Although I loved my time spent on maternity leave and enjoyed the precious year I spent with my now 2-year-old son, I kicked off my post-baby working phase on a high—excited to return back to work and engage in intellectual stimulation!
However, as my son has grown older, more communicative, and more independent, I find myself feeling increasingly guilty that I am not present enough in his life since going back to work. I sometimes worry that I am missing the cutest, “melt-worthy” moments and milestones, or that I am being ‘selfish’ by not choosing to be a stay-at-home mom.
When these feelings naturally come, I remind myself of a few important things:
Know that compromises are inevitable.
It’s important to be very clear why you have chosen the path to be a working mom. Whether it be financial, satisfaction, sanity, etc., it could be helpful to create a list as to why you’ve decided to make this choice. Personally, I love the full days I get to spend with my son. In fact, I cherish them! However, part of the reason I’m able to feel this way is because of the (always a work in progress) balance I instil with my career, friends, and alone time with my husband. I know that my son and my husband are all better off because I have a rewarding career outside of my home.
Be kind to yourself.
It's easy to feel guilt-ridden if I’m too tired to read my child 5 stories before bed (or the same story 5 times), or when I come home a little later after a long day at work. Instead of focusing on the “shoulds” of parenting, try replacing that word with “could.” It re-focuses the thought so that there is less judgment towards yourself. By noticing this negative self-talk, you are actually giving yourself permission to do what works best for you and your family. Sometimes this means being okay with picking up a chicken from your local rotisserie instead of cooking, or giving your husband the opportunity to do the bedtime routine.
Perfect mom? Please.
Never feeling anxious, guilt-ridden, or exhausted is unrealistic. We are living in a culture of perfectly curated instagram pictures where houses always look clean, kids are always smiling, and meals look like they should be on the cover of magazines. The photos can be both fun and triggering to look at. Regardless, we need to know this isn’t reality. Kids have (and should have) tantrums, they’re messy (almost always) when they eat, and it's uncommon for their sleep to be perfect every single night. It's important not to shame yourself if your life doesn’t resemble these perfectly curated Instagram feeds. Although this blog post is not a parenting manifesto (I can save that for another blog!), It’s who we are as parents that shape our kids to be glorious, perfectly imperfect beings. What matters most is how we generally role model confidence, kindness, and self-respect. You don’t need to be a ‘picture perfect’ parent to be a great parent.
Who invited the critics?
Some women thrive on judging other women’s parenting, but the best mothers I’ve met don’t feel the need to critique others’ parenting styles. They’re more interested in doing the best they can for their own kids. We all differ in personalities, preferences and circumstances, and we all have a different definition of what we believe is good parenting. Working parents deserve encouragement, not condemnation.
Try to be there.
We can spend 24/7 with our kids and yet never fully be present with them. Kids at any age sniff out this lack of attunement pretty quickly. Although it is unrealistic to always be fully tuned in with our kids, it is important to have intentional blocks of uninterrupted quality time to foster that necessary connection and attachment bond. I believe that an hour of focused quality time with your kid is better than 5 hours of distracted time.
Spend less time feeling guilty and more time letting your kids know they’re wanted, loved and loveable.
That’s a much better use of time. Don’t you think?
Rebecca Herberman is a clinical therapist at our Toronto clinic.