October 30, 2014

working mother guilt

I sat in the chair in my therapist's office the other day, filling out a brief questionnaire to guage my level of depression. The answers had numbered scores next to them:  0, 1, 2, 3. I ticked each one off -- 0, 1, 1, 0, then came across the one asking me how guity I feel. 3. Guilty as charged.

So here's a not-so-brief confession and list for my typical week's full of working mother guilt. I feel guilty for:
  1. Working part-time
  2. Working at all
  3. Considering working full-time
  4. Wanting to work and not having the desire (capability?) to stay home
  5. Having my child in daycare
  6. Considering having my child in daycare full-time
  7. Having my child in therapy someday for all the daycare he endures now (if some parenting experts are to be believed)
  8. Not fixing healthier meals more often
  9. Feeding my child a steady diet of mac & cheese instead of kale (no wait -- I don't feel guilty about that)
  10. Weight gain
  11. Spending money on clothes as a result of weight gain
  12. Imperfect parenting
  13. Judging my husband's parenting
  14. Not potty training my child before he's 3
  15. Inconsistent potty instruction
  16. Not using sticker charts for potty or chores or whatever the hell else they're used for
  17. Letting my son swallow gum instead of fishing it out of his mouth (or giving it to him in the first place)
  18. Praying and reading my Bible inconsistently
  19. Forgetting to pray or read
  20. Blowing off prayer or reading
  21. Not volunteering more
  22. Not wanting to volunteer at all
  23. Wondering whether I should volunteer
I should do this, I should do that... pretty soon I'm shoulding all over myself.

Why in the world am I beating myself up? No wonder I'm halfway to being a basket case every time my son has an unstoppable, stratospheric temper tantrum. On some level I'm busy blaming myself and, yes, feeling guilty for not preventing it.

I realized something recently. It's not just the guilt of a working mother. Because of the living hell I endured through my two miscarriages and infertility diagnosis followed by God's gift of my son, I have this tendency to think of my gift of motherhood as “happily ever after.” As in, I should spend every day being grateful and not blown apart by the challenges every other mother on the planet experiences especially if she's working outside the home. Some might call this survivor guilt.

Not that I'm not grateful every day, but that’s just not realistic. Tomorrow has its own set of challenges. My biggest challenge right now isn't finding my next job (although that does take a lot of mental energy). It's accepting the reality that parenting is hard emotional work regardless of the journey to get here, and that I'm as human as the next mom with a mind and heart and needs of my own. The fact that my needs generally come dead last on any given day is, I suppose, beside the point.

I don't think antidepressants are going to absolve me or otherwise erase these guilty feelings, so I'd better look elsewhere. I'll explore that more in an upcoming post.