My conscience has been assaulted lately by a terrible case of WMG: Working Mom's Guilt. It's never been this bad before, but now that Aria is old enough to process my absence and Caroline is changing by the minute, it's beginning to really get to me.
For instance, this is how our phone conversation went today:
Aria: "Hi Mommy!"
Me: "Hi Baby!"
Aria: "Are you at work, Mommy?"
Me: "I am, honey. What are you doing?"
Aria: "Did you eat your salad, Mommy?"
Me: "Not yet. I'm having it for dinner. Are you having a good day?"
Aria: "Mommy, are you taking care of babies?"
Me: "Yes, I am."
Aria: "But you have babies at home. Why you go to work to take care of other babies?"
Me: Argh. "Well, they are sick, honey, and they need special people who know how to take care of them".
Aria: "Okay, Mommy. Ima go in my car to see you and your babies".
Me: "Honey, you can't see my babies at work, they are too sick".
Aria: "Oh. Okay. Ima go play bubbles now".
(For my Carolina kin, I'd like to point out a couple of things here about my daughter that give me great pride: She pronounces the word baby as "bye-bee". And when she says milk, it comes out as two syllables, "mee-yulk". Just so you know. I am making sure to raise her with a proper southern accent, so I can do y'all proud).
So back to the guilt.
Don't feel too sorry for me. I really don't have a whole lot to complain about. I work one day a week, and my wonderful Chris stays home on the day I have to be gone so our girls never have to darken the doors of a daycare. We know we have it good.
So why do I feel so bad?
I guess I want it both ways. The best of both worlds. I want to be home with my babies, but I also want an identity. I want to be smart and independent and show them what it means to be a woman in a predominantly man's world, while still always being nearby to wipe a nose or kiss a boo-boo.
This is what happened recently. Caroline started crawling. At six months old. Lemmetellya, I was oh-so-not-prepared for the crawling. Where did my baby go? My little bitty sack o' sugar? She's beginning to turn into a real little person and I am so terrified of missing a mili-second of one of those milestones.
I tearfully confessed my feelings to Chris late the other night, and he gently reminded me of the whole year 2009. Right. How could I forget 2009? The year my life changed so drastically and inalterably, I began wearing my heart on the outside of my body. The year I became a mom. Twice.
Yes that, he reminded me, but also, the collective 160 days I spent at home last year. You see, last year in 2009, I was actually blessed with 5 months of maternity leave. I had two months when Aria came home and three months when Caroline came home, which meant I worked, like, half a year last year. And when I finally did go back to work, while my heart squeezed so tight at the thought of missing my babies all day, I found, much to my surprise, that I actually liked the feeling it gave me to be back doing something I love. I enjoyed being needed by someone other than my eight pound ball of rage - oops, I mean, Caroline. I felt empowered, vital, significant.
Then there's the other thing. In this same teary conversation where I debated both sides of the WMG coin very equitably, Chris pointed out that what's probably really at the root of all this guilt I profess to be feeling is my No-one-can-do-it-as-well-as-I-can complex. My what? Moi??
Admittedly, yes, I might have a touch of that.
Oh, who are we kidding here? I have a raging case of it! I have somehow internally convinced myself that my family as we know it would simply cease to exist were it not for me obsessively: cleaning the kitchen, dressing my girls in matching oh-so-cute outfits (with bows!), picking out teacher gifts, spraying on bug repellent, making their pediatrician appointments, preparing their meals, addressing birthday invitations, laundering and ironing said oh-so-cute outfits, fixing lunches and bottles, diapering their little behinds, wiping their hands with antibacterial soap, lathering on the sunscreen, and shall I go on? Who, I mean, who is going to scour the floors for the errant grape/penny/raisin/goldfish that has suddenly, in the last two weeks, become a choking-hazard death trap spelling almost certain doom for my now-mobile seven-month-old? Who? And who will be there to extricate said threat from her very small but very curious mouth? Who? And the sharp edges? Who is going to protect my perfect little daughters from all the sharp edges in life? Don't even get me started on the sharp edges.
In other words, I'm a Martha.
Get thee to a Bible and read Luke 10. I, friends, am not a Mary. I want to be a Mary. I admire Mary. I want to relax at the feet of Jesus and enjoy the party, but then? Who would take care of the guests? Martha, that's who. Mary's sister. Can't you just see her? Bustling around after all those disciples, wringing her dishtowel, picking up their fish bones and olive pits, and tsk-tsk'ing them under her breath while, the whole time, she's missing out on The Lord Jesus Himself, sitting right there in her parlor telling one of His parables, and probably even a joke or two. Sad but true, I am a Martha.
So, anyway, back to the conversation with Chris. My husband, my dear, dear husband, shakes his head and suggests to me, as kindly as one can make something like this sound, "Sarah, honey. Maybe you need to go to work more often. You put more pressure on yourself at home being a mom than you do at work saving babies".
Ouch. Could he be right? Is my Martha-ness usurping my ability to enjoy life with my family? And did my husband just suggest that I be gone... more? Is this really guilt I'm feeling, or just fear because I'm away from them, that I can't control their environment and protect them from sharp edges of life?
As is obvious to everyone, but most especially to me, my husband does a tremendously excellent job taking care of our daughters. To date, no one has choked on a penny, they always look cute even if they aren't wearing their bows, and everyone in our family appears to be clean, bug-free and well-fed.
The true answer to the Working Mom's Guilt riddle is, it's a personal choice. What makes you happy? Because we all know, a happy mother is the best mother. Motherhood gets better and better the more confident we are with the choices we make. For now, what makes me happy is working one day a week and spending the remaining six with my precious family, taking deep breaths, and trying to purge myself of my high-strung Martha-ness. If it ever gets to a point that I need to work more or less to maintain that balance, well then, we'll deal with it.
I think I will wait, however, to start channelling my inner Mary until after I've babyproofed the house.