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Disappearing guilt

Categories: Sleepless in the Board Room, Tentative Steps


I had a meeting with my boss when I was 9 months pregnant, nearly ripping at the seams of my maternity shirt.  I was uncomfortable and somewhat cantankerous and I was itching from every pore, eager to get this cumbersome pregnancy over with.  I wanted to expel the baby, him a bit, of course - but more than anything, I wanted to get back to work.  I wanted to make phone calls, send emails and get stuff done, without a gigantic protruding belly, niggling worry about my potential skills as a Mother, and constant heartburn.

“Gary, I’ll be back at work in 6 months,”I assured my manager,”I can’t wait to return.”

I’m Canadian, and by law, I was entitled to a year of paid maternity leave (though “paid” is a tenuous term: the highest payout is 50% of salary with a capped maximum income of 50K a year - not enough to live on.)  But I didn’t plan on taking the full year because…what on earth would I do with an infant for 365 days?  I’d go nuts.  Working was what I did, instinctively and crisply: motherhood seemed so vague and foreign and…terrifying.

Fast forward almost half a year and I called Gary and tearfully admitted I wouldn’t be coming back after 6 months after all. My baby had pounded a love into me that I hadn’t known existed.  I knew it was cliche, was annoyed by my “weakness” - but my baby had lit a candle in my heart and work just wasn’t as important as it had seemed in the unimaginable days before him.  I couldn’t bear the thought of missing his tiny sighs, his first steps, his limpid eyes staring at me trustingly in the morning.

When I finally did go back to work, a full year after I’d left, I exited the elevator with mascara stained cheeks.  I’d dropped my tiny son off at daycare and I drove downtown feeling like I was going to puke all over the floor of my Jeep.  There was guilt in every hour, wrenching heartsickness at every meeting past 4:00.  I’d rush to get him at the earliest opportunity, and when I should have been concentrating on Powerpoints and board meetings, I thought of him crying for me and I wondered how long it would be before I just totally lost it.

I couldn’t have imagined it would ever get easier, that any of that burning guilt would dissipate.  Yet, almost three years later, I’m here to tell you that it does.

I know it’s partially because Nolan can speak now, because he has friends and a streak of independence, but I almost never feel guilt about working for a living, away from him.  He loves his friends at daycare, and he is old enough to understand that Mommy works so that we can have a house and cheese pizza and Charlotte’s Web in the DVD player.  I am eternally grateful that I have a work-from-home career, and that I need to travel for business relatively rarely.  But my guilt is so much less than it once was, mostly because I am there for him so much.

We amble through forests and overturn rocks for creepy scuttling pictures, and unprompted, my son tells me that I am the best Mommy in the world.  I cook and clean and work for him, and in some ways, I embark on a social life for him, too.  He loves his babysitter on the occasional Saturday night, and I love having a social life as a woman as well as a Mommy.  My downtime makes me a better Mother, I know this wholeheartedly.

I work full time, I lead an active social life - and I feel no guilt, really.  I’m amazed, in retrospect, that it’s morphed this much in 3 years, but it has.

New working Moms, I want to tell you: it really does get easier and better and you will find your mojo, too.

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13 comments so far...

  • yes it does get easier with time, but it is SOO painful those first few days, weeks, months.

    great post!

    krystyn  |  May 26th, 2009 at 7:35 am

  • I couldn’t agree with you more! I was a blubbering mess the first year…but after time I’ve grown to appreciate the relationships my son has developed at daycare.
    Hearing the adventures you and Nolan share has motivated me to create my own adventures with my little man. Thanks for sharing…and keep on rockin!

    Stacy  |  May 26th, 2009 at 9:43 am

  • God, isn’t it the greatest to hear you’re “the best Mommy in the whole world” coming from the mouth of your little one? Makes it all worth it, for me.

    Christine  |  May 26th, 2009 at 12:22 pm

  • You are absolutely right. I think being a healthy and happy mom who also enjoys life as much as she can is the best role model a mother can be. The time away recharges me so that I can give my 100% when I am home. I’m home now on my second leave, and far from dreading going back this time, I look forward to it.

    Christine LaRocque  |  May 27th, 2009 at 7:32 am

  • Totally! Now that my daughter is almost 3 years old, I honestly feel no guilt whatsoever about working. I only WISH I could have had a one-year maternity leave instead of 12 short weeks…

    Robyn  |  May 27th, 2009 at 8:48 am

  • Hi, Kristin. My name is Tara Duckworth and I am creating a new women’s zine in my area and I would love to include this article in our first issue. Please e-mail me at if you are interested and we can discuss the details more at length.

