In Which I Betray Some Mommy Guilt, Thus Opening Myself Up to Faceless Internet Trolls Who Will Critique My Parenting Skills and–Worse–Declare Me Unfunny

by anna on September 9, 2008

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Have you seen my son? I mean, I know you haven’t seen his face directly, since I always cut the pictures off. But surely you can get a sense of him from those haphazardly cropped pictures, and the narratives I share about him, and when I put myself in his subject position for the recaps of our weekly family “enrichment” activities. There really is no person quite like Mini. I love him so much that it occasionally scares me.
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I am telling you this to soften the blow of the next statement, which is: That said, sometimes it’s hard to be a mom. Like yesterday morning, when our nanny called in sick, and I had to rearrange my plans for the day so that I could be a Mom the whole day, instead of just half. And what a first world dilemma it was to be faced with on a Monday morning.
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I don’t know if I’ve told you people about this but I have a part time nanny who comes on weekday mornings so that I can get a little time off to do “adult things.” Sometimes these adult things are “important,” like going to doctors appointments or going to the bank, and sometimes they are not so “important,” or rather, more flexible, like writing for this blog and coming up with new ideas and strategies for the growth of this blog as a business. Or, you know, getting my eyebrows done and then taking pictures of pointy trees at Pacific Design Center. Grown-up stuff.
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By the way, the beginning of that last paragraph is totally disingenuous. I KNOW I haven’t told you that we have a part-time nanny. I know because even though I intellectually get that there is no reason to be ashamed of this fact, I still sometimes FEEL ashamed. Or less than, somehow, because I don’t do it all by myself.
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Because is one, incredibly cute, really quite well-behaved boy with a beautiful disposition–is it really THAT hard, Anna?
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We first got our nanny when Mini was four months old. I had to finish my dissertation, and that was the official reason for hiring a nanny. By the end of December, when Mini was 8 months old, I had finally finished it, after almost 8 years of dicking around. And everybody was like, “Wow, you finished it WITH a baby! Amazing.” And I, as usual, was like, “Uh, yeah.” Because I knew, but I would not tell anybody, that part of what made me be able to finish the damn thing was that it came at the price of time away from my son. I felt like time away from him had better well be time well-spent.
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And man, I really needed that time away, even if I had to spend it mentally masturbating about the coquette-figure in 18th-century British literature.
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So, it was done, and theoretically I could go back to full time mom. But the thing is, I figured out during that first four months that I am not really that good at being a full time Stay at Home Mom. I did it, yes. And I did it with a colicky baby, too. But it is not my calling, and by the end of the day I would be thinking, “how did this happen? how did I get here?” And I even remember a few times, in the early days, when Mr. Right-Click would leave for work, I would start crying after I heard the garage door close, because I didn’t want him to hear me. And for a few days I really thought I had ruined my life.
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Now, this was all before I went back on my medication for major clinical depression. And more importantly, it was before I had really fallen in love with Mini. Oh sure, everybody SAYS it happens instantly, but I found that was more of an instantaneous obsession with the maintenance and insurance of safety of another life. THAT stuff happens right away.
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But the love part comes a little later, say at 6 weeks, when they first smile at you. Ahh.
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The truth is that, though I have many gifts, one of them is not patience. And I try very hard to always be patient with my son, and by the end of those first four months, my husband would come home to a really cranky bitch who snapped at him constantly, largely from the strain of having to be “on” for the whole day as primary caretaker of our son.
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I wish I had more energy and more patience, I really do. I wanted to be a mom who could selflessly devote herself to her son around the clock. But I am not that person. So, we kept the nanny, even though I didn’t have a “reason” for her. And so Mini has grown up for the past year with a nanny in the mornings, Mommy in the afternoons, both Mommy and Daddy at night and on the weekends.
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He gets tons of attention, though it is not exclusively from me. But when he is around me, I am almost always very happy to be with him, having missed him in the morning, and having banked up some patience for him during our time apart.
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He is a pretty happy kid, so I think he is OK with it.
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But oh the guilt. I am not so guilty about this anymore, because I have been doing it for a year, but those early days were tough. My husband kept asking me, again and again, to call the nanny referral service ALREADY because I was such a pain in the ass. I felt like a failure. And I did have the dissertation as an excuse at the time, but there is part of me that feels like there should not have to always be an excuse . . . in another time, or another place, I would not have to face this choice of caring for a young child by myself alone all day, or feeling like a shitty mother. Because there would be other people around–extended families, or depending upon social station, nurses and nannies would be expected instead of looked at as though they are some kind of self-indulgent extravagance.
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And what it comes down to, again, is that once you have a child there are no easy answers. And this is true for both parents, but it is most profound, in my opinion, for the mother. Because no matter what choice you make, you will be compromising something. Observation of the century, right there.

