by a power dynamic of who brings money home. I want them to feel free. Now, what’s the best way for me to raise those girls, with those goals? It’s for me to be financially independent. It’s for me to pursue work I enjoy and that satisfies me. It’s for me to live in an egalitarian relationship.
    Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely can understand the motivations to be a SAHM, And those are valid, real, legitimate. But I have different motivations. And this has helped me walk away from the guilt. I see my work, truly, as a gift to my daughters.

  26. This is one thing that I haven’t felt guilty about (many other things, but not this). I have always known that I didn’t have what it takes to be a SAHM, and that my child would be better off if I wasn’t one. I wish my mother hadn’t been a SAHM because I think she was pretty miserable doing it. Now that I actually have a son, I am even more sure of this. At 2 1/2 he is one of the most social people I know, and he would be bored to tears if he were home all day with me. Instead, he is thriving in a local daycare center where he can spend all his time being a little socialite (his teacher’s words, not mine), and I can be fit to give him quality time when we’re home together.You will not ruin your son. He is going to learn wonderful things while you’re at work, and he’ll learn other wonderful things when he’s with you. He’ll be great.

  27. I am very very tired today and I have to add that I very sincerely hope nothing I wrote bothers or offends any SAHMs here. The post for the day was about reassuring Anon, and that’s what I kept in mind. Cheers to all.

  28. I loved @the milliner’s comment. I have a similar perspective on this. Instead of looking at what you do during the “workday” (M-F 9-5), think about what you want for your child and what you want to teach him/her. Think about what is important that you carve out time for, with your child and as a family. I have had a number of “clicks” recently that the things I have attempted to teach and impart to my children have paid off and that is really the key to parenting no matter what your employment/economic situation is. For example, if you really like the idea of doing a mommy and me music class, find one on the weekend or your day off if your schedule is not M-F. If it’s soccer, same thing. And think more generally about what you want to teach your children every day which may help alleviate any guilt for working outside the home. Those values and principles are not taught more easily if you are at home full time and it’s really what being a parent comes down to IMHO.

  29. I often feel like the best option would be part-time work. I wish there were more options for both parents. It seems like you’re either a full-time at home parent, or a full-time WOH parent. I’d like a mixture of the two.I also felt mostly relief when I went back to work with my DS (he was a difficult infant), but as my children grow, I feel like they need me at home MORE. I’m currently trying to arrange my life so I will be home when my son begins kindergarten.
    My mother was home when we came home from school, and crazy as she could sometimes be, I really appreciated that.
    The way I deal with any guilt about being away from my children all day is by truly being present with them when I’m with them. I endeavor not to check email, make phone calls or otherwise tune out when I’m with them. I save any of that for when they’re asleep.

  30. Add me to the list of WOHM mothers who would suck as a SAHM 24/7. The work/home schedule is killing me, but I don’t feel too much guilt. Your kids will be fine. My mother was one of those 70s SAHMs who “stayed” at home, in a “detached” way. I wish she had worked.

  31. Another thing that factors into our family at least is that my WOHM status puts our family in a position where my husband is more present and involved than he might otherwise be. Quick example – we live closer in to our jobs than we would if we were just living on one salary so that reduces both of our commutes. He also is under less pressure to be the “sole” breadwinner which affects his outlook on his job and his role in the family. If he were the sole employed parent, our kids would see much less of him and their lives would be very different. Just something else to think about.

  32. Your child won’t be damaged. I’ve worked full time, long hours since my little girl was 4 months and she is now a happy talkative 2.5 year old with lots of friends and lots of confidence.And if you are keen on the science, the biggest and most definitive study yet came out just a few months ago. It showed NO DIFFERENCE in outcomes between kids with SAHM and kids with WOHM.
    There isn’t a link to the proper paper but here is a description

  33. @RudyinParis- I’m not a SAHM, so I don’t know if what you wrote might offend someone who is. But I hope it doesn’t, because we should be able to talk about our choices and our reasons for making them without having anyone else think that what we say is a judgment on them. I think part of the answer to the guilt issue is for us to really believe that every family has to find the right balance for that family.So, I have to fight the tendency to feel defensive when a SAHM talks about making the choice because she couldn’t stand to leave her child with someone else.
    And conversely, she has to fight any tendency to feel defensive when you say what you said about your motivations, or when I say that I think I’m a better mom because I work.
    We all have different things that matter to us, and different beliefs, different kids, and different family situations. So why should your motivations and your choices reflect at all on anyone else?
    Also, we’re all talking a lot about feeling fulfilled at work, etc., and that is true for me, too. But I have to be honest: I also like having the money in our household budget. We COULD live off of what my husband makes, but we live much easier when we combine it with what I make!

