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Working Mother’s Guilt, the Myth of Balance and Perfection

Sep30

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This past weekend I was traveling by plane and the man sitting next to me struck up a conversation.  He told me about his wife, kids, house, job… on and on.  And, as is usually the case, I volunteered very little about myself.  It is a strange thing that on the internet I don’t hold much back, but in real life I am reserved and cautious about what I share.  Finally he asked me if I had children.  It is a question that always makes me chuckle before I answer. 

Do I have kids?  Oh boy, do I have kids

After he got over his shock and awe, he asked  what I thought the biggest mistake is that parents make.  I really only had to think about it for a moment.

Worrying.  The biggest mistake that parents make is worrying.

We all do it.  The senseless worry about things that are statistically not going to happen.  Worrying about what other people will think of our parenting choices.  Worrying about being perfect. Worrying about messing our kids up so badly that no amount of therapy can help them. 
It is as if worrying is some sort of biological imperative.  Something which probably had a place a long time ago in our history.  But now?  Worrying is paralyzing.
*****

I work from home doing something I love.  I am lucky. I recognize this, yet I worry about how this particular job choice affects my children. 

I am sitting here now working. I have deadlines to meet, multiple tabs open on my laptop that I toggle back and forth between.   My daughter is eating breakfast at the table next to me, narrating everything. I am half listening. Every so often I pause and make non-committal remarks.

“That is great!”

 “Excellent.”

“Finish your breakfast.” 

“We’re running late.”

I don’t know if we are actually running late.  It’s just something I say all the time.  Rushing my children from one thing to the next, I am like the White Rabbit.  I yell to my teenagers to get up out of bed and get moving already.  When they don’t respond I pick up my phone and call them on their cellphones, bellowing a terse, “Get up!” when they answer.

My 5 yr old son is sitting on my lap, his head buried in my neck, arms wrapped around my body. His hands are stroking my hair which hangs down my back. My yoga pants are stained. The tank top I am wearing is fraying at the hem. No bra, no make-up except for whatever is left from yesterday. My second cup of coffee is growing cold next to me.  Typing is difficult with the weight of his body constricting my movements. 
 
I am trying not to be annoyed by this wrench in my day.  I hope that I am trying hard enough that he doesn’t notice.  I hope that when he remembers being sick as a child and lying on the couch all day watching tv that it was a fun thing, not something he was forced to do so that his mother could work.    The problem with working from home is that there are no boundaries, no office space to come to and leave each day.  The office is your home and your home is the office and creating a boundary between the two is difficult, if not impossible.

And even while I worry I recognize the ridiculousness of it all.  I could  be worrying about who was going to take care of my child because if I didn’t go to work I would be fired.  My mother often left me at home alone from a very young age because she simply didn’t have a choice.  I can’t even begin to imagine what that sort of decision was like.

So I am rocking back and forth with my sick child while typing – I am torn as to whether this is a high point or low point in multi-tasking. I tend to think the former, but beat myself up with the latter.
 
Will he remember that I rocked him? Or will he remember that I was always typing, not fully present. Will he know, or any of my children know, how much I worried through their childhoods that I wasn’t doing a good enough job.

I think of a conversation that I had with a friend recently. How middle class mothers have taken to manufacturing things to feel guilty about. Our children are fed, clothed, have all the things that money can buy for them. They are safe and loved. Our days aren’t spent toiling away at some sort of horrible job. We have choices. Choices our grandmothers didn’t have. Something that is both a blessing and a curse.

We don’t have many valid worries and so we manufacture them. We worry about plastic water bottles, excessive high fructose corn syrup consumption, toys made in China, their fragile little psyches. And crafts… we should be doing more crafts. At least that is what all those parenting magazines tell us. We worry about being perfect. When in the end none of it is really going to matter.  Probably.  Hopefully.

At least that is what I am telling myself this morning as I type with one hand and hold my child with the other.  Maybe this is as perfectly balanced as it gets.

