At about three-thirty on a recent Sunday afternoon, I was Mom-ed out. Oh, it hit me a second too late—right after I said a cuss word in front of my two children. Don’t get me wrong, this has happened before. You know, like when a painfully slow driver in front of you won’t pull over in the shoulder so you can pass him—and you curse his name under your breath. But this time, I actually answered my three-year-old son’s question with a “I don’t know how in the hell to fix your truck!” (Think all caps.) I didn’t miss a beat, though. I kept talking as if nothing had happened. And, to be honest, I don’t think my children know what bad words are (thankfully).
But I know. And, that’s the problem. The guilt settled in. I’m pretty sure every mother—and father—knows what I’m talking about. I’m not alone. My experiences as a mother are probably very similar to millions of others. I’m lucky that I have two healthy and happy kids. I’m lucky that I have a support group—a husband who does more than his share of carpooling and helping out, parents and siblings who love to baby sit. You get the idea. But every once in a while, it all seems to bite me in the you-know-what (I’m trying to get the kids to refrain from using the word “butt”). I got an inkling of what it would be like to be a working mom when my sister-in-law sent me I Don’t Know How She Does It, a clever book about, what else, a working mom. I finished it in the hospital after the birth of our daughter. If only I’d known that I should have been saving that time for sleeping.
After three months of maternity leave, I was ready to be back at work. Sorry, sweet girl. I needed to get out of my sweats and talk to real people. We had a wonderful nanny who had kids and grandchildren of her own. She knew more about taking care of an infant than we did. Then I got the call. By this time, my daughter was in preschool, enjoying playing side-by-side with her peers, cute little eight- and nine-month old boys and girls. Another mom wanted to know if my little darling could switch a day with her son because of a scheduling conflict. I told her I would be happy to help but that I had to check with my nanny. There was a pause and then she said, “Oh, you’re a worker.”
I can still feel that sting to this day, like someone slapping me hard across the face. “Oh, you’re a worker.” That one statement made me question every thing I was doing. Was I not a good mom? Had I shed my parental duties? Was I somehow ruining my daughter’s life? Was I being selfish? I eventually learned to laugh it off, and now it is a joke between my husband and myself. But it got me thinking—and inspired me to work even harder, as a mom and as a full-time employee.
And that’s when it started to get crazy. The play dates, the after-school activities, the birthday parties, the holiday treat bags. Don’t even get me started on the cookies I made this past Christmas. I stayed up well past midnight baking homemade chocolate chip (I felt guilty for using pre-made dough last year) and then stuffing them into cute clear plastic baggies tied with string with a card and a Barnes and Noble gift certificate attached. I tasted one, and it was rather dry and almost burned. I could have done myself a favor (and the teachers) by ordering a dozen from Tiff’s Treats and stuffing those into the cute clear plastic baggies.
For a long time, our son didn’t get to do much but attend preschool. It was too difficult to figure out the logistics of it all. But then the guilt began to settle in when I saw his friends on play dates together. Why should he be deprived of having fun just because his parents are terribly busy and his sister is overscheduled (that’s another hot topic at our house).
My iPhone transformed everything. I used to say people needed to separate their jobs from their home life (and to a degree, that’s still true), but now I can check work e-mail while I’m picking up the kids from school. I’m constantly in touch. At a recent all-day editorial retreat, I spent almost every minute of the two or three morning breaks texting moms trying to find a ride for my son to his swimming class. I had realized in the middle of the meeting that my daughter had ballet at the same time as swimming and that my husband couldn’t be at both places at once.
This past weekend I took the kids to the neighborhood park so my daughter could play with her reading buddy from elementary school. As I shared “how do you do it” stories with the girl’s mom, I realized once again that almost every mother has the same anxieties and guilt trips and scheduling headaches—workers or not. Thank God it isn’t just me! She also shared some advice: A friend of hers has every project due date, play date, gymnastics gig, breakfast meeting, cocktail party, and soccer meet on her Outlook calendar—and each person in her family has a different color. I’m going to set mine up this way too, when I get a spare moment.