I started this post a couple of weeks ago; it has taken me this long to finish it. I teach, you know, and I’m in the suction of back to school right now which means that basically everything else ceases to exist for a few weeks. Like a vacuum that includes bus lists and mismatched connecting cubes and new germs from little bodies. It also means mourning the loss of things that were a constant presence in the 2 months prior: snacking arbitrarily, peeing WHENEVER I WANT, yoga pants (*sigh*), but most of all, my son.
I am a teacher; I am in the throes of back-to-school.
I am a mother; I am in the throes of mama guilt.
I AM A WORKING MOTHER. (Deep sigh with pathetically raised eyebrows.)
Currently, I spend an inordinate amount of time repeating the guilty mama’s mantra: I’m not a good mom. I should have stayed home. I’m not a good mom.
I’m not alone. I talk to my other girl friends who work. Even those who can’t imagine staying home feel some level of guilt. As a teacher, mine peaks from September to October because it is the time of year that requires the most out of me. There is so much to set up, so much to prepare, so much to do for a new class of other people’s children. It waxes and wanes, but this time of year is the worst. (I’m a bad mom. I should have stayed home. I’m a bad mom. I should have stayed home….)
I question my intent. Why DO I work? I make lists. They include things like how my salary contributes to the standard of living we enjoy (traveling, foodie dinners out, entertaining friends at home). It includes our health insurance, Isaac attending the preschool we’d like, and the importance of my son seeing a mom who is a strong role model and a hard worker, and other such crap.
The problem is, I have just as many girl friends who stay home with their kids as those who work and they, too, are strong role models for their babies. You don’t need to work outside of the home to model a strong work ethic. You don’t need to be on salary to contribute to the greater good. I don’t need to work in an office setting to teach my son these values. Likewise, if we didn’t travel as much, didn’t eat at as many farm-to-table restaurants, and had a higher medical co-pay, I believe it is entirely possible that we would adjust and be just as happy.
So why, WHY, do I do this? Why am I not home making my son peanut butter sandwiches and asking him how he’d like them cut each day for lunch instead of cursing whatever demon-spawn causes peanut allergies, thus forcing me to smear harder-to-spread-than-peanut-butter almond butter on bread for my son’s lunch at 10:00pm so his classmate’s body doesn’t do whatever it does when he comes into contact with the damn nuts?!
I’m PRETTY sure this is one of those puzzles that doesn’t really have a right answer which irritates me because I’m a perfectionist and I WANT THE RIGHT ANSWER. (I really hate that.) I’m fairly certain that it has to do with my attitude: It doesn’t actually matter how much I love my students (I do) or how well suited I am for my job (I am) if, when I see my son, I immediately double over with the awful, awful guilt of Mom Fail. It basically means I’m sabotaging the goodness in both through the amount of chastisement I feed myself on a regular basis. Working doesn’t make me a bad parent anymore than staying home makes me a good parent, and that’s hard for me to accept because I tend to have an all or nothing personality. So here’s where you picture me doing some form of cheerleading move- which I do often and is absurd because I was never a cheerleader. (I was in marching band, so…) And then you picture me yelling:
“YOU DO IT, MAMA! Stop constantly second guessing yourself and do whatever it is you’re doing well. (And it’s alright to actually find enjoyment in it, for crying out loud! Liking your job doesn’t make you a bad mom either!) What is important is that your children see your virtues- your work ethic and your compassion and your joy and your dedication. That stuff pours out regardless of where you spend your days so CUT OUT THAT CRAP about critiquing yourself and quiet that idiot voice! Underneath whatever else is up around the surface calling you a less-than-mommy, there is a parent who deeply wants to do right by her child and THAT your child needs to see more than anything else.”
*Insert slow clap.* Take a bow. That’s right, Mama!
(I’m still clapping for you…. in my head… as I’m finishing my lesson plans.)