    Tara Duckworth  |  May 27th, 2009 at 1:52 pm

  • Great post!

    We have created a Greek wahm blog and we would like to republish-translate this post, with your permission of course! I was just wondering, were you working full time away from home when you first got back to work or this was a change you made later?



    popelix  |  May 28th, 2009 at 9:56 am

  • You said it, sister. I spent the first 32 years of my life not even wanting to BE a mom, and then suddenly changed my mind and had a child at 33. Still, there was no WAY I was going to be a SAHM, I just knew I’d go nuts at home with only a kid to talk to. I don’t have the patience for it. HOWEVER, my maternity leave (if you can call it that–in this country, you get pretty much 5 weeks short term disability–about 60% of your salary–and then you can use your vacation time, how LUXURIOUS, right?) was 11 weeks total and my son was still not taking a bottle of ANYTHING and the night before I had to go back to work I actually ended up sobbing on the kitchen floor while trying to pack his little daybag for school. SOBBING. On the FLOOR, like MEDEA. It was crazy. It was a physical presence, the pain of having to let go of him. My jaw clenched, my fingernails dug into the palms of my hands as a i shook and my husband stood in the corner, wondering when to call the men with the padded van. THe next morning, though, i got him dressed in his litlte “school outfit” (he was 11 weeks old, mind you, so “school” was what I called it to make it sound like it was an EDUCATION for him, not just babysitting), and I dropped him off with actually, surprisingly, no tears. I had gotten it out of my system the night before. And I was SO GLAD, by the end of that first day, that I had gone back to work. So. GLAD. Except for the pumping part, which sucked (literally, ha). I have friends who are SAHMs and some are great at it, but others are just, well, okay. Their kids spend quite a bit of time in front of the TV while they cook and clean and fold laundry and talk on the phone or watch TV themselves. They spend maybe an hour of “qaulity time” really being present for their kids each day, which is about how much I am able to spend, after work and before bedtime. So we’re even. Plus, WE can afford to do fun stuff on the weekends because of Mommy’s salary (which is more than daddy’s). I absolutely believe that me working is what is best for my son. He would be really sad if he didn’t get to go to school now (he’s 3 and in preschool these days). He wouldn’t know how to share or be patient while another kid has a turn or wait in line, wouldn;t have been potty trained as early (yay peer pressure!), and wouldn;t have developed the immunities he probably has now which will hopefully keep him from being sick every month when he starts kindergarten. It’s all good. Quality, not quantity, I say. At least that’s how I justify it to myself when i feel guilty. ;-)

    momtrolfreak  |  May 28th, 2009 at 10:36 am

  • More heart-rending to me was the first day she was crying because I was coming to pick her up! But then I try to remember it means it is a great place for her.

    Now everyone gets smiles, she’s smiling to see her favorite teacher and smiling when I come to get her (usually) :)

    Mich  |  May 28th, 2009 at 11:39 am

  • So true, those first couple of weeks were really really tough for me. I put my daughter in day care until she was 1. The worst were the mornings when she had a cold and wasn’t feeling great. I think the hardest part for me was that I felt like I had to choose but I was worried that whichever way I went I’d have regrets.

    Now that she’s older I am confident that I made the right choices but it was interesting that after we pulled her from day care and got an au pair, I had some of the same feelings come back. I felt guilty that she would be spending so much time with the au pair and even a little jealous that they got to be together all day. But things are great now and I would tell any other mom: The guilt does go away! (But don’t skimp on your maternity leave, take it all and enjoy it!)

    Shannon  |  May 28th, 2009 at 3:38 pm

  • Here is the conundrum- I got back to work after five months of having my daughter. And the guilt went away soon, since she is loving day care, her teachers and concept of seeing me every evening. She runs to me, gives me the biggest higs and then goes back to her toys (She is now 16 months) Guilt has come back up. Now she is trying to talk/ to bable to sing nursery rhymes to dance.. and i feel like every minute away from her, i am missing some developmental milestone for her…

    Now i think, as a new mom guilt is lesset.. and for other moms it gets tough? Any takers?

    GNSD  |  May 29th, 2009 at 2:41 pm

  • I could have written this post. My kids are now 8 and 6 and when I first went back to work I thought that I would have a nervous breakdown, it was so awful.
    The guilt does dissipate when they get older.

    Marcie  |  June 2nd, 2009 at 8:57 am

  • To be honest, I am still waiting for the guilt to subside and my daughter is almost 2. I have a hard time knowing most of her firsts at this time will be with her daycare provider. I do know however, that she has friends at daycare and she loves her caretaker. So it is really only my problem. :)

    ramseyquipp  |  June 3rd, 2009 at 12:39 pm