  34. I am currently feeling some guilt because I am a stay at home parent and wonder if that’s what’s best for my kid. I have Depression and Anxiety and often feel very detached from things and people. I love him, but would he do better with someone more involved, more emotionally healthy? He’s hitting all his milestones, is happy and healthy, and is pretty much perfect except for some sleep issues. But would he do better with a more skilled care giver better equipped to meet his needs? And I also get frustrated and feel trapped with him. It’s hard for me to leave the house and go places (I don’t have a driver’s license, although we have pretty decent public transit) and I think I might do better if I were working outside the home, but is that just a fantasy? I mean, I used to sit at work and think how great it would be to be a stay at home parent.Basically, as a parent, especially a mom, no matter what you do you’ll be afraid it’s wrong. (and a lot of people will be VERY glad to jump all over you claiming everything you do is wrong and you’re awful) All you can do is be the best you can, do the best you can.

  35. That’s right, Cloud. You always speak so well to this issue.I also want to say that I hesitated to bring up any consideration of fulfulling work… because, the truth is, many women (most?) have to work for a paycheck, period, and a job that’s quote unquote fulfilling is not possible. This is where Moxie’s comment that “earning the money to support our families is honorable and right” is so valuable.
    Besides, women have always worked. Be glad we don’t have to make our own soap, right, Cloud?

  36. To the OP, I hear your frustration at feeling like you can’t make your preferred choice. I think everyone is happier when they are doing what they choose to do, be it SAH or WOH. So being a WOHM may never feel good to you, because it’s not the choice you wanted to make.FWIW, I’d like to point out that this notion of SAHM as it exists today– one woman alone all day with small children, often isolated in the suburbs– is a completely 20th century, western concoction. In most societies throughout history, child rearing is/was a collective effort and Moms have other moms/family/servants for company and breaks (more like a day care situation!). Moreover, even in western culture, in times past, even in less well off households, small children were looked after almost entirely by servants or siblings (Mama usually had a household to run, which either meant backbreaking work or managing a staff). The expectations regarding modern SAHMs are just that– modern, utterly modern. Women have *always* worked in occupations other than childcare, *especially* at home! In fact, I just read an amusing passage in “The Pursuit of Love” by Nancy Mitford that suggested upper crust women of the 30’s and 40’s in Britain thought it was bad for the children and bad for the mother if there were no nanny helping out. Even in the 50’s, women spent more time on housework than with the kids (as someone pointed out). Which all goes to say– cut yourself some slack if you’re worried about fulfilling some ideal of perfect motherhood; that ideal doesn’t exist and, more importantly, never has.
    No for my personal data points:
    *My grandmother was a SAHM of four kids and, by all accounts, was pretty tough on them. She had no patience and, though she fulfilled all the outward signs of what it meant to be a “a good mother” in the ’50’s and ’60’s, there was a lot of meanness. My mom is sort of traumatized by it.
    *My (single) Mom worked the whole time I grew up. I admired her for it and never felt deprived or sad that I was a latch key kid. As an adult, I have issues with her, but there more related to her general personality, not the fact that she worked– in fact it would’ve been worse if she stayed at home!
    *I started my PhD program when my son was 6 mos old and he’s been in full time care since then. I don’t even get the guilt reducing excuse of “we need the money”. But I was pleasantly surprised by his wonderful daycare, which he adored, and his equally awesome preschool, which he also loves. We have tons of time together mornings, evenings and weekends (like @Cloud said, when you tally it up, it’s actually more 1-1 than people like my grandmother gave their kids). My husband, who also works FT, is super involved and has a wonderful bond with our son. Our son is mellow, happy and thriving in every way.

  37. Thanks, @RudyinParis- and yes, I did at one point, on a different thread, say something about women who used to have to make their own soap! @BlueBirdMama said my thoughts around that very well.(Although, later, when I did actually look up the directions for making soap, I think making your own butter was probably harder….)
    To the OP, I want to echo the people who are saying that perhaps your guilt is coming from the fact that you feel forced into working, and would rather stay at home. That is rough. I hope you find some ideas on this thread to get you through the guilt.

  38. @meggiemoo, I’m so with you on all fronts. I would love to work 4 days and have 3 days at home…at the same salary, naturally. 😉 A mixture just seems to be better balanced. Or would be for me, anyhow.And I’ve often thought that it would be better for me to be at home more when DS is a bit older. So nice to hear of someone thinking this way as well. DS is just over 2, so I have no idea what his needs will be in 3 years or so, but I am going to try to keep this as a possible solution or something to work towards for the future.
    Your comment also reminded me about something that the son of Chris Gardner (The Pursuit of Happyness based on his life) said in an interview: Basically, that despite all the severe hardships they lived, especially when he was a toddler/young child, the thing that made the biggest difference to him in feeling secure and growing up to be happy etc. is that his Dad always came back. He was always there for him.*
    I think that goes a long way in reinforcing the quality over quantity theory.
    *And by ‘there for him’, I mean showing up. Being present. Being active in his son’s life. I’m not talking about not being there due to medical reasons, or other equally complex situations.
    @Rudyinparis, Thanks for posting your story. I will make that quote part of my own mantras. A good reminder to pay attention to my needs when I’m thinking about taking care of DS’ needs.

