Guilt is a smarmy jerk

“Being a working mom is always hard…”

Dammit, did you get tatoos while mommy was at work?

Who let you get tattoos while mommy was at work?

…this from a Facebook friend, sharing a raw moment after dropping her child off at kindergarten…

…and being mistaken for the little girl’s aunt...

“Ouch, that was a tough one,” she said, “straight through the heart.”

We’ve all been there. Conscientious parents, whatever their professional situation, get to know that bastard, Guilt, pretty well.

Am I helping too much with her homework? And, when did I forget how to do math?

Was sending him to bed without a story an appropriate form of punishment, or am I just exhausted with Cat in the Hat?

Isn’t she going to get, like, rickets or something from never eating vegetables?

Is he old enough to have a lifetime memory of that epic tantrum I had in the car this morning?

Guilt. He’s such a bastard, always hanging on. I know you’ve met. He has one arm draped casually over the back of your shoulders all chummy. He’s jabbing you in the ribs to make a point.

His main gal Worry is on your other side. Worry is fidgety, with a facial tick. She wears way too much perfume but still smells like BO.

I know, I want to slap her too.

My friend’s Facebook comment started a thread of encouraging and supportive responses.

And one statement that brought me up short.

This is a sad result of our economy, which requires dual family incomes to make ends meet. It happened in my generation and continues to this day.

Errrch… Wait a minute. What?

Move on, nothing to see here, said a little voice. Neither my friend nor her Anachronistic Commenter needed a dose of late night snark.

But Anachronistic Commenter had it all wrong.

Hang on, I’m going back in time and you’re coming with me.

Fourteen years ago. Baby babbles cutely from his infant carrier. I sit in a flimsy gown on an exam table for a post partum check up.

No, this is not another OB-GYN post, bear with me.

“What are your plans for work?” The doctor asks.

“Oh, work, well,” I say, “I’ll be taking a couple weeks off, then I have this really cool deal where I can bring him into the office for at least the next six months. After that, I’ve signed up for this great child-care center where he’ll have Spanish lessons and baby gym class.”

I’m gushing, but I’m proud of having my act together so early in the game.

The doctor scowls. He is unimpressed.

“Listen,” he says, “you go back to work, and sooner or later everyone is going to suffer… you, your health, your marriage and your child. You need to think very carefully about this.”

We stare at each other. My mouth is open. My bare feet are dangling.

I need a different doctor.

My career was in full swing by the time the kids came along. So was their father’s for that matter.

Both my parents worked. No one was the worse for it.

In addition to careers, we also had hobbies.

We volunteered and had active social lives.

We got a good seven to eight hours shut-eye every night.

We worked out.

And then we were parents.

Priorities changed. We sold our whitewater gear (eventually). Mike no longer races stock cars nor does he golf. We put a hiatus on backpacking until the kids were old enough to go.

We shifted volunteer opportunities to those in which we could include our kids, or were at least on behalf of organizations with a direct impact on them.

What used to be date nights turned into family nights, and suddenly included way more movies with cartoon characters, and restaurants where a giant mouse served crappy pizza.

Sleeping and working out were sharply curtailed.

Hobbies? Social life? Later alligator.

But with all the changes, big and small, we never talked about either of us staying home from work.

It wasn’t a financial issue.

It had nothing to do with the state of the economy.

I knew if I stayed home full time with my kids, it wouldn’t be long before I was formally Cuckoo for Coco Puffs, and either heavily self medicated or removed from the scene altogether.

Everyone would suffer.

So we both work outside the home (as well as in it). Sometimes our kids eat mac and cheese for dinner as a result, and we still can’t put in 100 percent at the office. These things make life interesting. They force us to learn balance. They give us stuff to talk about at the dinner table. They give us the ability to model good coping strategies, and our children the opportunity to develop independence and resiliency.

To be sure, my career decisions have been influenced by the flexibility I need in order to accommodate my kids. Everything I do, actually, is based upon what’s best for them. Even with that in mind, Guilt and Worry aren’t ever far away. And, guess what? I know my stay at home mom friends are on a first name basis with Guilt and Worry too.

God, they need to find someone else to pick on.

I wrote and erased about seven angry responses to Anachronistic Commenter that night. Then I stopped and thought about my friend, who probably wasn’t looking for anyone to tell her to fight the power or stick it to the man.

Next time, I told her,  just smile at the teacher’s aid and say something like ‘you must be new here. Don’t worry, you’ll start to get to know all us parents sooner or later… sweetie.’

***

Here’s a thought: assuage your guilty conscience and mine by voting for a mommy blogger (actually, I don’t know if that will help, but it’s worth a shot, and it keeps me going, so thanks).

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