Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Working Mom Guilt

As an update, Jeramy is feeling much better, and Jillian has not yet come down with the flu. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Also in terms of good news, we should be the owners of just one house very shortly as the sale of the old house should be final today or tomorrow.

Okay so here is the meat and potatoes of this post. Why is it that people expect working moms to feel guilty and conflicted about their choice not to stay at home. I ask this because I have had some instances lately where somebody IRL expects to feel horrible about working when I do not. I like my job. Obviously I need my job given that Jeramy is unemployed. And if one of us were to become a permanent, full-time, stay-at-home parent it would be him and not me.

So here is the thing...I don't feel guilty. Not one little bit. The first couple days I was a little sad, but nothing like I've seen other moms go through. Admittedly my transition has been easier than most. My mother-in-law who is now only two miles down the road watches Jillian (or Jeramy when he is not working at a real job or on the new house). Breastfeeding got screwed up in the very beginning so I haven't had any nursing problems. I'm not good at keeping myself entertained without the structure a job provides. And all this does not mean I'm a bad mom. I truly cherish my time with Jillian...good luck trying to get me to let you babysit during my oh-so-valuable evenings or weekends. I just don't feel bad about my choice, and I'm tired of being made to feel like I should.

So my question to you is this. Why do people expect moms to feel guilty about working, but nobody even thinks twice about a working dads?

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Updated to add...

Just to be clear I'm not saying there is anything wrong with preferring to be a SAHM or even having to work and hating it. I'm a big believer in doing whatever works for you and your family. I'm simply commenting on my own experience and frustrations here...

14 comments:

K @ ourboxofrain said...

First of all, I think it's totally normal to be happy to be back at work and not to feel at all conflicted about it. I have friends who have been all over the board on this issue, so I think pretty much any emotional reaction to the transition, be it more like grief or more like relief, is normal.

Second, I wholeheartedly agree with the question you posed in the end. My work has often had forums on work-life balance or discussions of parenting while lawyering, and they are always put on by the Women's Forum and pitched to women. People complain that biglaw lawyering is too time-intensive for women and get angry that there isn't a more family-friendly option, but they seem to forget that these issues affect men too. Just as I know women who have been relieved to return to work, I know men who have been devastated. And it pisses me off that so few people acknowledge that. In some ways, I think it's even harder for men, because most people recognize that not all women feel the same about how personally to strike the best balance between work and family, but never consider that men might differ as well.

Sorry this was such a long response! It's a pet issue of mine.

Heather said...

For people it was a BIG deal for me to leave my newborn that first week to go to the store. But, BigP did it every day and no one thought twice. I never understood that.

I couldn't imagine going to work and leaving Katherine - but I'm not a fan of jobs. I had a job I loved once and I gave it up when I married BigP and moved away. I knew I would never be able to do what I wanted again (in regards to a career). That was a decision I made. But, I can totally see how being a SAHM is NOT for everyone.

It is such old school thinking that the man should be the one to go to work and leave the women at home with the children...

Jennifer said...

I get those comments a lot. A coworkers wife (SAHM herself) actually told me when I was pregnant that I SHOULD stay at home - that it's best for babies. I WAS SO PISSED...she doens't even know me. People have strong opinions about things like this...I just wish they'd keep them to themselves. I enjoy working, even though I miss my sweetpea, but it helps me have a life outside of my home (and I'd go CRAZY staying at home full-time - not for me right now...maybe down the road someday, but not now).

CJ said...

Good, I'm so glad there isn't a flu plague at your house! And hooray for owning only one house. It wasn't easy, but you guys did a great job of unloading the old one.

As far as your working mom vs. SAHM question, I think it's a combination of biology and socialization. On a very basic level, I think women are hardwired more to be the caretakers of the munchkins. We carry the baby, give birth to it, and feed it. As much as feminists might argue, I think there is more of a genetic pull on women than on men to respond to our babies when they are needy. That is a blanket statement of course -- there are always exceptions.

