I feel guilty staying at home with our daughter while my husband and many of my friends work. I feel guilty quitting my stable well-paying job as a registered nurse (RN) to pursue writing part-time. I feel guilty getting to pick the days my daughter goes to daycare while others have children on a set full-time schedule. We all have that mom guilt that gets joked about during playdates and text messages back and forth. In fact, yesterday I was texting a friend about how much I was looking forward to bringing my daughter to daycare this morning so I could actually get some things done. “Of course she’s been acting so sweet and said she loves cuddling with me. Cue mom guilt,” I texted with the ambivalent upside-down smiley face.
But mom guilt in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It means you always want what’s best for your kids and you love them that much to want to give them the world. Where it gets dangerous is when we associate this mom guilt with something more emotionally debilitating. When we take take this mom guilt — even around things we have no control over — and turn it on ourselves.
There is a word we need to banish from motherhood and I’m willing to bet we all are guilty of using it against ourselves.
Maybe you feel serious mom guilt every time you have to drop off your child at daycare because you and your partner need both of your incomes in order to make house payments and pay bills. Guilt in itself is not bad; it's just the way tension presents itself to us. But that guilt can quickly turn on you and before you know it, someone, or maybe even you yourself, are referring to your need to work as selfish. And we can never win.
Something always has to give.
You’re selfish if you work full time outside the home because you are relying on someone else to “raise” your kids, right? You’re selfish if you actually enjoy this time away, because you think it gives you a break from your kids and you get to fulfill yourself outside of motherhood.
But you’re also selfish if you stay at home. Your kids need structure and interaction with other kids and you are clearly denying them that. You have the luxury of not contributing to society and collecting a paycheck because your partner is the one working. You’re selfish because you aren’t socializing your kids enough to fit in once they enter school.
Something always has to give and when we make the decision that is right for us, we’re shamed. Some openly and some behind their backs.
This mom-shaming starts as soon as the pink lines appear (and for some, it starts even before that). You’re selfish for wanting to keep a baby you can’t afford, you’re selfish for being unhappy you’re pregnant. You’re selfish for drinking coffee and eating cold deli meat and basically anything you want to indulge in while growing another human. Your birth plan is selfish because you want a medicated, pain-free birth, or a scheduled C-section.
In the exhausted days of new motherhood, you are shamed for wanting to bottle-feed or formula-feed so you can get more than two hours of sleep. You’re selfish for not trying hard enough to breastfeed. You’re selfish for wanting to continue nursing into toddlerhood because it’s all about your needs.
Maybe you have never even heard someone utter those words to you. It doesn’t matter. We as moms are constantly battling this inside our own heads.
You’re selfish for signing your kids up for the sports you loved as a child, and won’t let them quit when they tell you they hate volleyball. You’re selfish for not putting your kids in any sports at all. How are they possibly going to learn teamwork?
You’re called selfish when you want some time to yourself and when you actually really enjoy time away from your kids. You’re selfish for not digging deeper into your wallet for organic, or non-processed food.
You’re selfish, you’re selfish, you’re selfish.
Maybe you have never even heard someone utter those words to you. It doesn’t matter. We as moms are constantly battling this inside our own heads. We compare ourselves and judge everything we have against someone else’s. We judge ourselves against others. We judge our children against others’.
But we need to stop. Motherhood as it is, needs to stop being viewed as a battle of a mom's needs versus those of her children.
We are good moms who make the best choices we can for our families and more people need to realize that. Our kids are an extension of us; taking care of ourselves is an act that ultimately benefits our kids.
But changing that mindset starts with us — with our relationships with other moms and the relationship we have with ourselves. Stop apologizing, and turn that smiley the right way up.