Oh, Everly…how this sweet little package of a little girl opened up a storm of MOM GUILT. We all feel it, in different ways, no matter what kind of mom you are. I’ve read dozens and dozens of stories in my mommy groups of feeding guilt, working guilt, grandmother guilt, mom-wife guilt, and the ‘tablet guilt.’ Mom guilt is real, and one thing that I don’t remember anyone preparing me for. What makes Mom Guilt so bad, is it comes from everywhere, even if they are unintentional from different part of your life. While the list is endless, there are a few “killers” that hit me the hardest and some hard mommy lessons I had to learn to overcome them:
1. “You’re not breastfeeding?”
Let me just say that our WHOLE family went through hell and back to get Everly to breastfeed – and in my eyes, I felt like I failed. Everly was a ‘snacker’ and had problems latching. Due to her latching problems, I started to lose supply, and she started to lose weight. But since it had been drilled into me that ‘breast was best,’ we went to a lactation consultant, in which we were directed for my husband to tube feed Everly AT THE SAME TIME that she was latched. ( Let that sink in for a minute). Picture a man, hunched over, holding a tiny little syringe over your shoulder at the nipple, while your child is attached, slowly feeding formula one ML at a time to help with inducing better breastfeeding practices. Now add in the fact that you can’t leave the house because Everly needs to be fed every 2 hours (end to end) – and it takes her 45 mins to feed. I obsessed over making this work. I ate lactation cookies, teas, and never left the house. My husband was a trooper. He did this every 2 hours through the night until almost 3 months. I also had plugged ducts – because she didn’t latch. That meant 2 am hot showers with me crying on the shower floor in pain and defeat. Writing this now, I can’t help but think – WHY IN THE WORLD DID I LET THIS GET TO ME? Because, we’re taught that “Breast is Best.” We don’t talk about the sacrifices we make for those of us who struggle.
HOW I DEALT: As a mom, it’s important to remember, you are responsible for your child in more ways than just feeding. It’s always good to do ‘your best,’ but never at the expense of something that is more valuable, like your physical health and time (all of which your family depends on). I stopped associating my inability to supply and Everly’s inability to latch as MY personal failure. These are circumstances – and only a year (or two) of their lives of many.
2. “Great, to hear you’ve delivered! When are you coming back to work?“
I was trying to prove something. I was trying to prove that I could do both, because we can do it all … right? WRONG – I let that guilt get me and I went back to work at 6 weeks. I let it consume me so much that even though I was still dealing with some major issues from my delivery (and was even recommended to be in a wheelchair), I thought it was a good idea that I head back to work. I had some fear that the time I would have away from work is when things would move on without me. I thought I would be hurting my career, and somehow show weakness and take a step back from what I had proven and accomplished. While I certainly got this question from people at work and outside of work, I realized most of the pressure I felt I put on myself. I somehow made myself believe that I had to show up and prove that “nothing changes” now that I have a baby. But you know what, it DOES, and it’s supposed to be okay and a natural part of life.
HOW I DEALT: It didn’t make sense at that point to take it all back and just decide to retake maternity leave, but I did have to readjust my reality. The first adjustment was that I needed to stop pressuring myself on expectations of work for JUST this time in my life. There will always be work to do. There will always be a time for that, but the moments of spending time with your daughter is fleeting. Now, I understand that not everyone can take a full leave for financial reasons (and I hope the US changes that soon), but even if you have to go back, don’t let the pressure of ‘being the same at work’ pre-kid affect you. Another thing I learned: Your employees or manager are unlikely to say, “Remember that time where Mica was gone for 3 months on maternity leave last year? Look at all these things that didn’t happen because of that. She was selfish to do that.” If they do, should you be there?
There are likely will not be many changes in your job during the 3 months that would impact your entire career. And there’s nothing that can’t be adjusted when you go back to work.
Last, I had to accept that things can be different when I get back to work after having a kid. I might not be able to support East Coast calls, travel with no notice, or stay in the office late consistently, but I can make adjustments to working smarter to offset that guilt. I found other times when Everly went to bed to catch up. Once I set boundaries about timing and my constraints as the added role of mom, I felt a lot less stress. And, guess what? My boss and co-workers didn’t think a thing about it.
3. “You let her cry it out?”
Sleep training is a whole other topic that I will try not to divulge too much into. At the end of the day, Justin and I both worked, and we needed sleep. I worked in with hospitals and felt it crucial I was coherent. When we brought Everly home (with all our feeding issues), she required feeding every 2 hours, which meant we needed to wake her, feed her, and repeat. It wasn’t until she was almost 3 months old that the pediatrician said we could “let her sleep as long as she wanted” and not wake her for 2 hour feedings. Well…since she got so used to us waking her up every 2 hours, that’s exactly what she started to do on her own.