{ 20 comments }

Amy September 9, 2008 at 10:39 am

ummm….I don’t have a kid AND I only work Tues-Friday, and I am still planning on getting a house cleaning service. Why haven’t I yet? Because of the guilt. But – I think that there is no reason to feel guilty at all. Unless you’re me, of course.

Linds September 9, 2008 at 11:07 am

I think that you are a better mother for taking care of yourself, in addition to taking care of Mini. Especially for someone who has chronic depression, I think it is important to make sure that we look after ourselves, so that we *can* look after others. Your time with Mini, IMO, is of a higher quality *because* you look after your own needs. I applaud your decision to keep the nanny.

Heather September 9, 2008 at 11:27 am

This is coming from a twenty-something without any children but you know, I don’t understand why so many mothers/fathers give other mothers/fathers a hard time from wanting a break for themselves. Yes, you are a mother but that should not be your entire existence. You are also a person, with wants and needs that should be fulfilled with outside interests. My mom was a stay at home mom and you know, she deserved a break from her kids. She had hobbies that didn’t include my brother and I and that was good for her. You need adult interaction too and it’s good for your child to discover other people in his world exist, he needs different people to socially interact with.

Besides, I’ve learned that some (not all) mothers who’s ENTIRE lives revolve solely around their children, are the ones that suffer from empty nest syndrome and do nothing but pester their adult children and meddle. Because they don’t have anything else in their life. Sorry, I sounded really ranty but I just don’t think you should feel guilty and ashamed for doing a little something for yourself. If you know you’re a good mother and that your son is happy and healthy, that’s all that matters.

HeatherPride September 9, 2008 at 11:50 am

Whatever makes you a better mother is the right answer! When I had my first baby I went back to work but I moved my mother in with us! (poor hubby!) She stayed with us Monday – Friday and only went home to my dad on the weekends. Yes, we paid her but there was still the guilt!! Now we’re on baby #2 and she has once again resumed her Monday – Friday live-in job.

So I say, if a nanny gives you some balance and makes you a better mom in the long run, there’s no shame in that! Nanny on!

Ginger September 9, 2008 at 12:05 pm

I think it’s the nature of the mommy world that there will always be guilt. I already have guilt and I don’t even have kids yet! But my theory is this–kids grow up to be the people they are because of what you do with your time with them. How you raise them isn’t just a math equation of time + love = fabulosity. There’s so much more to it than that, and every single solitary family has different parts to the equation. Only you & Mr. Right-Click know what works for your family, not the internet.

anna September 9, 2008 at 1:39 pm

Thanks for your thoughts, all. I agree that every family has to decide for themselves what is right, but I think this question brings up other issues as well. Because, let’s face it, people can’t always do what’s right–some people think it would be right to have one parent stay home, but they cannot afford it. Or some people can afford it, but they cannot afford babysitters. Some people can afford both but choose to work anyway. And I wonder how much of the socioeconomics of things feeds into the judgment of parents by other parents, alongside the ideals of what parenting should be.