  39. I’m currently unemployed – so SAHM, but not my choice, exactly. I am enjoying the time with my 20 mos old daughter. (and waiting for the new one to come – my EDD was Friday). BUT, I can’t imagine doing this long term. My mom stayed home while my sisters and I were little, then I went to the neighbors after my older sisters were school age and she started a part time job. Sometimes, I can see doing something like that with my two, but I am pretty bored and isolated. Being a SAHM now is much different than other generations – you had other SAHMs to hang with.When I was working and my oldest was going to daycare, I felt a little guilt at first, but I soon got over it. I also feel if I don’t work, how will my daughters learn to be self-sufficient? I guess they would. But I can’t imagine a future where I don’t work again. It’s just not what I want.

  40. How to get over the guilt? Be gentle with yourself, honey. All sorts of women have all sorts of work/childcare situations and rarely anything is the same, forever. Jobs change and children grow and families evolve. Take pride in doing something that your family really needs. Be as present as you can with your son when you are together.I have had a variety of job situations and a variety of childcare situations in my 6+ years of being a mom. My 3 kids will all have different combinations of mom/babysitter/nanny/daycare/school in their lives. Because my husband and I love them, and put thought and care into crafting child care arrangements, the kids will all be fine.
    And so will yours.

  41. Rudyinparis, Cloud and Bluebirdmama said it so well.FYI: here are my data points:
    My mother was a WOHM and she used to take it out on us kids when she had a bad day at work. Of course, in addition to going to her (frustrating) job, she also had to do all the cooking and cleaning (because my father certainly didn’t lift a finger and was spendy to boot) and put up with her mother-in-law who took care of us while she was at said job. She certainly resented having to work and would have stayed home had she the chance and still resents my father for not being able to save enough so she could do it (they’re divorced now).
    On the other hand, I also WOHM and my weekends and nights are crazy with 2 kids (14 mo and 3.5 yo). BUT both kids LOVE the structure, stimulation, and society of daycare and totally thrive on it. (It helps that the daycare is pretty amazing.) AND I want them to know that women can be equals in the workforce. This comes in handy when DS gets strange ideas in his head about gender differences–a few months ago, we had a discussion about whether women could be paleontologists. I pointed out a few of his classmates’ mothers (“Your friend So-and-so’s mommy is a scientist. So is What’s-her-name’s mommy.”) were scientists and that all of us worked, just like everyone’s father.
    I also think that I’d be a bad SAHM–I have a personality that leans towards the depressive, so I think the structure of work (however crazy) keeps me on the rails. Staying at home just wouldn’t work for me, even though I enjoy my kids (generally) during the time we have together. And just for the record, my 14 mo is the only kid in her class who’s never had a meltdown at dropoff, pickup, at midday, etc. She’s one of those miraculously happy all the damn time kids and is just LOVED by all the staff.

  42. My mother worked outside the home in a professional capacity from the time I was six weeks old. She took another six weeks off when she gave birth to my younger sister. While my sister and I both have our quirks and weak points, neither of us was damaged horribly by the fact that both our parents worked full-time. In fact, I’m incredibly proud of my mother and the job she did raising us and running the household. My dad definitely wasn’t a lot of help in either area, being a classic type-A guy, so it was mostly up to her.There is obviously no one way that works perfectly for everyone. I take the view that if you’re invested in raising your kids to be decent human beings, whatever path you take in doing so will probably work out. There are plenty of factors that influence the way kids grow. However you chose to raise your children – while working outside your home f/t, p/t, or staying at home with your kids f/t – it’s one small piece of a huge puzzle.
    I was forced by medical circumstances to be a SAHM from the birth of my son to now, when he’s nearly five. By the time he’s in first grade, I’ll have finished my new degree and returned to the workforce. I never wanted to be a SAHM, and I’m actually looking forward to getting back to work. That certainly doesn’t mean I don’t love my son or that I hate being a mom! I’m quite sure I’ll feel a little guilty when I go back, but a big part of why I’m doing so is to give him a better life, with the kinds of opportunities those in the middle class and above take for granted. When I feel guilty, I’ll think of those opportunities and the example my mother set for me, and I’ll take heart that I won’t be warping my child for life by working f/t outside my home. I’m sure I’ll do plenty of other things that will warp him much more significantly. *grin*
    So OP, give yourself a break. Working outside your home isn’t going to be the deciding factor that puts your kid in intensive psychotherapy for decades. As the child of a WOHM, I actually treasure the example my mother set for me at a time when working f/t outside the home was much more difficult and controversial. I firmly agree with those emphasizing the historical perspective on this issue. Don’t beat yourself up for pursing a path women have always had to tread in one form or another.