And then we have been socialized that the husband's domain is bringing home the bacon, and the mother's is to fry it up for dinner. Even back in "the day" when women left the kitchen for the office, they had to work *in addition* to doing all the caretaker stuff -- the household duties were not shared equally. That is changing, of course, but it's not too far from memory. So regarding why the double standard on the guilt, I think it's because the direction we are coming from as a society. Men ALWAYS worked outside of the home, so there is no precedence for them staying home, thus it is never questioned. Women, however, have been in a changing position, which invites more examination of their motivations and emotions about the whole thing.

I also think that there are more women who have to work when they'd prefer to stay home than who have to stay home when they'd prefer to work. Sure, there are many cases when day care is too expensive and the wife quits her job to stay home. But I think it is more common that finances dictate that both parents work, even if the wife wants to stay home. Because those women have the pull to be a SAHM, they may feel guilty that they have to leave 5 days a week, and may assume others have the same guilt.

All that being said, of course there is guilt on both sides. I feel guilty that I don't contribute to the household financially... I only spend the money DH makes. I especially feel guilty when DH mentions that this coworker's wife is a bigshot lawyer and this coworker's wife is an ER surgeon. But no one is making me feel that way but me! DH and I both love that I am home with Bean, and I do find it incredibly rewarding. But in wanting to be the best wife/mom I can, I sometimes feel like I should be doing more, even when that's ridiculous and impossible.

So in short, all that rambling comes down to a couple of factors: biology, societal pressures, and the guilt that comes with having so much opportunity in life with limited time and resources to balance it all. I hope that made some sense. LOL

And like your disclaimer, I'll say that I can certainly understand why a mom would want to continue her career after her maternity leave. It is wonderful that we have the freedom to choose, even when it doesn't feel so "free" sometimes. And how depressing the world would be if every woman quit her job after she had a baby! Leaving men to run everything outside of the home, YIKES!!!

Road Blocks and Roller Coasters said...

I hear ya. Now that I'm back to work I really don't mind it all that much, but I have my parents watching Lemy and I get a lot of time off, so I have the best of both worlds. That said, I enjoy working but by the end of the day I am SO looking forward to my time with Lemy. I don't think there is anything wrong with wanting to work. Like you said, you've got to do what's best for you! :)

Cece said...

I could have written this post. I HATE IT when people give me this look of disgust when I admit I was actually a little relieved when I drove away from from daycare the first day. Taking care of a baby is HARD work. And although I did a good job at it (if I do say so myself) I'm honestly really good at my job too. And that is why they pay me the big bucks. Add in the fact that I work in technology - and if it took a couple years off - it would be both devestrating to our finances and my future career options.

I think you hit another nail on the head too - do you remember how f'ed up you felt when you stoppped breastfeeding? I can't remember if you tried pumping either? But that was some CRAZY hormones going on. So some of the women who were going crazy about going back to work were probably also dealing with either the horomone dip of stopping breastfeeding - or the stress of pumping. Although I was disappointed to have not had success at breastfeeding - there is definitly a plus side to formula feeding!!!

Huh. Another long response - guess this is something a lot of us have thought a lot about!

serenity said...

I was fortunate enough that I was home with Baby O for the first six months of his life. But I'll tell you something. I LOVE the thrill of my job. I love the time to myself. I love the intellectual stimulation. I love the feedback. I love working, and I love that it makes me cherish my time with him even more when I'm home. So I'm with you.

But I will say I was pretty emotional those first few days. My confliction when I went back to work was all about whether or not Baby O would do okay. As soon as he adjusted, the conflict went away.

I'm just saying that's how it worked for us.

(And I will say, sort of to respond to Cece's comment - I was BFing exclusively and then switched to pumping and nursing without issue. I can tell you that it was harder, but it didn't contribute to my stress at the time. I really honestly only worried about Baby O and his well-being.)

Nicky said...

(Wow -- way to start a conversation here! Not to mention drawing out a lot of us working moms from the blogosphere....)

I pretty much agree with serenity -- I love my job, I could never cut it as a SAHM, but I was still extremely emotional those first several days/weeks back at work. Some of it was the stress of pumping, but mainly it was concern about whether LL was being taken care of. Once I trusted his caretakers, it got a LOT easier.

As for why the assumption of guilt... I think it's because a lot of women DO feel guilty, and they're vocal about it, so everyone assumes that's the norm. But you so rarely hear a guy talking about guilt, that everyone assumes that they're all fine with it.