Jen September 9, 2008 at 1:57 pm

I’m with you 100%. I work full time and I miss my kids but I still have moments where I want to rip my hair out b/c of my them and feel a need to throw them at the nearest person and run away for an hour or two. There are days when I wish w/ all my heart I could be a stay at home mom but then there are days when I am home that I can’t wait to get back to the office. Every mom is different. You do what you have to do to make it work.

shonda September 9, 2008 at 2:53 pm

First, I want to say SUCK IT since you have a nanny. I am so utterly jealous right now I don’t think I can finish the comment. (Breath, Shonda, Breath.)
Okay, I’m back and calm. Truthfully, in my dormant part of the country, I would be hard pressed to find a nanny. You clearly juggle many balls, so you deserve that. Like I said, I do, too, I just have no one to freakin’ hire. LOL.
To me, the hardest part of getting help is admitting I need it. I have always felt the call to be Superwoman. I have a hard time saying I can’t do something. So, truthfully, you would be doing all the same things you are now, only without the help. If you can afford it, it would be insane not to have it.

surcey September 9, 2008 at 3:03 pm

“instantaneous obsession with the maintenance and insurance of safety of another life” — that describes exactly how I felt after giving birth. I would wake up the baby to make sure she was still breathing…And went a whole year before realizing, um, yeah, you need to get back on that Paxil. You know, the major clinical depression that you mentioned? It doesn’t get washed away by those lovely breastfeeding hormones, even.
PS I’m a new reader and loving you.

Becca September 9, 2008 at 6:44 pm

That sounds like an awesome arrangement! Charlie has daycare three days a week. He’s been in some kind of care since he was ten weeks old. Do I miss him? Yes. Do I feel guilty? No. He’s learned so much neat stuff that I never would have thought to teach him. And I get to work. And then we hang out together on his off days and have a great time. I wish this sort of arrangement was the norm!

J. September 9, 2008 at 8:12 pm

Having no kids and no immediate plans for ever having any, I don’t have much of a voice here. But I will say that you probably shouldn’t do what my Mom did, which is pretty much let us raise ourselves without much in the way of guidance and paltry physical support. I think the word is “selfish.” It sounds like the time you spend with Mini is precious to you, which means more than just about anything.

Nessa September 9, 2008 at 11:03 pm

I think you’re doing just fine. We all need a little helping hand ya.

I’m glad I stumbled on your blog. It’s excellent, I’ll definitely be back for more reads :)

melissa September 10, 2008 at 8:11 am

I am not ashamed to admit that I kept my daughter in daycare for a few months after I finished my degree even though I wasn’t working. I had no more patience for mommying now than I did nearly 18 years and 3 kids ago. One is in college, one in high school and one in elementary school. I still wish I could put the youngest in after school care but that’s a bit extreme!
I know myself and I am not an effective mother 100% of the time, even with them going to school. Summers have been killing me softly for, well, a long time. It got better and then it got worse again. I love my kids and can’t imagine life without them but damn. I was not cut out to be the end all/be all to them. Granted, I did my best, staying home until the youngest was in kindergarten and now I just work part-time. If you asked them, they would not know how difficult it’s been for me to be a mother so I feel like I’ve done an overall decent job…because I had to and they didn’t choose me.

One of the best things to come out of my divorce was the fact that I split visitation with my Ex. Now THERE’S some quality off time for ya. And, it’s nearly guilt free to me as I know they are in good, capable hands in general.

Wow. Now I kinda do feel like a jerk but I know myself enough now to believe it’s OK.

Mary Anne September 10, 2008 at 9:57 am

Can’t blame you on this at all. I had a nanny three days a week while Miss G was a baby so I could go to a fancy cooking school. Girls gotta do what a girls gotta do. The most stressed out Moms I see are the ones with no outlet all day long. Mini looks like a perfectly happy little boy…judging from the back of his head and the little bit of the side of his face I’ve seen. :)

lisa September 10, 2008 at 10:50 am

I don’t feel guilty one bit and neither should you. Be proud in the fact that you admit that you need help.

Mothers are fooling themselves if they think they can do it all, something will always suffer(namely themselves).

I enjoy my 3hrs hours of solitude and because of it, I’m a MUCH better mom.