We were at the point of exhaustion that we were both walking out of the house with our clothes on inside-out or backwards ON A DAILY BASIS.
Some nights I caught Justin searching in our bed frantically for Everly, when she was sleeping in her pack-n-play, on the other side of the room. Sleep was important to us, so we decided to sleep train. We used a version of the cry it out method – letting her cry for about 30 mins – checking on her every few mins – for the first few days. After day 5, it worked like a charm, and she was sleeping through the night with exception to one wake up (for feeding) until she was about 5 months old. We felt TRIUMPH! We were happy and rested. Everly was happy and rested. But that didn’t stop comments from hitting our family when people heard about our sleep training. “How could you let her cry it out?” Someone commented in a Facebook group that sleep training is a form of neglect. You can imagine my rage, pain, frustration, sadness and confusion over take what I thought was a great milestone for our family. I don’t judge those who chose any other sleeping methods when it takes into consideration what’s best for their family as a whole, so why was I getting so much mom-shaming?
HOW I DEALT: The first and only things I needed consider was my little girl and listen to her pediatrician. NOTHING ELSE MATTERS outside of their well-being and their health. She was a 5 month old who was progressing quicker than most 5 month olds. She knew sign language. She was smart. She was ahead in her motor skills. Most importantly she was healthy, and WE were healthy because we prioritized sleep. Looking back at those moments I felt most ashamed and upset, I realized that I know what’s best for my family, and it right for other families. I had to come to terms that some people project. At the end of the day, what matters is what’s best for yours, and it is crucially important for you to have confidence in your decisions for YOUR family.
4. “I can’t believe you travel so much for work when you have a baby at home” or “Why do you work so much?” or “She spends all day at school?”
I have worked in IT Healthcare Consulting for the last 7 years, which means there is a lot of traveling involved. This year, I’m closer to 75%, and in April spent more time away, than I was at home. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, “How can you travel so much when you have a baby at home.” There was even one time I had another co-worker respond after I mentioned I had a toddler at home, “Oh my gosh, I thought you were a single woman traveling every where. I can’t believe you have a kid! Who takes care of them?” (While giving me the look like I was crazy). Or even worst, “Why do you travel so such if you have a little one? It must be so hard for them.” Most of these comments probably don’t come from a bad place, but in context it hurts. It’s easy for people to judge that I have the choice to not travel or “just switch jobs.” In our situation, Justin and I hold a 50/50 split in household income. In various parts of our life, I was the main contributor. Another conflicting feeling was that I actually LIKED my job. That’s not the same as saying that I like to travel. I miss my family every time I get on a plane. At the same time, I felt like I was contributing professionally, in an industry I really enjoyed. Hearing those questions made me question myself. Yes, how could I like my job that takes me away when I should want to be more? How I can I let ‘other people’ take care of my child? What’s wrong with me? It was an ugly roller coaster of emotion.
HOW I DEALT: I had to come to terms with my impact on my family NOT being a black and white concept. It’s very easy to fall into the mindset of: when I’m away, I’m not spending time with my family, which means I’m not taking care of my family, which means I’m disassociating from my family or not contributing, or however you want to phrase it. I had to remove that out of my mind completely. Quantity of time is certainly valuable and I applaud parents who can give their children lots of TIME. For those of us who don’t have that choice, I encourage you to think of the impact that time AWAY does for your family while you are working and the quality of the time you do have with them. I used to guilt myself by equating time to value for Everly, but since I have been working, and she has seen her mom travel and work hard, I’ve noticed her independence grow. She’s socially advanced. She knows things about “meetings” and “travel.” I’ve been able to teach her about the states I’ve traveled to. She is aware of another life outside of home. She’s asked to be a doctor (because she knows I work with hospitals) – we won’t go into the time she also asked to be a pineapple, that’s beside the point (she is only 3 after all). So, know as a working parent your time away isn’t fruitless. You’re teaching your kids great values, just in a different way, even if you don’t know it.
At the end of the day, don’t let these mom guilting questions guilt you. Moms are rad, and moms are the best, especially when the situation has to do with your family. Whether you are a working mom/dad, or a stay-at-home parent – You do you. Let’s cut the guilt, and spread the support.
I hope you enjoyed this post of the top 4 mom-guilt phrases that nearly killed my soul. I would love to hear from you! Did you experience these? What other Mom-Guilts would have made the list for you? Any tips/perspective you used to overcome it?