I thought I might be immune to mom guilt. When preparing for parenthood, people ahead of you on the parenting journey want to share their wisdom. They eagerly share their own accounts of early parenthood, so you know what to expect. They tell you how it’s going to be, and how you’ll feel about it. But it’s not always that way. I didn’t have mom guilt for the first couple years of my son’s life, and this week, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized: this is mom guilt.
Everyone talks about mom guilt, and now I see why. It’s potent stuff. I just didn’t experience it when other people said I would.
As a pregnant person, I alerted my employer to my condition. They wanted to know how much maternity leave I wanted. I knew I needed time to heal after birth, plus enough time to learn to breastfeed. Ten weeks felt like enough to me, so that’s what I asked for.
But if you ask other moms, it seems no amount of maternity leave will suffice. A common response I’ve heard is to “take as much time as you can!”
While others swear, “twelve weeks isn’t nearly enough!” Some moms warn that it’s so hard to return to work, you’ll likely find yourself crying in the bathroom. As a new mom, hearing these perspectives frightened me. I found solace in other perspectives and strategies like those found in the entertaining read, The Fifth Trimester.
I get it.
Noone wants to be caught off-guard by how hard it can be to be a new mom. It’s a time fraught with lots of emotions, postpartum hormones, and a huge identity transition. And your newborn seems so vulnerable. But given these common themes, you still may not feel the same way as the next mom. Not everyone will experience new motherhood in the same way.
I didn’t have any problem bonding with my baby, and I was lucky to dodge postpartum depression. On my return to work, I simply didn’t feel the way those other women said I would. So I thought I might be immune to mom guilt.
Part of the reason I escaped mom guilt early on was that I have a part-time stay-at-home spouse (who’s a freelance musician and music teacher). So much of time time I was working, my son was with his dad. Another factor in avoiding mom guilt was my ability to find an amazing nanny, who filled in when my husband couldn’t. She has become a trusted part of the family.
So we sailed through the months I returned to work, and I didn’t feel guilty.
That baby is now two.
Wes took his time starting to talk. He had to be prompted to repeat words, and he didn’t say much on his own. I began to think being with a sole caregiver was holding him back. Maybe with someone anticipating his needs, he didn’t feel compelled to talk. And when we saw other kids, even in the books we read, he just lit up, and I thought, he’s going to love school!
Well, as it turns out, the drop-offs were murder. I didn’t realize the strength I’d need as a mother until I dropped my kid at pre-school for the first time. He cried like I was leaving him with ax-murderers! He clawed after me, desperately trying to run after me.
For his first week of school, I took the week off work. The first day, my husband and I dropped him off together. I cried. Through bleary eyes, I escaped across the school yard, trying not to look back and make it even worse. To Wes, it probably looked like we left and never looked back. It was awful. Then I repeated the heartbreaking process on my own for the next four days.
Wes grasped his little Elmo, desperate for any familiar comfort. It was a consolation for his mommy. The other 2 year olds looked on as he lost his marbles. He wouldn’t even let the teacher comfort him, he was beyond upset.
The first couple days, he didn’t touch his lunch. The staff told us it’s not uncommon for kids to skip lunch the first week (a fact that hit me in the gut with mom guilt again).
At school, my little one couldn’t nap. He’d sleep for 15 minutes on his mat, then cry, accustomed to sleeping in his own bed. By the time I retrieved him at 3:30, he looked like a shell of himself. He sat in a chair, gazing downward, disengaged. I’ve never seen him look that way, and it haunted me. He looked like he’d been dropped at an orphanage. But he’s exhausted, I reasoned, trying to quell my simmering mom guilt.
I observed him for a few minutes in his environment before announcing myself. When he saw me, he clawed out of the chair clumsily, breaking down in the sort of happy cry of a beauty queen who’s just won her pageant. Except it was my little boy’s face crumpling. He looked relieved that I’d come back for him. And it tore my heart out.