JoeGirl September 10, 2008 at 10:53 am

Oh Anna — I could have written this myself a hundred times. Do NOT feel guilty. You have to enjoy your own freedoms, or you lose whoever you were before Mini came along, and simply become MOM, and only Mom.

I received your comment on my post about having my boys 5 years apart. We should talk. Like everything, there are pro’s and con’s to this age difference. This past summer was hell for me. Trying to balance activities and interests for both of them was mentally exhausting. Not to mention we HAD to be home everyday for Jake’s afternoon nap. I wouldn’t change anything, but given the choice, I would consider much more than I did in making that plan.

keep doing what you’re doing, and consider yourself blessed to have a child, blessed to be somebody’s Mom, and blessed to have the power and the freedom to define Mother however the hell you want. Guilt free.

anna September 10, 2008 at 12:19 pm

You are all so kind . . . and I do know all of what you are saying is true. I guess I just wonder why the guilt is still there, when you intellectually understand something, but still manage to feel guilty about it. I am very lucky, both to have a break and to stay home with Mini, not to mention the fact that he is happy and healthy! I am very very lucky, which is probably also adding to the guilt.

@JoeGirl, eh my husband probably wouldn’t go for the five year difference anyway . . . plus, the longer you go, I think it must get harder and harder to convince yourself to have another one. I’m already going to have to have quite a bit of convincing, considering how much I hated the last pregnancy.

Juliet September 10, 2008 at 6:07 pm

You sound really well-balanced and insightful. There’s no earthly reason why anyone should feel they have to do “it all” and who is to say there is any one clear-cut definition of what “it all” even is, anyway? My kids are six and two now and I have a sort of emotionally similiar dilemma because I’d like to put our two year old in preschool a couple of mornings a week. The main thing that has stopped me is the cost. My only viable option is super expensive (she turned two in February and the only place that’ll take her now without being potty trained is prohibitively expensive; the other options are more daycare-like instead of preschool, which as a full-time stay-at-home mom I really cannot justify.)

And WHY do I want to put her in preschool a couple or few mornings a week? (Or more….the particular school is Montessori so they ideally would like her there five days a week.) Because of my sanity! I’m just sick of choosing a hard path when there’s an infinitely easier one right in front of me. Why is doing things the hard way automatically better, or morally more righteous somehow? Why does a struggle have some higher value than an easier way?

My compromise position for the immediate is: two year old goes to drop-in daycare (a GREAT invention! $7.70/hr with no advance notice required – just drop ‘em off for up to 21 hrs a week) 1-2 mornings a week. So far I’ve been using one of those days to volunteer in my six year old’s first grade classroom, which while I love it, kind of defeats the entire purpose of creating some kid-free sanity time for myself. But the other day is MY day. My time….to sit and stare at a wall if I want to. I haven’t actually had a week when this second daycare session has actually panned out yet, alas…but that’s the plan.

THE big lies of mommyhood: You can work part-time! It’s so great. Well, yeah, whatever. There is NO part-time daycare where I live. It’s just a big phantom. And when we went to one income, we purposely moved to the middle of nowhere (READ: no jobs! Everyone commutes) so we could afford to live on one income. So even if I had this phantom p/t daycare available, there’s no p/t job that would be a realistic option, unless I wanted to work at Walmart so I could work just for the sake of working, but not even to cover the cost of the mythic p/t daycare.

MYTH: It’s so easy once they’re in school. Just wait a few years and they’ll be in school and you’ll have all this free time. Well, no. First of all, at 3 1/2 yrs old the typical child of at-home parents in my area goes two mornings a week, typically from 9:30-12. That’s nothing, by the time you factor in dropoff and pickup. And if you do a co-op (which we did with six year old for one of her preschool years and might do again) there goes that time, and then some. Even in kindergarten, most areas have gone to half-day. My daughter went from 9-12:23 last year. Again, nothing. By the time you get to your mythic p/t job it’s almost time to turn around and head off to pick-up again.

