I'm thinking about opting out of mom guilt
“You’ll never guess what she said.”
I’m catching up with my husband on a quick phone call during a work trip, trying to decide between the chambray dress or the black for the next day’s meetings. “She asked me if you don’t like being a mother and that’s why you work.”
My brain froze, unable to come up with an appropriate response. I retorted, “What? Would anyone ever ask you if you work because you don’t like being a dad?”
“I know, it’s ridiculous.”
It was ridiculous, and it also stung–not because it was true–but because it struck a cord with the self-judgment I still had toward the way that I chose to mother, even 5 years into my motherhood journey.
I've never felt guilty about leaving my kids
I’ve never felt guilty about leaving my kids, even though it’s widely acknowledged that almost all mothers in the Western world do feel some level of mom guilt. I realize that I am in the minority, but it has never made sense to me in that particular context. Every time I travel, whether for work or fun, I know that my kids are well taken care of and fine without me–and I will be back soon enough. The time away from them is either necessary for my paid job or important for my mental health.
My first solo trip away from my oldest child was a girls’ weekend with some friends, when he was 16 months old. The trip was pure joy, and I didn’t feel guilt over one second of it. I did, however, feel conspicuous, as if I was walking around missing a vital body part. In some ways I resented that I could never enjoy the same unencumbered freedom of life before his birth, where I could simply enjoy a moment alone without feeling a tug from an invisible string that forever ties my heart to his. It’s one thing to know that your child is fine, happy, well-taken care of. It’s another to resist the biology that reminds you of your responsibility, your all-consuming love and concern for a tiny, vulnerable person that is under your care. It’s not something you can turn off.
Traveling for work
When my twins were 5 months old, I started traveling for work several times a year. It was hard, logistically, of course. That first trip I lugged my dinosaur of a hospital grade breast pump to a conference– thank God they had a special room set up complete with snacks for parents and a fridge to store milk. Sneaking away to pump every few hours wasn’t ideal, but it was manageable.
After they weaned around 15 months, traveling solo felt more like a luxury, and honestly, downright relaxing. I often save a good book for the occasion and revel in being able to get lost in a story for a long stretch of time.
I’ve heard stories of mothers telling other mothers that they would have to be a psychopath to not feel mom guilt. Yet the phrase “dad guilt” does not exist because society doesn’t put the same expectations on fathers.