Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Mommyhood and Guilt

Question of the day: I wonder if you ever have any guilt that you should put your career on the back burner to spend more time with you kids? Sometimes I feel like I have my whole life to build my career, but my kids will only be young for a short time and I should "put them first" and just work as much as I need to for us to pay the bills. But this feeling quickly dissipates after about three consecutive hours alone with them! Also, I sort of feel like I've been waiting my whole life to write, or at least seriously attempt to write, a novel and I don't want to put it off forever. Just wondering if you ever have this struggle...

What a great question for the blog. Thanks for sending it in.

You know, I posted this because I think it is the struggle that marks so many of our lives, but I have to offer a full disclaimer before we launch into this discussion. I seem to have been born without a guilty gene. What I mean is that guilt trips rarely work on me (just ask my husband who caves at the first sign of a guilt trip and is both perplexed/amazed at my immunity to one) and I truly believe that guilt is often wasted energy. If I feel badly about something, I amend my behavior, and move on. Period. Done. I wash it of my mind. And yes, I DO sometimes feel guilty over being rude to my parents or whatever (yes, it happens!), but I'm just one of those people who is rarely affected by the emotion because it's often so easily fixable by actionable behavior.

BUT, that said, I certainly know what you're talking about, and I do feel that tug of emotion - but for me, I'm not sure if it's guilt, more really, of a longing - when my nanny takes the kids out the door, and I wonder if I shouldn't be spending more time with them. I think it is truly rare that you'll meet a 2008 mom who doesn't have this sort of conflict...in fact, it is one of the underlying themes of Time of My Life: how do you sustain yourself, how do you not give too much of your self, how do you find that balance between motherhood and the rest of your life?

For me, I find that balance in a couple of ways: I truly try to give my kids my complete attention when I'm not working - I give them breakfast every morning, dinner every night, take my son to school/camp nearly every day (occasionally my husband wants to do it...and I'm certainly not going to stop him!), and I put one of them, sometimes both if my husband isn't yet home, to bed each night. These are our rituals, and these are the ways that they know that I am there for them. When I have more time to give, I do. But when I don't, I don't spend a lot of time worrying about it because that's even more of a drain on my energy, and God knows that I don't have much in reserves.

Being a writer is nearly as much a part of me as being a mother. NOT as much, and there is NO DOUBT that I'd sacrifice everything - including, quite obviously, my career for my kids - but it is one of the most important pieces of who I am. I love being able to show my kids my byline or my books in our bookshelf or walking into a bookstore and hearing my son say, "Mommy, remember when you signed books here?" It's empowering to me, and thus, I know that I pass that empowerment on to them. What we get to do - put words on a page and (hopefully) get paid for them - is a pretty cool thing: it's creative and independent and intelligent all at once, and I really believe that my kids see that. For me, that's far better than spending 24/7 with them, which, like you, only makes me crazy. I love them more than anything on the planet - you know what kind of love I'm talking about - but that doesn't mean that I have to lose myself to motherhood.

So...I guess...to answer your question in a very long-winded way: I know that in doing this, I'm not only doing what's best for me, but I'm doing what's best for my kids. Yes, sometimes I feel those pangs of wishing I could whisk them out the door, but I also know that big picture, we'll all come out okay, more than okay, we'll all come out pretty great.

Working mommies out there - want to chime in on how you deal with guilt and motherhood?


Amie Stuart said...

They ARE only small once (and time really does fly! OMG I have a kid going to HS this fall!!! )

But I think it's more about the quality of time you spend with them rather than the quantity! I think youc an be a much better parent giving your kid three or four quality hours a day rather than 8 or 10 harried, hair-pulling hours.

I have two teens, a dayjob and I'm a single mom. It WAS easier when they were little...they actually seem to make more demands on my time now and it can get frustrating sometimes but I remind myself that, in four years, my oldest will go off to college (if he gets his act together and doesn't screw the pooch LOL). In all honesty, I think I'm actually more torn now than when they were younger because I can see that the sand running out of that hourglass!

Amie Stuart said...

PS LOL Allison @ no guilt gene. I've known enough folks in my life who have deliberately played that card--on a regular basis--that it really makes me mad. Which means it doesn't work much on me either (outside of my children).

Trish Ryan said...

This is a great question! I wonder if it's one of those things every woman has to figure out on her own? I don't have kids yet, and I think know how I'll balance writing & parenting someday...but the truth is, I have no idea how it will play out. I guess that's what gives us stuff to write about :)

Anonymous said...

I love chiming in here. My kids are 13 and 16 and I've been writing for about 2 years after a very long hiatus. My kids are thrilled, like Allison said, when one of my pieces is in the newspaper or I show them a magazine or website with my byline. I think kids sense when their mom (mostly moms) have a direction that is something in addition to mothering. The other day my daughter got in the car after a day with friends and said, "Melissa's mom is writing a novel too." Well, well, looks like the girls were talking about their moms. And my kids have done the "I'm on the front page of the Sunday newspaper section" dance with me.

I wish I'd have written when they were younger - I think that taking the time for myself and my personal/professional dreams and aspirations would have made me a better mom to little ones - it would have made me a better person too.

Better late than never!! :)

Kim Schworm Acosta said...

Thanks for your answer, Allison! Sometimes I think I don't have much of a guilty gene either, but then I start to feel guilty for not feeling guilty about loving work and needing it to stay sane. Most of the time, I feel good about my work/life balance and believe it works well for me and my family--if Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy, right?! I think doubt creeps in because I have many SAHMs in my family and environs so I'm a bit of the odd woman out.

Thanks again for your take! And yes, to Trish, I think it is something you have to figure out on your own and then, if whatever choice is working for you, your mate and your kids, feel good and don't look for validation beyond that because there will always be someone who will, at least tacitly, disagree.

An enlightening book of essays by writers on this topic is Mommy Wars by Leslie Morgan Steiner. Bad title (IMHO) but great book for mom writers.

Sarah Y said...

I had just posted about this when I read this post addressing the same issue. I amended my post with a link to this one.

We just got back from a vacation where I loved being with my baby constantly and daydreamed about quitting work to be with her all the time. Now that we're home I'm over it and ready to use my brain, not my boobs to nurse every 5 seconds.

You're solution is right on. I spend most of my time distracted by work when I'm with her and distracted by her when I'm trying to work. So everything ends up feeling half-assed.

suzanneelizabeths.com said...

ALthough I don't have children, I do applaud how Moms are able to do both...and especially find time to do the things that will really be remembered, meal time, putting the little ones to bed, being available for a conversation or a walk. My hats off to all of you.

Dawn Papandrea said...

Oh to be born without the guilt gene -- I envy you, Allison! :-) Just this morning I was checking my email when my 4 year old called me from the next room. So I asked what he needed and he said in the sweetest voice, "I need you, Mommy." I don't need to tell you that I immediately shut down my computer and we spent the rest of the day together. Of course, this is why I'm up doing work past midnight. But losing a little sleep is a small price to pay to have the best of both worlds.

Keetha said...

I am a single parent of a six year old and work full time. It's hard! There are my words of wisdom - it's a real challenge to find time to write.

I haven't yet figured this one out. It's a constant struggle. I know writers who waited until their children were older or grown to write. Sometimes I wish I could do that, but I just can't.

So I just keep on, keeping on, hoping it will get easier to make time to write.