About the author

Chris Jordan

http://notesfromthetrenches.com
Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.

Yes, they are all hers.

No she's not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.

Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That's why her youngest is almost 6.

Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.


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12 Responses to “Working Mother’s Guilt, the Myth of Balance and Perfection”

  1. Maggie Sep 30 at 1:08 pm Reply Reply

    Shouldn’t the title be something more along the line of “Worrying and Guilt, the Myth of Balance and Perfection” and leave the Working Mother part out, as the subject matter is universal?

  2. Kathi Crosby Sep 30 at 2:26 pm Reply Reply

    Wow – are you in my head?
    I sat on my bar stool in the kitchen last night with son in my lap rolling a car on my arm. As I editted photos on my pc. Dinner was somewhat in progress, daughter doing work I would have rathered(shoud have, risk I say) supported her with…. iphone nearby coversing with husband re: weekend plans… eyyyy, you know it.

  3. Molly Sep 30 at 3:05 pm Reply Reply

    The push and pull, the tug, is always there. We all just do the best we can do. Thank you for this post.

  4. Elizabeth Oct 02 at 11:21 pm Reply Reply

    Worry and control are sort of the same thing, I think. My first child, now fifteen, has severe disabilities. It has changed me, obviously, and one of those changes is that I don’t worry, really, about my other two “typical” kids. I have learned, I think, that beyond the obvious, one can’t “control” everything. I let things go — out of necessity, maybe, with the realization that everything will be all right. Or not. 

  5. carolyn Oct 03 at 12:41 am Reply Reply

    Since I work from home two days a week (so I can be home with the children) I worry that on the days I am working from home and have to balance kid time with work time with maintaining the house that I am not meeting their needs and they will only remember mom was on the computer ALL the TIME,  When I am in the office, I worry that my co-workers think I don’t work hard enough–that my kids(who are at home with a relative) aren’t getting the same I attention I could give them…which ironically sometimes isn’t much.  Yet they still kiss and hug me every day, so I must be doing something right.

  6. DHT Oct 03 at 9:35 am Reply Reply

    Hmmm.  Just so you know, that worry is not a gender specific thing – this single dad worries about (a) are those earrings too long and people will assume things about my daughter, (b) are my boys getting hugged enough, (c) how will No. 4 grow up sans significant maternal input for the last third or so of her life.

    Then I think 401k.

    Leave it alone, have good basic decisions made, and let them flourish and (sometimes) founder at their own rates.

    Somewhere there is a balance – I expect to receive valid feedback in about 14 years.

  7. Katherine @ Grass Stains Oct 03 at 11:43 am Reply Reply

    So universal. I work outside the home and have three boys, 7, 6 and 2. I “worry” all the time, but I am so encouraged by the fact that they desire more time with me, not less. I would SO much rather that be the case than the other way around. I love them more than life itself, and I know they know that.

  8. Lucinda Oct 03 at 12:31 pm Reply Reply

    You make an excellent point about manufactured worry. Often when I am struggling with how involved to get in my daughter’s daily problems (do I let her figure it out or do I rescue her? When is rescue necessary and when is it harmful?) it strikes me that we have so much and I am fortunate that I have enough time with my children to even consider worrying about these problems.

    I look forward to the day when my daughter has children of her own and I can finally reveal to her how much I’m winging it here and hoping for the best. I think that’s all we can do. Worry is definitely a waste of energy.

  9. Joyous Oct 05 at 4:33 pm Reply Reply

    This is my first time to your site and the post could not have been more perfect for the way I feel lately.  Thank you and I promise to be back. 

  10. Sooz617 Oct 07 at 10:41 am Reply Reply

    Thank you. This makes me feel better. I work full time outside the home. I worry all the time about not spending enough time with my daughter. I worry that I don’t always give her my full attention when I am with her (someones got to make dinner, etc.) I worry that I’m not doing a good enough job raising her and yet she’s always happy to see me.

  11. Michelle Oct 14 at 12:12 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you for writing this. I needed this today.

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