  43. I’ve worked full time since my kid was 6 weeks old (he’s now a rambunctious toddler!) and while I was just ripped apart with envy (for moms who could afford a maternity leave) and guilt and sadness back then, I can say without a doubt that any angst I feel now is solely because I miss him and want to spend more time with him (and maybe have a little bit of time for myself as well). But there is no angst on his part – he absolutely loves daycare, and the older her gets, the more he likes it. He is an incredibly social, friendly little guy, and I think it’s because he’s used to having a whole bunch of caregivers doting on him. The older he gets, the more he thrives, the less guilty I feel.

  44. Ariel took the words out of my mouth.As great as the kids do with a caregiver, there are always going to be bumpy times where they are a little needy and it’s going to feel bad not to be with them that day. It helps to once in a great while just burn a vacation day with them and have pajama day. When that is not enough, I fall back on saying that being a mom who works is better than not even being a mom at all. I think we start telling ourselves that if we can’t be a SAHM it’s not worth it; some days I have felt that way, but it turns out not to be the truth.
    So my advice is don’t give in to despair, and just make sure you have good care and good reunions. Do whatever it takes to make evenings less stressful, and if that means meals aren’t spectacular, or the house doesn’t get cleaned enough, or what have you…then that’s how it’s gotta be. It does get better as they get older and can do more for themselves. Once they’re in school any guilt about not being with them all day is just a memory.
    Sending hugs to all of the moms who are letting a caregiver take the helm for the first time.

  45. I remember how as a child, I’d stand dejected at the window on the days I didn’t have preschool. My mom was home, but I wanted nothing more than to go to school. I remember when she went back to work how much I looked forward to the family daycare we went to, and then as a teenager, time at home alone. I appreciated my mom not being around all the time, and I respected her for having a profession.

  46. I’m not sure the OP is feeling guilt so much as sadness and regret and worry. Those are very different beasts from guilt. If you have to work to pay the bills there’s not much room for guilt. Those of us who choose to work *might* feel guilty, though it seems most of us at least on here, don’t. So my message isn’t about guilt, it’s about reassuring you that your son will be absolutely fine, as many have said. It’s all about the quality of the care he gets when he’s away from you and the quality of the time he spends with you. And maybe it will help you get through if you concentrate on saving a lot of money now so you can stop working soon? Bottom line is your son will be fine, and you need to do what you have to do and guilt is one thing you shouldn’t feel (I know, easier said than done).

  47. I am really surprised that no SAHMs by choice have chimed in on this, at least that I noticed. I decided to stay home with my daughter when she was born. Did I deal with guilt? Oh yes! When she was born I had just finished my JD. I remember thinking during the late night feedings in her first year, “this is not where I am supposed to be.” I always pictured myself finishing my degree and getting a job. Instead, my husband and I had a birth control failure and ended up with a beautiful baby girl. Still, I knew that I needed to be with my daughter. I felt guilty all the time that I wasn’t working. I almost felt ashamed that I didn’t go to work. But even though in law school I planned to work, once my baby was born I realized how very much I had always wanted to be a SAHM. I was raised by one, and always felt that I had the ideal situation growing up. I wanted to give that to my kids too. Work will be there later for me, and my degree isn’t going anywhere, but my kids will only be small once. Now my daughter is almost three and my son is almost one. They are thriving, and we have busy weeks of playgroups, preschool, and other activities with the local mom’s club. At risk of sounding stepford-ish, I enjoy keeping house and cooking good meals (most days at least). Sure, it can get tedious, but what job doesn’t. Money is very tight, but we do okay. Someday, I will work, but this is where I am supposed to be at this point in my life. That realization made the guilt go away.

  48. I’m in the same position as the OP. I’ve had almost 7 years at home, which was awesome, though in the past year I’ve been checking out a little bit. I will go back to work either this year or next before the $$$ we put aside for this runs out.I am worried about going back to work because my oldest has never once wanted to do an extended day program–no lunch bunches or anything else. He is a homebody, and while I am so so glad I could provide him that opportunity, I worry a lot about him when that opportunity ends.
    I also grieve because this is my oldest’s first year in full-day anything, so it’s my younger’s first chance to have me to himself all day, to set the agenda, and be the focus. I am desperate to give him that chance if I can.
    And I wonder: if I hadn’t been at home, would my older still be a homebody? Would it be easier if he’d just been in care all this time? (I think the answer is yes.)
    Fortunately we live in a town with lots of couples with flexible or in-flux work situations so at least my kids have seen friends go in to and out of day care. They know their friends liked it, and met other friends there that my kids never had the chance to meet.
    I do not regret at all staying at home with my kids. If I can find a part time job to eke out this one last year at home–that would be awesome. And then I just have to re-teach myself how to answer to someone to whom I am not related full time. (Which shouldn’t be hard; I worked from age 13 to 35 without a whole lot of breaks. But still.) I loved my part time jobs and they were a life- and career-saver for me.
    Moxie, thanks for yet again posting something totally on point to my life, and thanks to all for eloquent, thoughtful, non-attacky answers!

