“Okay, now stir in one cup of flour”... We’re sitting on the floor, in front of the play kitchen, making pretend chocolate cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles. “Add a teaspoon of vanilla and whisk the batter.” My two oldest children are in school until 3:30. These days, it’s just me and Indigo at home together. “Pop ‘em in the oven and set the timer.” Last year, I was a working mom. After my first child, I was putting in 50 hours per week. By the third, I’d whittled it down to 30. But, they were still 10 hour days with no lunch or break time, and me running out to nurse a baby or make my toddler a meal every time I put a client under the dryer. I’d set up shop at home right before my third was born, thinking it might ease the workload; invariably, it had the opposite effect, making me available to do more.
It's no secret that being a working mom doesn’t remove any domestic responsibilities. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, and trying to take care of yourself just get added to the list. On the weekends we squeezed in as much family time as we could and on my weekdays off, it was a nonstop parade of errands and chores.
I was patient and loving with my children, but there wasn’t a lot of interaction happening in the form of play. I taught them all the basics. We spent a lot of time reading, baking, snuggling, and performing the requisite holiday crafting, but I couldn’t turn it off enough to relax on the floor and just BE with them. There were too many tasks looming in preparation for a workweek with long days and nights spent nursing a restless infant. I'd race from five minutes of reading to cleaning a toilet and then back to singing a quick nursery rhyme out of obligation, then off to to do dishes or fold some laundry. That, coupled with both boys living through nine months of pregnancy-induced illness, consistent pre-term labor, and basic being-with-child lethargy, robbed them of a solid year of quality parenting. I did the best I could, but it never felt like enough. I knew I wasn’t the mom I wanted to be even when not pregnant, but I justified it by telling myself I didn’t enjoy play or lacked imagination. When we moved, I left behind my clientele and embarked upon stay-at-home mommyhood.
“Alright, time to take the cupcakes out so we can put the pink frosting on.” She reaches for a hot pad and delicately removes the tray from the oven. I’ve never felt this much joy, this kind of ease. Never have I been able to relax to the point of being able to sit and immerse myself in the creativity of childhood. It took me a solid six months of not working to even allow myself this. I operated like the sky was falling and preparations need be in place at all times. That sensation slowly took leave as I realized that if the laundry didn’t get done on Tuesday, there was always every single other day. Playing with my children no longer feels like a chore, as it did when I worked. There are no tasks resting upon my shoulders to rob me of the gift of presence.
Yet, all of this leaves me with a lingering sense of guilt… on many levels.
When she lays down for her nap today, I’ll go for a run and then sit in the bathtub and read or do some writing. My husband works from home. Sure, I do all the house stuff and cooking, but he’s bringing the money in while I’m upstairs soaking in Epsom salt water infused with lavender. Guilt.
It’s too easy. I’ve never had days like this. The last eight years were spent in survival mode. Now, it's just me and a two year old. It doesn’t feel fair because I’m not toiling. Aside from minor toddler drama, it's all pleasantries. I have decent time management, so my house is clean, my laundry is done, my meals are planned. Her nap times belong solely to me. They exist for my indulgence. Deep down, I don't feel deserving. Relaxation doesn’t come naturally. I’m a better human, a better wife, a better mother for having it, but still… guilt.
Those two big boys at school all day who never got to experience their mother like this…. God, the guilt.
That one hurts so much. I can get past the fruitless guilt born from exercising and taking baths, but I can’t ever make the time lost right for them. They’ll never be home with me in that capacity again. Gone are the days of make-believe. They want to be outside adventuring with friends, not building LEGO houses with their Mommy.
I can’t help but lose my emotional shit when I think about what they’ve potentially lost from those missed interactions, from having a mommy who’s mind was always wandering from one chore to the next.
Alas, what can I do?
Thus is life. We have to grin and bare the casualties of our mistakes. This isn’t said to lay judgment upon working mothers. We come with different desires, thresholds, standards, support systems, and life contexts that dictate our choices if we’re so blessed to even have choices.
I write this with the intention of allaying guilt, cathartically putting pen to paper for the sole purpose of healing because it’s not something I’ve worked through or have the answer to.
The only thing I know to be true is that guilt takes up space and emotional energy. My family needs all of me. I need all of me. It changes nothing and is a senseless thief of joy and content, not worthy of creeping into priceless moments with my daughter. I’ll make that my mantra from here forward, reminding myself that I did the best I could with what I had and what I knew. In the words of Maya Angelou, “When you know better, you do better.” I hold that saying close to my heart always, especially as a mother, because grace is so important as we journey through parenthood- a thorny, winding path rife with mistakes and wishes for do-overs.