My mom and dad were and are amazing parents — their parenting was the standard to which I held myself. We were an upper-middle class suburban family, where my father worked outside the home and my mother was the stay-at-home parent. When I found out I was pregnant in August of 2015 I thought for sure that I already had motherhood in the bag. My parents had set such a great example, I just knew I would seamlessly take on this new role. From the start there was one big difference: I was going to be a working mom outside the home.
I’m a registered nurse and make the majority of our income, so cutting hours or staying home was never an option. I saved every cent of disposable income (that I didn’t spend on items for the baby). I started saving my paid time off at work. I took all of the classes, read all of the books and blogs, and knew that I’d be one of those women that seemingly “has it all” — the job, the family, the padded income, the ability to separate work and family lives… you know, the fake bullshit that we see on manufactured social media pages. I thought that was not only achievable, but also realistic. I’m sure that, as parents, you as readers know how hilarious this idea was.
My son Owen was born in March. Thank goodness I was able to save as much money as I did, because my out-of-pocket cost for his birth (requiring an induction and an epidural, which didn’t take) was astronomical. I also was only paid for two weeks during my maternity leave, and had utilized all of my paid time off before my three months of leave were up, so I had to pay for our insurance out of those savings. I hemorrhaged through thousands of dollars in the immediate period following Owen’s birth. I knew having kids was expensive, but this!
Returning to work, especially full-time, was excruciating.
I cried in the medication room, while I was pumping and on the car rides to and from work. My husband was able to cut his hours down so that he could be home the days I worked. We barely saw each other for the first year-and-a-half of Owen’s life. When we finally bit the bullet and sent Owen to daycare, the guilt that I felt multiplied exponentially. Don’t get me wrong, I love Owen’s daycare. The photos I get of him smiling and playing with his little friends ensures that we’ve made the right choice, but, again, the guilt of not spending those hours with my only child rips my heart apart. Even as I sit here and type this while Owen sits next to me eating grapes and watching The Wiggles, my eyes are welling up because I know that I’ll be at work at 6:30am tomorrow — before he wakes up — and he’ll go to daycare, and then I’ll get home after 8:00pm, and he will be asleep.
I can only speak for myself, but being a mom feels like I’m always failing in one aspect of my life. If I ever get the opportunity to stay at home, then I’ve failed in my career. If I get more involved in work and pursue my doctorate to become a nurse practitioner (I’m in the midst of getting my masters now), then I’ve failed my family.
Owen is technically a special needs child: he had hearing loss related to numerous ear infections, which required surgery, and is in speech therapy weekly. Now his speech pathologist believes he has an oral defensiveness sensory processing disorder. Like almost any parent, I blame myself. I accuse myself of not doing enough soon enough. I blame myself for the tantrums that he throws when he is frustrated from not being able to adequately communicate. I blame myself for being dismissive of sensory processing disorders. I just… blame myself.
While only I am responsible for how I perceive my parenting, my feelings are part of a bigger, systematic problem. Mothers are expected to work as if they don’t have families, but raise families as if they don’t have jobs. We are expected to work over 40 hours a week, but we are judged when we require childcare. Women with careers shun stay-at-home moms, as if being an attentive parent isn’t one of the most critical and challenging jobs on the planet. God forbid a stay-at-home mom also have childcare so she can, I don’t know, self-care and be an individual person unattached from her spawn for, like, two freaking hours. And what’s the expectation of fathers? Literally nothing. Don’t read this wrong, my husband is a fantastic and involved partner, but you can’t sit there and tell me that men don’t get accolades for essentially not abandoning their kids. I’ve seen grown men get congratulated for “babysitting” their own children. Ridiculous.
I know I can’t fix society’s unjust expectations of mothers. And I know I’m my harshest critic. I don’t want to miss out on Owen’s childhood because I’m so afraid of my own failures. But I also know I’m not alone; if I feel this way, many other mothers do, too. Sometimes being a mom means planning a science-themed scavenger hunt for your kids throughout your city. Sometimes it means the kids eat peanut butter off of a spoon and fall asleep on the couch at midnight after “accidentally” watching the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Either way, you’re doing it, mama. Your kids are fed. Your kids are clean. Your kids are loved. Your kids have a role model to whom they will look to their entire lives on how to absolutely crush parenting. You are your kids’ whole world. You are enough.