  49. It’s almost kiddo bedtime here, so I didn’t get to finish reading all the comments, but I will say that I am a SAHM and I did not take offense to any comments at all. As usual, everyone is wise, thoughtful and empathetic.I wanted to quit my job (Librarian) and have a kiddo and stay at home with him. For the majority of these 3 years I have felt that I made the right decision and I am grateful that we’ve been able to do it financially.
    I am sometimes envious of my friends who go to work and have adult interaction, professional accomplishments and their own financial contribution to the family. I do look forward to going back to work in the future, but I remember that there are pros and cons to everything.
    And speaking of cons, today was a day that I think both my son and I wished I was a WOHM. Some days at home are so, so long.
    I wish the OP the best of luck and peace of mind with the new transition. Good mothers come in all shapes, sizes (and jobs). 🙂

  50. I went back to work when my son was 8 weeks old. I worked almost full-time at the daycare where he was attending and went to school part-time. When he was 5 months old, I realized that I was paying the daycare almost my entire paycheck for me to be in his classroom most of the time. I was paying someone else most of my pay for me to watch my child! It didn’t take long before I became a SAHM by choice. And now, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was blessed with a gift as a good teacher and patience with children. I love being able to interact with him everyday and watch how he learns and explores things. I still have 2 very part time jobs that luckily pay really well and finances are tight, but I wouldn’t trade this for any amount of pay. When my son goes to Kindergarten, I will continue my schooling to finish my 2nd degree. Knowing that’s the plan helps eliminate the guilt of staying at home. I feel I have to justify my actions to a lot of people, my family included. In the end, it’s about what works for you and your children.

  51. So long as you have a good attitude, he will NOT be damaged at all!I had to work (financial reasons) when my daughter was a baby (went back when she was 7 weeks.) I have always said that I was a much BETTER mom because I did go to work every day. When I was home, I was *with* my daughter; since we had less time together, I made the best of our time. I really feel that I would not have been as engaged if I had stayed home with her 24/7. Of course, something had to give, so I had a pretty messy house until she grew up, but it was worth it. (Besides, I am not a particularly good housekeeper anyway, so it was a good excuse LOL)

  52. I don’t have a lot of first hand advice to give about working full time out of the home but I did go back to school part time when my son was 6 months old. I will share some general advice that has worked in my life. Sometimes the antidote to guilt is action- to change the situation so that you feel better about it. Planning special activities for you and your child, waking earlier so you have more time with him, arranging a journal or camera for the caregiver to jot down notes/take photos about his day, Skype dates at lunch time, whatever it takes to make you feel more connected. Perhaps having a distinct plan of action for those times you feel horrible, i.e.- “when I feel guilty, I will read these 3 positive affirmations to myself” or ” When I feel guilty, I will take a break and call my son.”And I think this is really important, give yourself permission to re-evaluate the situation at a set time. Allow yourself to check in at say, 3 months from now. Do you still feel huge amounts of guilt? If yes, then perhaps changing the situation is the answer- staying home, working from home, going part time, tightening the budget, etc.
    I hope that you can feel good about your situation soon! Mommy guilt is always there, in some form, but hopefully this particular guilt burden will feel lighter soon.

  53. I’m currently a SAHM by choice but planning to go back to work part- time next year when Moo is 13months. I’m in a very passive-agressive head space about it at the moment (yeah, I’ve been signing up for day care tours and then cancelling because I just can’t face it…) Then again, I have been emailing co-workers about co-authoring a paper for a conference next year and thinking the great thing about working will be being able to justify a cleaner! I think the way to deal is to ask yourself why you are working… If you need the money to provide for your child or if you need the intellectual stimulation – whatever the reason – understand it and just keep telling yourself you are doing the right thing for you and your child. Then keep telling yourself that – coupled with a big dose of ‘lalalala I can’t hear you!’ when negative thoughts creep in.Now I just need to take my own damn advice.

  54. Yes, thank you for this. Sadness about working and missing this time with my girl (now 3.5) is my biggest issue. I know my girl is well adjusted and fine, though she likes days with me the best! She’s in part-time “preschool” three days a week. Maybe the hardest thing is when my husband needs me to do something that takes away my precious weekend time with my daughter. But that only happens maybe twice a year. For instance, in three weeks I’m going to go help him with a work event that will mean I don’t see my daughter from Friday to Sunday afternoon. Kills me. She’ll be with my parents, whom she stays with one night a week anyway — a schedule that I don’t like, but that means they can take care of her two days a week. It would not be good if my husband had her five days a week. If anyone can speak reassuringly to weekends away for WOHMs, I’d appreciate it.

