There are all types of mothers out there; working mothers, stay at home mothers, mothers that work part time -- all sorts of arrangements. With all their differences, I'd venture to say that at least one common thread exists among them: they all have some level of guilt.
The sources of the guilt are endless: Working outside the home too much, not working outside the home and contributing to the family income, not keeping the house impeccable enough, not being attentive enough to the children when you are at home... the list goes on. While many men don't escape this phase of parenthood without any guilt, it's different due to our society's expectation that the majority of men go to work each day. With women, it's often seen as a choice, even though, in reality, it very often is a necessity.
My sense of guilt as a mother revolves around the fear of not doing enough or not being "present" (both literally and figuratively) at all times.
My 5-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia last December. For obvious reasons, she is currently not able to attend school and I am home with her. All day. Every day. For the first several months, we were literally housebound to avoid exposure to germs with her weakened immune system, with the exception of visits to the doctor. We had just moved to a new city and didn't have any babysitters. Honestly, I wouldn't have felt comfortable leaving her at that point, anyway. She is a beautiful, energetic "chatterer" who would prefer to have me engaged in some type of playful activity at all times. I usually oblige, but sometimes... well, I just can't! After I say no or encourage her to play on her own, guess what comes next... guilt. I generally always am faced with thoughts of fleeting time and the realization that one day, in the not too distant future, she is going to be a teenager and her desire for interaction with mommy will drastically dwindle. And then, before I know it, gasp -- she will be off to college!
Recently, about four months into her treatment, we found this wonderful nurse/babysitter who is extremely energetic, loves to play and is also qualified to assist with medical care, should the need ever arise. She comes a couple times a week and every time I return home, they are doing something fun and interactive like making kites, playing outside or reading books. I think most mothers would concur that it's not easy to find such a caretaker.
My little angel has become quite accustomed to spending time with me 24-7 since her diagnosis in December and doesn't like when I leave. I think it's fairly common for young children to protest when their parents leave, and we know they'll be fine five minutes after we walk out the door. Still, the guilt I feel upon leaving is immense. This morning when I broke the news to her that the babysitter was coming, huge tears started streaming down her face and she cried in desperation, "No mommy, I want to come with you! Why can't I come with you?" Stick a dagger in my heart. Here comes the guilt.
The truth of the matter was that I didn't have a meeting or some other type of appointment I had to go to. I wasn't going anywhere they didn't allow kids. I just needed some "me" time. Some quiet time to drink my coffee, listen to Howard Stern in my car if I felt so inclined, and maybe just stare at the wall in silence. But, are those good enough -- or important enough reasons?
Rationally, I know that everyone needs a break and it will make me a better mom to have some time to myself. But, when your child doesn't want you to go (and I'm not even taking into account the fact that my child has a life-threatening illness), it's hard not to feel the guilt. I also know that one day soon, God willing, she will be healthy enough to go back to school, and relearning how to be separated from me for a few hours is essential to her own well-being.
It's difficult to strike a balance between being everything our kids need us to be and maintaining our sanity and individuality. Different people need different things to feel "complete." Different people are willing to sacrifice different things for their children. One person's definition of sacrifice is different than the next. All healthy definitions are to be respected. But the fact remains that these little people are under our wing for such a short amount of time that there is the undeniable pressure to "get it right" and give everything we can now to make it better for them in the future. There is no one "right" way to do it and all we can do is our best. It is up to each of us to determine what "our best" is going to be and how we're going to pull it off.
So, here I am during my "me" time, reflecting on and writing about my guilt for not being with my child at this moment, instead of embracing the time I have to myself. Sweet irony at its best.