By the end of the week Wes was clearly getting sick. By the weekend, he had the classic “slapped cheek” appearance and fevers of a common daycare illness, parvovirus. He coughed, dribbled, and vomited his way through the next week, missing an entire week of school.
And as I too fell prey to the daycare bug that morphed into a violent pharyngitis, my mom guilt festered.
You may be aware that age two is when kids really get attached. They develop stranger danger, and would rather mom just do everything, from put on their shoes, to be by their side all day.
Part of my rumination and guilt was second guessing the decision to put him in “school” so soon. “But some kids go to daycare at 6 weeks old!” I argued with myself. A couple months ago, I couldn’t wait to make the change, and now I felt so naive. Maybe he should be in half days, not full days, I considered, the options churning in my mind… That could allow for a more gradual transition; at least he could nap in his own environment.
My husband reminded me of my eagerness to make this transition. We agreed to stay the course, and take advice from the teachers if Wes really isn’t ready. In the meantime, maybe he’s crying less with each drop-off. We check with the teachers for any signs of progress.
As a working mom who deals with life and death situations daily, I thought I could be more objective about my kid. I thought, maybe it’ll be easier for me to just do what’s right for Wesley, given my surgical mentality. My analytical decision making skills could be applied to any situation, making me a less emotional mom… but I’m a mess!
Being a working mom has not diluted the intensity of the mothering experience as I somehow thought it would. My child needs me, and he loves me. I’m so proud of who he’s become so far and all that he’s learning. It’s really true that you can save lives and still enjoy your own…
For the new or soon-to-be parents out there… take others’ unsolicited advice for what it is- their experience. Some parenting wisdom can be universal, but sometimes, you’ll be thrown off and brought to your knees, like me these past weeks. It’s all part of the beautiful mess of being a working parent.
just another toddler mom,
The path can be riddled with failures, even if you're doing it right. In this recording, I share some of my gaffes with you.
Great post, thanks for sharing! I hope things are getting better for Wes with school.
Thank you. I think it’ll be rocky for a little while. The toddler attachment came on so strong!
Yes, mom guilt is real. And I’m sorry to tell you that mine are now 12 and 15 and it isn’t getting better yet- its just about different things. I’m sorry Wes is having a rough adjustment to preschool. Hang in there!
Thank you! I do believe it’s all part of living fully- including these rocky transitions… I bet the teen years are quite the ride!!
Oh gosh, I had a similar experience with Shahab at his original school daycare. I felt like the worst mom ever, leaving him somewhere he disliked so much, when I knew he just wanted to be home. He didn’t eat. He didn’t nap. He looked so sullen and depressed when I picked him up. I took him out 5 days later and thank goodness, we found a better place for him. Kids certainly do not fit in a box and as long as we as parents can adapt and change to suit our kids’ personality, everything becomes a bit easier. But I feel you. Those drops offs are just the worst ????
My wife has mom guilt every day. I have dad guilt too; especially when I leave for work and my daughter is clinging on my leg begging me not to leave. It’s heart breaking!
Yes! Thank you for bringing in dad guilt! This is a thing, yet our society doesn’t speak of it as you do. It’s utterly heartbreaking, and the only way around it is leaving before they wake up! Hugs and solidarity. I wonder about your wife’s take on this too
Mom guilt is definitely real; especially for the working mom. My daughter is almost 2 and I feel so bad dropping her off to daycare so that I can go to work. It’s almost as though I feel selfish for having to work and needing her to be at daycare for 9-10 hours a day. On the bright side, I have yet to see an 18-year-old hanging on to their mom’s leg when they have to part. So I will say that it gets better 🙂
It’s gotten so much better. Before his school closed for the coronavirus, he was making friends and smiling at drop off. It’s been a huge point of growth. But I’m still glad I shared this point of struggle so others could be comforted. 2 is tough isn’t it? They’d like to be with us forever ????