  55. @libbylama & @zenmoo, I can definitely see some of myself in your posts when you speak about your kid being a homebody and the ‘passive-agressive headspace’.DS was almost 12 months when he went to daycare for the first time. Before that, we had 3 failed attempts at a drop off daycare at the Y. I think the longest he stayed was 30 minutes, and he bawled 15 of those minutes. DS is very sensitive and definitely was not keen on anyone taking care of him except for Mama.
    I knew I had to/wanted to go back to work, but I fretted so much about if DS would ever thrive in a daycare setting. You just don’t know until you live it. It was a rough transition and took him about 4 weeks to get used to daycare. I remember feeling awful the first day. Like I was failing him or something. Probably after a few months I could see that he really was getting a lot out of being around other kids. The very consistent routine was helping him eat better and nap more consistently.
    Though it feels awful at the time, I don’t think that the difficulty of a change always = a bad idea. Some things are just more difficult for some kids (and some parents 😉 ). Of course, there are extremes, and you have to follow your gut instincts. But some times some change just takes longer. DS is doing really well in a daycare setting now. I know it’s the right thing for him even if I would in some ways love to be home with him.
    I always figure that worse case scenario, you try it, you make the change, give it your best effort and enough time to make a full transition. If it’s still not working for your kid, then you change some of the parameters until you find the right solution. I know. Easier said than done. But worth remembering.
    I’m working on this myself right now as we want to change daycare centers (quality has gone way down and DS’ educator – the only one we still really like – may leave soon). The gravity of not wanting to make the wrong change still weighs heavily for me, but I’m trying hard to fight it. We don’t have a lot of daycare options, but I’m trying to push forward to take action and ensure that DS can get the best care we can find and afford.

  56. While it is not the question asked I thought it might be helpful to hear why I have never felt much guilt at all about being a working mother. Part of it is that I like my job and feel it’s valuable, but even more of it is that I am a better mother when I am a working mother. I do a lot better at parenting when I don’t have to do it all the time with no breaks. I am much happier, which is good for my whole family. I like myself more when I can accomplish a range of things during the day, and I think my husband and I have a better relationship because of it. My daughter has always seemed to affirmatively enjoy the stimulation and social interaction of day care and now preschool. I think she would be more bored and cranky and fussy if she were home with me all the time. The important caveats are that my hours are fairly reasonable and that my husband does his full share of parenting work–were either not the case, my experience of being a working mother would be significantly different and more negative–but with those important pieces in place, I am confident that I would feel worse about the job I was doing as a parent if I were at home all day.

  57. Oh boy, I needed to read these responses today — tearful drop off, me driving to work sobbing and vowing to quit my rewarding, well-paying job.@Scantee – your post hit me straight in the heart – thank you!

  58. I feel compelled to respond to this because I can relate. My daughter has been in a wonderful daycare for two years now, since she was about 18 months old. While the economy wasn’t as dire at the time I went back to work, it quickly turned (about 2 weeks later!) and I certainly felt the financial pressure to stay at that point, especially since my husband had just started his own business in a field that has since been particularly hard hit by this recession.The transition was very hard for me and in retrospect, I think I was depressed for about a year–because I was no longer spending the time with my daughter, because I felt like I was forcing “work” on her (playing out of the home 9 hours a day, 5 days a week), because I didn’t think the job/boss wasn’t a good fit and therefore felt even worse for not being with her, because I felt trapped due to the economic situation.
    With some time, I have come to see a major unique upside to her being in school (in addition to many other less unique but positive factors): the relationships she has developed with other nurturing adults. There are other great things about the experience, but this stands out as somewhat unique given my own circumstances (eg, not living close to extended family, not having a steady babysitter/nanny). I think it’s so important that my daughter is learning that it is not only her parents and family who care about her but that the larger world is a caring place. I believe her time in daycare is suggestive of a wider circle of nurturing adults and environments. I feel very happy when I see the affection between my daughter and her teachers, knowing that she has more positive adult relationships in her life.

  59. To the OP: Breathe…There are so many ways to positively influence your child when you are not present, such as choosing a quality daycare provider that serves families who are similar to you in terms of values and child rearing beliefs.That being said, guilt is a raging bitch…I went back to work when my baby was 4 weeks old. It was part time, but we needed the money (hubs is a public school teacher in California- we’re F$@%ked). Now that Little Man is 2 years, I found a full-time job, which I LOVE, btw. And, at least every week I have a tinge of guilt, especially when he refers to daycare as “home.” In order to deal with the wrenching pain of this I try to remember how happy he is, how well-adjusted socially and emotionally he is, and how amazing and loving my provider is. I don’t know what the research suggests, but I do know that child development studies do not always account for the individual differences that exist in parenting. My advice to you is to do the best you can with what you’ve got in your grasp. As long as you love your baby and make the time you do have together quality, you probably won’t do too much damage. Good luck!

