Making Peace with Mom Guilt

Today’s post is brought to you by my friend and super mom Breanna Lathrop. She is an amazing mom of three awesome kids – Porter, Micah, & Selah. She is also chief operating officer and a family nurse practitioner for the Good Samaritan Health Center. Enjoy!

I’m going to count today as a win. It’s the Thursday one week before Thanksgiving and the second to last day of school before break. I knew today would be crazy a month ago when I started getting emails from the room moms about Thanksgiving parties. Room moms. I am really thankful for the folks who take that on but if I’m honest, I often feel like the concept of “room mom” was specifically invented to remind the rest of us of our inferior mothering. I dutifully paid the fees and signed up for my dessert contribution. I actually did both to make up for the fact that I am never going to be room mom.

By 6:30 in the morning I’ve got 50 brownie candy corn creations that look like turkeys on trays and dinner in the crock pot and I’m out the door with our 15-month-old. I drop her off at daycare and she doesn’t cry because the teacher bribes her with a cracker (win!) and I am on time to work (win!). I’m not seeing patients today so I have a few back-to-back meetings. Then I quickly review all the incoming labs, phone messages, and emails and respond to all the most critical (win for those who got a timely response, I guess).  I leave the office at noon because the school party is at 2 pm but I have a 1 pm conference call. I get the call launched on time from my hot spot in the school parking lot and it ends before 2 pm (big win!) I carry in my tray of Pinterest-inspired turkeys and get a huge hug from my 7-year-old (biggest win!) After a thrilling hour of First Grade Thanksgiving Party, I pick up my 4-year-old from Pre-K and drive over to daycare to get the baby. The evening is the usual: playtime, dinner, bath time, homework, story time, cuddles and bedtime (win, except for the moment when I threatened to take the boys’ Legos away forever if they did not get in the bath.) Once everyone is asleep I start the famous “second shift” well known to most working moms. It’s the 8:30-11:30 pm window in which I try to catch up on the emails, results, and patient messages that didn’t get addressed during the day.

Like I said, I’m counting the day as a win but it was also filled with reminders that choosing a family and a career has consequences. My baby girl spent more time at daycare than with me today. Tomorrow is the Pre-K Thanksgiving party and I won’t be there because I am seeing patients. My husband will go with a tray of really impressive brownie turkeys but my 4-year-old still asks why I can’t go when I’m tucking him in. I am chronically behind at work, even with the nightly second shift. The guilt is always there, reminding me of what I am sacrificing.

I’ve read all sorts of articles and blogs on mom guilt which claim we just need to get rid of it. There seems to be a theme that says we should just do the best we can and feel good about it. Our work, kid’s screen time, quality of dinner, bedtime routine- just do what works for you and move on. I hear it and I want to embrace that whole-heartedly, but I can’t. My husband jokingly tells me that I will always find something to feel guilty about and I should try caring less.

Since mom guilt doesn’t seem to be something I can eliminate, I’m making peace with it. I’ve decided to accept mom guilt as a reminder of how very deeply I care.

I’ve always thought that the day I stop having a healthy fear that I could hurt someone by prescribing the wrong medicine or missing an important diagnosis is the day I should stop practicing medicine. Maybe the same is true with mothering. Rather than seeing mom guilt as a reminder of failure, I’ve decided to own it as a part of the processes of loving my family and loving my job. I’m determined to not let guilt consume me or cloud the joy of this crazy phase of life but I’m not going to beat myself up for having it either. I wouldn’t have guilt if I didn’t care. Guilt is also a reminder to re-evaluate from time-to-time. Maybe balance has been off and maybe a few simple changes can improve my family’s functioning.

For me, being a working mom means some late nights answering emails and making school party snacks. It means leaving work early to get to the class party and other days staying late to help a patient.  The balance isn’t always perfect and mom guilt is always lurking. So I’m done running from it. If I can work full-time and raise three kids, I can handle some guilt. I’ll welcome it as a reminder that having a family and a career is more than worth the balancing act.

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