My husband and I have never been much for gender roles. If we ever reach a place where we'd be happy on one income, he could quit his job in a heartbeat to be a stay-at-home-dad. And he DOES feel guilty about being away from home long hours. But when we tell people that I'm definitely continuing my job, but he thinks about staying home, everyone assumes that we're joking.

kcmarie122 said...

I think you are exactly right. It is totally dependant on the person. I have a friend who will not go ANYWHERE without her child. Will not even leave her with family for a weekend get-away.

I know that as much as I will love my child (once we get him/her), I will have no problem leaving them for a weekend with people I trust.

I don't think it says anything about how much you love Jillian just because you don't have severe working mom's guilt! So don't let anyone give you a hard time about it. Everyone is different!

jenn said...

I don't know how much I can say about theuilt factor- I tend to agr gee that while it is messed up that it's an association almost always found with moms returning to work & almost never with dads, I don't know why we think that way.

I do agree that given the financial stability the hub would be the stay at home parent in less than a heartbeat. I fantasize on occassion about being a SAHM because I would love to be with her as much as possible, but I know right now- before even having this kid- it's not for me. I love my job, I love doing it & interacting with the multitudes of people I get to on a daily basis. I check my e-mails from home before I get ready for work to see what kind of day it will be. I couldn't give it up & I am pretty sure I will be returning guilt free & happy to be back. (of course- I also know that right now I will be thrilled if today was my last day!)

KandiB said...

I just heard a statistic on NPR the other day that a fathers role in raising/caring for his child(ren)is up to 31% (or something like that) of the total childrearing responsibility. That's up quite a bit from two decades ago. But, it still means that despite gender equality (of sorts)women are still claiming responsibity for 65-70% of all childrearing activities.

I guess that means that the majority of women are still staying at home - but that doesn't mean that you have to feel guilty about it.

Also, I've seen most of my friends start their families in their 20s and never really had an opportunity (and maybe never a drive) to have a career. Now that their kids are in school, they don't know who they are or what they want to do with the rest of their lives. I imagine men would be faced with the same dilemma if roles were reversed - the numbers just haven't caught up yet.

I love my career and love working - I wonder if I'd poke my eyes out if I was a SAHM. I mostly just feel guilty about someone else raising/being with our baby all day other than the two of us.

Curt said...

Why do people expect working moms to feel guilty but not think twice about working dads? It's not too difficult of a question - working dads is the cultural norm, working moms is not. When people visualize a stereotypical family, in most cases it is generally the mother engaged primarily in raising the children. As such, a fair number of people, both men and women, implicitly expect this of either themselves or their wives and of other women, and as a result, may feel that working moms who spend not a whole lot of time with their families should feel some guilt - more so than working dads.

To put it bluntly, it is all silly. People naturally think the way they do things is best and often fail to realize the vast number of ways to raise a family equally as well. Such narrow viewpoints are so bad that some actually think that fathers can't raise children as well as mothers do (a notion lawyers love to appeal to in divorce courts dealing with child custody at the expense of fathers). In the end, different situations call for different methods. However you adapt yours to be is more than likely fine so long as Jillian isn't neglected, which I know she isn't.

Ann said...

First of all, it's societal norms passed down for generations that makes people not think twice about working dads.

Second of all, everyone is wired differently--and everyone can't understand why everybody else doesn't feel the way they do. That's how self-involved we all are!

In my situation, it would be hard for me to work full time outside the home. In the same manner, though, it would be hard for me to stay at home without working. So I've found what works best for me--working a couple hours a day from home with my own business. Some people would say doing that means I don't do either of my jobs--mom or writer--very well. But it works for me, just like working full time works for you.

Amanda said...

I think people expect Moms to be racked with guilt over not being home with the baby. It seems to be the way we were raised, or something. Until I'd met a few Moms that worked because they loved it, I assumed all women wanted to be SAHM. My Sister, my old boss and a few bloggers I know all enjoy working and admit that if they stayed at home they would probably feel like they were missing something. They'd also go nuts. :-)

I think it's just dependant on the person. It's great that you enjoy your job and have such a great system set up for Jillian.

And hooray for Jillian not getting sick (knock on wood)!