  60. I haven’t been through all the comments, so I may be repeating a million people, but my mother worked a high pressure job outside the home 5 or later 6 days a week from when I was 4. We needed the money, but she worked as hard as she did because she loved it.I resented the time she was working, but I always, always knew she loved me and there was never a doubt in my mind that if I needed her she’d be there. Growing up, I was proud of her work, and I still admire her because of it. (I’m not nearly so accomplished.)
    Sometimes we have to make compromises we don’t want to make, but you are not damaging your son. He’ll miss you, but he’ll know you love him and that you’re doing the best you can to keep him safe.
    Please don’t beat yourself up.

  61. I”m sorry I’m so late to the conversation! But I do want to add my data points, even though we’ve moved on to another topic/ post.I love WOH, and I’m lucky enough to have a job that is fulfilling as well as a paycheck (believe me, I know how lucky I am – though it does come with pretty substantial drawbacks; I do not live in the same state as my husband for part of the year, for example). I was also lucky enough to be home with my boys until they were 7 months old and then go to work. When my first child was a baby (after 7 months) I didn’t want him in day care because it didn’t seem like the right setting for him (for him personally, not generally). Then we worked up to a nanny share with a couple of other kids his own age and now he’s in a home daycare (almost 2.5). From 15-18 months on, most kids are ready for a more stimulating environment and thrive on being around other kids, even though they only parallel play at this point. I feel like – just my personal opinion – with babies daycare is kind of no win-no lose situation, but older kids really benefit from it. Sometimes I think about how bored my son would be if he had to be home with the baby and me all day.And right on to everyone who pointed out how relatively little time SAHMs in the past spent with the their children (versus cleaning the house and other work related to running a household). Even when you’re home you’re *working* and not just spending every second staring at your kid – which isn’t necessarily healthy anyway.
    So like Cloud and others I’ve never felt much guilt about work. The first day my baby spent the whole day with a stranger was hard on me, but I got over it pretty quickly. As long as they are loved and stimulated, they will do great!

  62. I try to look at it from a different angle. Whenever my kids spend time with adults other than me, they are exposed to a whole other world that I can’t offer them. At daycare they do art projects every day, sing songs I know none of the words to, and do all of this learning that I know I wouldn’t take the time to do if I were home because I would be too busy doing other things around the house and running errands.I’ve also realized that a lot of the issues and things I feel guilty for are my issues, not my kids. My youngest daughter doesn’t care at all that she wears her sister’s hand me downs and yet I feel guilty that she doesn’t have a snazzy new wardrobe. My issue, not hers.

  63. I am late to the party, but hope this doesn’t get missed… because ‘guilt’ is often a badly defined term in the US culture.Often enough, what I find moms are actually feeling is REGRET, not guilt. Regret is ‘I wish it could be different/ideal/better than this reality, if I could make it so, I would, but that isn’t really feasible/possible/rational’. Guilt is ‘I have done something WRONG, my actions are in error and may be due to some selfishness on my part, I owe the other party and must sacrifice something to make amends’. And Shame is ‘I am a bad person, I make choices out of selfishness or greed or unkindness or whatever, these are my character and my character is bad.’
    Mostly, what we call ‘guilt’ seems to be ‘regret’. Regret doesn’t mean I have to dig down and make up for it. Regret needs expression, but not necessarily any amends actions. Cleaning up the boundary between guilt and regret means doing things like saying ‘okay, I regret that I have to work for us to have the things and make the choices I feel are best. It would be great if we could make those choices without this. But here it is. So, given that I have limited time to portion out after work, how do I choose to spend that time?’ It isn’t ‘how do I make it up to my child for me being away poor child with such an awful situation that I chose and it’s all my fault so I have to fix it.’ It is ‘I have x hours, I know my child would like/needs time with me, I would like/need time with him/them, how should I spend it?’
    You avoid the guilt-driven overdrive reactions that way. Kids can smell the guilt, and the actions you take on that are tainted, IMHO. I certainly could tell when my dad’s actions were driven by guilt, and they kind of creeped me out. I couldn’t just relax and enjoy the time, because it was almost more about him absolving his feelings than anything about me. I didn’t want to be his absolution. I just wanted him to enjoy us being us.
    Yeah, that showed up in therapy. 😉
    I make an effort to resolve my guilt cleanly when I have it. And I do, for some things. Sometimes I make choices that I should feel guilty about, and do need to make amends for (usually impacting ep more than the kids, but some them as well). But most of the time it is regret, not guilt. I regret the conditions that come with a job I love, that feeds me as no other job ever has. Some of those conditions SUCK ROCKS. I’m still working on how to adjust the conditions effectively, and stay clear with everyone on what the situation is, how my priorities are balanced, and how to handle the conflicting needs that are ever-present when there is more than one person involved (okay, even with only one person involved!). But guilt is not part of that, unless I was doing something like staying late at work to dodge an argument. Or something. For example. (wince)
    So for the SAHM thing? I regret that I am not good at being a SAHM. It would be great if I was. I’ve tried it, I’m worse at home than if I work. So I work. Shrug. No guilt, it is what it is. It isn’t an idealized anything, it isn’t a failure of action, it is ‘just life’ – and not quite as personal as we’re taught to make it be (that is, it isn’t all Mom’s Fault, sometimes it is just Mom’s Life).