MYTH: You are home all day! Get XYZ done while you’re at home. Or: you can do (it) XYZZZ whatever – while the kids nap. Well, no. In a house where everyone’s gone all day, the house stays roughly in the same condition you left it that morning. Not so in the house where people are home all day, eating meals, playing, spilling things, etc. Plus there’s all the cooking, wiping up, diapering, mopping, taking out trash, rearranging stacks of junk etc etc. It’s really neverending. And naps? That’s time to make a phone call, check email, hurriedly try to pay a bill or two, and that’s it. It’s over in a blink of an eye.

Anyway….this turned out long, didn’t it? Don’t feel guilty. I say make a choice and go with it…don’t look back. There are a million other things to feel guilty about that you probably don’t even know (yet ) that you’re doing to your child that you’ll hear about in twenty-odd years.

Juliet September 10, 2008 at 6:21 pm

(By the way, it’s Drucie.)

Oh, wanted to add a couple more things (I have that syndrome where I’m sitting in the car on the way home from a party thinking of all the things I wanted to say lol.)

1. I know we always say”I need to do it because it ultimately makes me a better parent,” or “Better to take care of yourself so you can be there for them too,” but I think that gives very short shrift to US. We are mothers but we’re people too in our own right. Being happy and balanced/centered has value in and of itself, regardless of whether it fills our well so we can continually give back or out to others.

2. Why do people feel guilty about hiring housecleaners? I could understand feeling mommy guilt over hiring out childcare, but why cleaning? Perhaps this is because I grew up with a mom who did not do housework. I have a cleaning crew every two weeks and I’d do weekly (or more!) if I could afford it. Those are the best two days of my month. We get out of the car in the garage and my six year old is like: I smell lemon Pledge! They were here!

3. Does any of this have to do with feminism? My mom is mid 50s and she is appalled by my life choices: to be educated (lawyer) yet marry and stay home with kids. I like to torture her by letting her know I really could care less about returning to full-time work. My official role in the extended family is now “lazy” because that’s how it’s interpreted. But really it’s just that I have settled into a place I like. I am enjoying it now so why not? But I get that it’s totally retro. It works really well for us though. So there’s this gal Bennetts in NY who wrote “The Feminine Mistake” with all these dire warnings about how women like me are going to be dumped for trophy wives and end up eating cat food and living out of a shopping cart. I hold you can be savvy and also out of the workforce but she disagrees.

anna September 11, 2008 at 7:15 am

Hi Drucie/Juliet!

I have faced all of those things you talk about except, obviously, the one where you’ll “have so much time” once they start school. And yeah, it’s super frustrating, because they’re the kinds of things that you just don’t get until you do it. Like my husband would bust out with some of those at first, and he still sometimes forgets what it’s like. On those days, I will try to leave him alone with Mini for a few hours to remind him of those things.

That’s the great thing about a nanny, too–in my experience, even when Mr. Right-Click is with Mini he doesn’t ordinarily get around to other household stuff, he is more focused on spending time with Mini. But when the nanny is here, if there is free time, she will do laundry, dishes, clean up, etc. That was especially helpful in the early days, because laundry constantly had to be done, bottles washed, etc.

I have not read “The Feminine Mistake,” and it’s possible she makes some good points . . . but she is really talking about women who get married and then promptly stick their heads in the sand. I mean, if you live in a community property state and you manage the money, you are not going to be in dire straits all of a sudden if you get a divorce, and yeah, I do think you can still be savvy while out of the workforce.

For me, I don’t think my concerns have to do with that fear or feminism or anything. I come from the perspective of having a very career savvy mother, and she was a great role model for that for me. But, she wasn’t able to be home as often since she was so successful. So I wanted to have more time at home and still try to find a career I could do alongside being at home . . . particularly in the early years. I think I was disappointed in myself because I found myself at home all day and thinking, “wow, this is not very fun.” Because for me, it is fun for about five hours. And then it gets really tough.

So I guess I feel this obligation to have a “reason” to be gone for the other part of the day, even though I know that is absurd. It doesn’t really have anything to do with my role as a woman or a fear of my future, or whatever . . . it’s just like a self-worth thing. Another reason to beat myself up, I guess.

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