Mom-101 had another beautifully written post about the push and pull of being a working mother, in which she has to send her kids to "take the kids to work day" with the nanny, because she has to be out of the office on a big project. The post got me thinking about a couple of things. The first was that my kids are getting seriously cheated out of any awesome "take your kids to work day" goodness. We don't go in for that stuff in the biotech industry, possibly out of fears about liability with having bunches of children wandering through the labs, and possibly because we aren't, for the most part, actually profitable companies, and venture capitalists expect us to use their money to make drugs, not provide cool things to the employees' kids.
The second was that there sure are a lot of people feeling guilty about doing the right thing.
me explain. The original post mentions feeling guilty, but the actual
vibe I got from it wasn't of guilt- more of "boy, this sucked... but my
kids actually made it all better." But then a lot of the comments talk
about "working mom guilt." And that sort of bothered me, because why,
exactly, are working moms feeling guilty? For making the money that
helps feed and clothe their kids? For doing the thing that makes them
happy, well-adjusted women (and mothers)?
I've written before about how I think mothers have always worked at something other than mothering,
and I wrote a comment mentioning that. Mom-101 responded that she
didn't feel guilty for working, but rather for disappointing her kids.
Which is fair enough, but her kids didn't sound disappointed in that
post. (Of course, I wasn't there, and actually have no idea whether her
kids were disappointed.) She sounded disappointed,
and who wouldn't be? It sounds like an awesome event and I would want to
take my kids to it, too. But is that really guilt? And if it is guilt,
why? She didn't do anything wrong. She had a work commitment that
rightly had to take priority over a "nice to have" event for the kids,
so she found another way for her kids to go and have fun at the event
while she did the work she needed to do. This sounds like the absolute
right thing to do to me.
This got me thinking about a comment Today Wendy left on an earlier post of mine,
in which she said that she thought people often conflate guilt with
other negative emotions, like frustration, possibly because it is more
socially acceptable to express guilt. Today Wendy's comment has been
bouncing around in my head for a long time, and I've been meaning to
write a post about it. So I took this idea and ran with it.... Here is
what I said on Mom-101's post:
But is that really guilt?
I’ve been thinking about this off and on all day, and almost didn’t
come back to leave this comment because of course I can’t say how you
feel and only a complete jerk would try.
And now I’m going to be that complete jerk, because I kept thinking
about another comment someone once left on a post of mine. (I get such
smart comments… it is the best thing about blogging! Well, that and the
chance to ramble on about whatever I want to.)
Anyway, the comment said that she thought people sometimes conflate
guilt with other feelings that make us feel bad. So we say we’re feeling
guilty, when really we’re sad, or just wish that things could be
different. It seems like semantics, but I think it is important, because
guilt implies we think we’re doing something wrong and that we should
have done something differently. The rest of the world picks up on that
and the idea that we ARE doing something wrong perpetuates, when of
course we aren’t. We are just making the trade offs that come with life.
We have done the right thing, it is just that the right thing isn’t the
So, I feel guilty if I have a hard day at work and therefore lose my
cool at my kids and yell. Or, for that matter, when I have a hard day at
home with them and therefore lose my cool and yell. But I don’t feel
guilty when I have a late meeting and their father has to take them to
soccer practice- then I feel a little sad that I’m missing something,
but not guilty, because my family needs my income and I need my job to
stay sane. Staying for that late meeting was the right thing to do, even
if in a perfect world it would have been on a different night and I
could have gone to BOTH the meeting and soccer practice.
FWIW, I read your original post and didn’t read guilt. I read “gee,
this sucked but my kids are so awesome that they fixed it.” My comment
about guilt was more in response to the guilt I read in other comments
than what I read in your original post. Sorry, I failed to say that. And
of course, only you know if you felt guilty or sad or something else
altogether. I don’t mean to imply I know how you felt, or- worse!- that I
know how anyone SHOULD feel. I’m just throwing something out there for
us all to think about as we try to make happy lives as working mothers.
What do you think? Does it matter if we say we're feeling guilty
when we're actually feeling something else, like sad, or frustrated? I
don't feel a lot of honest-to-goodness working mom guilt. If you do, do
you know why? What is that you think you're doing "wrong?" Or do you
think guilt can come from something other than feeling like you are
doing the "wrong" thing?