Mommy Guilt

This morning, as I was leaving for work, Kaia asked me to stay home. She said, “You not go to work and see me?” When I said that I had to go, she responded “Me go to work too.” It broke my heart a little.

I am not the first mom to experience mommy guilt. It’s an emotion that predates women in the workforce. (Note: Among U.S. minorities, work outside the home, such as childcare and domestic work, has historically been the standard.) I desire to be the very best parent I can, yet I experience guilt any time I perceive myself as falling short.

I’ve been back at work since Kaia was three months old. My leave seemed too brief to me then, but I realize that I was fortunate to have that long at home with her. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) only requires that jobs are protected for three months; whether or not you get paid during FMLA leave is up to your employer. I received full pay for eight weeks of my leave through my company’s short-term disability policy and used vacation time to cover the rest. Most mothers I know get far less.

But even if I’d had 240 paid days at home like moms in the UK, I’d miss her now. After my 11-hour workdays (including my 3-hour roundtrip commute), I barely have time to feed her, bathe her and read a couple of books before bedtime. Our interaction is so limited during the week that I focus on being totally available and present on the weekends. (Translation: I don’t have a social life.) And yet, every Monday morning, and each weekday thereafter, I still feel the familiar pangs of guilt for leaving her.

I feel guilty even though Kaia has spent most of her days surrounded by people who love her. She was cared for by my parents until two weeks ago when she began a full-day preschool program. I wished I could have eased the transition for her by starting her in a half-day program or sending her only two or three days in the beginning, but I couldn’t.

Even on the first day of school, she didn’t cry when I left. She was excited about the newness of the situation. But the second day, and each day since, she has clung to me for dear life. It’s not that she doesn’t want to be there; she just wants me to stay there with her.

I don’t worry about her mornings or afternoons. I know she likes spending time with her new friends and learning new things. I worry about the end of the day, when my long commute may cause her to consistently be one of the last kids to be picked up.

I worry about her even though current research shows that little girls are better off when their moms work. Daughters of employed mothers are:

  • More likely to have high academic achievement, greater career success, nontraditional career choices and greater occupational commitment
  • More positively assertive (participating in class discussions, asking questions, being comfortable in leadership positions) and less likely to “act out”
  • Less shy, more independent and have a higher sense of efficacy
  • Less likely to see being a woman as limiting—believing that women can excel at traditional male-dominated activities

Research notwithstanding, I still worry. But, I hear “worrying” is one thing that all parents do. Imagine that.

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