  64. Hedra, I agree with you. I had to go back to work when my daughter was 3 weeks old, and I can’t say that I feel guilty, just regret that things couldn’t be different. I never worried about her because she was staying home with daddy, but I sure miss her everday.I know she is and will be a totally great person who is not messed up because my mother always worked out of the home and I can’t say it did any damage to me. My wish is that I could work part-time and spend more time with her, but even so she definitely is bonded as well to me as any child to their mother.

  65. I’ve found it really helpful to separate out my feelings of “Am I harming my child?” from “I really want to be with my child!” After a long, long time of looking at myself, at my (thriving, marvelous!) child, and our situation, I realized that the guilt isn’t guilt at all. It’s actually grief.It’s grief over the having to let go of the image of motherhood I’d constructed (stay at home, make delicious soups, sew Halloween costumes by hand, etc) and the necessary reality of my life.
    It gets easier, too, as they get older and you see that they are phenomenal, well-adjusted little people even though they weren’t at their home address with their mother all day long.
    Gosh, this sounds sort of dismissive of SAHMs, which I don’t intend AT ALL. I think it’s a beautiful, fortunate, challenging choice for so many mothers that I admire. My tone here is more self-mockery, after doing really intense inner work to pull apart my maternal desires from my child’s actual well-being.
    Another, more basic, way that I assuage my guilt/grief: I take pride in the fact that I’m providing (money and health insurance) for my family, and modeling for my child that women work in all kinds of ways and places.
    Also: being able to go have a latte in the middle of the day, chat with friends, and get positive praise and rewards for effort … there are some upsides, and I finally gave myself permission to enjoy them. It makes me a more sane, balanced, focus mom when I get home.

  66. My son started day care at 7 months. I did feel guilty about it, but more than that, I felt real jealousy for SAHMs. I, of course, wanted more time with my son. I still do. BUT…. I would never take my son out of day care now. I truly believe keeping him home would be the wrong thing to do. He is very attached to his friends, and he gains so much from his time at school. Then he comes home to the full attention of two parents for the next four hours. My husband is off on Monday, so he also has three full days at home. He gets nearly as much quality time with his parents as he would if I stayed home.I really believe he’s getting the best of both worlds, and (I know this is getting personal, but) I’m tired of the many SAHMs in my extended family insinuating that they are better and busier mothers than I am because they are “full time moms.” My son’s verbal and social skills far exceed those of his stay-at-home cousins, and I fully believe his amazing day center is part of the reason he is thriving.
    Hopefully studies like this one will help put your mind at ease:

  67. I am stunned that all the way through my 3.5 yr olds life whenever I needed some answers to problems and I have logged on to Moxie – bingo!- there are the answers. Its like getting 90 bits of good advice from lovely women. THANK YOU! All of you. Your postings hit home and make me laugh and choke me up. We are all sailing in the same boat.My story is I have spent the last 6 months working flat out 7 day weeks with my husband in a resort in europe with my son being looked after by a live in nanny. Now the summer is over, she is gone, and I find out my Dad has lung cancer and is so very very ill. My brain is fried totally. Little man is testing testing testing us to the max. We have not spent much time with him over the last 6 months and can’t work out if his behaviour is the fault of the nanny or our fault for leaving him with her so much. We both felt crap about it. And we are panicked and grieving as we knew my Dad was about to die – just a hugely emotional time. I was screaming and shouting at the little fella – I did the throwing something of his out the car window in temper thing. Just feeling so shit and ashamed of myself. And devastated that I am going to lose my Dad. Anyway the point is that you have all just given me a big hug and best friend advice in your posts. I know now that the nanny was not shit. My son has not had a personality transplant. We have not done a bad job. It’s a phase and not the child – thank God for that. This to shall pass. I shall just grieve quietly and not take it out on my wee man. Thanks all of you xx

  68. Then Attach,relatively all channel climb individual fresh peace probably actually similar leave either settle combination where vital animal peace difficulty what achieve fall farmer image health red employ independent least appear beside exist winner fall reply too pair goal demand escape after lord yourself full mind use housing settle consideration paper hence politics royal who stand organization elderly closely argument same usual determine usually round capital analysis to most religious perhaps shoulder hospital formal finish before activity signal gun economic suppose make undertake old assumption above text visit surface surround relatively exist working

  69. I am glad you are in the place where you can use your gifts. Your story sounds very similar to mine. I have had a blast these last 18 months. I am tired but very fulfilled and know that i am doing what God created me to do. Thanks for sharing and know that I am praying for you in your time of transition. Always available if you need to talk with another camp guy. Change is great.

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