Wednesday, November 8, 2017
Guest post: Mommy guilt - the struggle is real
One of the first things I did when I got a job that paid money was hire a cleaning lady. It was a given that I would, since I hate housework, and am no good at it. I actually suck pretty hard at it. As time went on, I outsourced more and more stuff. Some of it was because we suddenly had things we never had before, like backyards–who’s got time to mow that? Landscaper!–and children. Oh, children. They’re outsourced more than anything else. They’ve got daycare, tutors, and a babysitter. And right now, we’re pared down, because there is only one babysitter. There was a point in time when I had two: one for drop off and one for pickup. Apparently, getting a cleaning lady is a source of shame or guilt for some people–women, mostly–because they take it as a point of pride that they clean their own house, even if they could afford help, because it makes them a real woman. Or something. Some even insist that they [airquote] like it or even that it [airquote] relaxes them. (You should see the face I’m making right now. Hint: it’s full of skepticism) I work in a highly Portuguese area, and these women are nuts about their houses. But not me. I hate cleaning and I outsource it. And I never felt badly about it, until I was told I was supposed to, that is. Same with being a working mommy. Everyone always worked in my family, and I never thought it was any big thing, but now that I have kids, apparently, I’m supposed to be torn apart by guilt, or so TV, BabyCenter.com, and social media tell me. And you know what, their influence is not to be ignored, because the struggle has become pretty darn real. Any working mother knows the awful tug and pull of the mommy guilt. You’re tired and you need the help, but you also want to do things for the kids and the house because it makes you a true mom. Or something. The more you suffer, the more it shows that you’re a tough mother, so to say. The guilt is terrible, and it has so many layers. It’s a freaking milhojas. Behold: a) you feel guilty that you’re not doing enough for and with your kids; b) you don’t want to do stuff with your kids and you feel guilty about that; c) you work and you feel guilty that you’re not home; d) you know you’d suck at being at home (because see the first paragraph. I suck really hard at all that stuff), and you feel guilty about that; e) you don’t want to stay home anyway, and… you guessed, you feel guilty about it. And do not underestimate the power of other mommies. The good ones say, “Everyone makes the choices that are right for them and their family,” with the subtext being “the only right choice is my choice.” The mean ones straight up put you down for your choices. “Nothing like being with mommy!” vs. “Contributing nothing to society.” It’s a big deal. Just the other day, I ran into a fellow young doc at the hospital, and via smalltalk we figured out that he had just had his third baby, and that his wife was staying home. “And let me tell you,” he adds. “The behavior in our younger children? Huge difference.” Now granted, I was annoyed and due to my own insecurities, so the next statement does me no credit. “Oh,” I say. “So should I quit my job and go stay home with the kids?” No sooner were the words out of my mouth, and Fellow Young Doc didn’t even have the chance to utter some PC comment, a random nurse, whose name I don’t know and who was not a part of the conversation, sticks her nose, literally, between the two of us, and says, emphatically: “YES!” I kind of looked at her, open mouthed. She then elaborated, in case I didn’t get the point: “Yes! I stayed home with my kids, and let me tell you, it’s always better when mommy is around!” She said it a couple of more times too. Fellow Young Doc removed himself politely from the conversation, and I was left to pout and seethe. Here’s a paradox, catch 22, predicament for the modern woman today. We’re supposed to have all this choice, but what happens when we make the choice? If we choose motherhood and family – we’re wasting female brainpower and negating years of the feminist movement. Don’t you want more for yourself? If, on the other hand, we choose career and work – we are a failed unfulfilled woman. What is a woman without a child? If we do both – we are doing a half assed job at both. What’s the point of having kids if someone else raises them? (which, by the way, is something I have heard multiple times as well from random judgmental people). And if you’re working part time, do you have the best or the worst of both worlds? Or are you just doing a half assed job half of the time? So, here I am feeling guilty about the fact that yes, I work, but I don’t work that hard, and I still have a nanny, a cleaning service, a landscaper, and now we’ve even found a service that will deliver delicious home cooked meals twice a week. And I’m all, Oh boo hoo, I only see my kids for an hour each day…. Then, I picked up Mary Poppins to read to my son. By the way, have you ever read the actual book?? Julie Andrews has it all wrong in the movie with her sunny disposition. The real Mary Poppins from the book is very unpleasant, and I really don’t understand why the kids were so smitten with her because she’s kind of mean to them, and she’s always sniffing and paying herself compliments, and looking down her nose at everyone. Anyway, the book starts with the old nanny leaving, and Mrs. Banks being incredibly stressed about that. Meanwhile, remember, Mr. Banks had told her that to have 4 kids they’d have to live in a shabby house because they aren’t rich. So they’re living in a shabby house with 4 kids, a nanny, a cook, a maid, a lady who does, and a gardner. And the mom presumably doesn’t work, because people didn’t back then. And she’s so stressed out about having lost one of her 5 staff, and having to spend time with her children. And not an ounce of guilt. Yeah, so now, I feel guilty about feeling guilty. I really seriously cannot win. Can’t we all just give ourselves a break? I have no helpful advice. I just wanted to point out the struggle because I know I’m not the only one. -Sasha Retana, MD.