Mommy Guilt and the Right Reasons

Recently, I had a conversation with an acquaintance, a fellow mom, about how she would like to move her young child to a new daycare. “But my reasons…” she hesitated a moment, “They aren’t good. They’re selfish.”

When she listed her reasons, they didn’t sound selfish. Rather, they sounded like they would improve her quality of life and, by extension, her family’s. As a hardcore advocate of eradicating mommy guilt, her reasons seemed totally… well, reasonable and not something she should feel conflicted over. Case closed, right?

But I recognized the sentiment.

Since giving birth, I’ve second guessed so many of my choices, dreams, wants, and goals based simply on the idea that the reasons for pursuing these things weren’t the right ones—they were selfish and therefore wrong—as if the moment you become a mother, a reason is only valid if it is completely selfless, 100 percent benefiting your child and not you, not even one tiny bit.

I’ve found this tendency to categorize my reasons as good or bad almost paralyzing. And, while I hate to use the word regret, I have made some decisions since becoming a mom that I am not proud of because they have been based on the idea (my idea) that my reasons for considering alternatives were not good enough.

For example: Last summer, I had the opportunity to take a part-time job with the kind of flexibility that would have allowed me to have a little more time at home with my kid, a little more time to manage our household, and a little more time to pursue other professional goals—all while bringing in a regular (though reduced) paycheck. My daughter Emme goes to a home daycare that allows part-time arrangements, and the idea was that I would work in an office three days a week and have Emme in daycare four days a week, so that one day a week, I could take care of other business, and one day a week, I could be at home with her.

It was pretty much my ideal arrangement.

I was tortured making this decision, and it would be an over-simplification to say that there were no other factors that stopped me from taking this job. However, I cannot ignore the fact that I was plagued with mommy guilt over the idea that if I was going to take a part-time job, it should be because I wanted to spend every extra available second with my kid—not because I wanted to make my quality of life better.

So I didn’t do it. Even though, by the same logic I used in the daycare scenario, if I was making my life better, wasn’t I also making my family’s life better? So here’s a thought: Maybe all reasons (assuming they don’t hurt someone else) are valid reasons. And maybe our “selfish” reasons are our best reasons because the decisions we make based on these reasons make it more likely that we’ll be present with our families when it really counts.

But none of this became clear to me until I was talking to the mom with the daycare dilemma. Isn’t it amazing how simple these things seem when we are on the outside looking in?

2 thoughts on “Mommy Guilt and the Right Reasons

  1. Thanks so much for writing this. It’s hard to express all the complicated feelings of mommy guilt, but I definitely identify with so much of what you said. It’s important to talk about these things – good to know we’re not alone with this. Parents need to take care of themselves in order to be good role models and effective caregivers to their children. Sacrificing our happiness and well-being won’t help our kids thrive. Easy to say, a lot harder to do, I know!

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Laura! I used to think that I was pretty good at letting myself off the hook with the whole mommy guilt thing, but as I was writing this piece, it was an “ah ha!” moment. One of my hypotheses is that mommy guilt manifests itself in the places we already feel insecure and unsure about, and I think work is definitely one of those for me. But feeling paralyzed by having to make these decisions and second guessing our choices doesn’t help anyone in the family.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *