It’s a familiar scene: A mother drops off her child at daycare. She kisses him, tells him to be good and to have fun, and turns to the door with a convincing smile. But before she pulls out of the parking lot, and maybe even before she gets the key in the ignition, she’s a mess of tears. How can she leave her child with somebody else all day, day after day, while she goes to work? What is she going to miss while she’s gone? Will her kid even miss her? What’s the emotional price of that extra paycheck? The guilt, oh the guilt.
Maybe this mom is you. Or maybe, like me, your guilt is made of entirely different stuff–stuff you don’t hear about as often because, even within the working-mom community, the overall sentiment is borderline taboo…
My guilt? It stems from the fact that when I leave my son for a full day at the office, I smile as I kiss him and turn to the door, and then I keep on smiling as I shut the door behind me, drive across town, and then tuck in at my computer for eight hours of glorious, uninterrupted adult time, during which I can eat a hot meal in one sitting, and the chances I’ll come in contact with another person’s bodily fluids hovers near 0 percent.
That’s right: I feel guilty that I love going to work.
I think my situation is mitigated by three things: (1) I work outside the home only one day per week, (2) I leave my baby not with a nanny or daycare worker but with his father, and (3) I truly enjoy my job and find it fulfilling on a personal level (even moreso than on a monetary one). I imagine that if even one of those factors were taken away, I’d be less enthusiastic about my role as a work-away-from-home mom, but still, I can’t be the only one who feels guilty for not feeling guilty about going to work, not even a little. (And if I am alone in this, then shoot, that’s going to be grounds for even more guilt!)
I think the reason we don’t hear more about this shade of guilt is because those of us who experience it are afraid of being judged by the contingent of mothers who would without question rather be at home with their children full time. We’re socialized to think that mothers are supposed to be devoted to their children to the exclusion of all else, and if we work outside the home, we’re supposed to say it’s because we have to, not because we want to. We certainly shouldn’t admit that we look forward to our time on the clock as our time off from motherhood, true as that may sometimes be.
So, every time someone asks me how it’s going, leaving my baby at home while I slave away in a desk chair, the more effusive (and truthful) my answer (”I love coming to work! I wouldn’t have it any other way!”), the worse I feel. It seems like all the other mothers I know are at least a little conflicted about leaving their children while they work; is there something wrong with me? Is it wrong that I revel in the days I get to leave the house in nice clothes, sporting a cute necklace and wearing my hair down with no fear I’ll suffer a regrettable yank before the day’s through? Am I a “bad” mother because I don’t spend my work days yearning to be at home covered in sweet potato mush? Is it strange that I find answering important business emails and making important business discussions during important business meetings far easier than entertaining a six-month-old hour after hour after hour? Should I be worried that I was horrified when my spouse brought up the possibility of me quitting my job to stay home with the baby in exchange for him working more hours?
There seems to be plenty of discussion and support out there for mothers who feel guilty leaving their kids because they have to work (if that describes you, go here, here, or here for some sympathetic stories and advice), but I’d love to start a thread for mothers out there who love working, or who love going to work (a subtle difference but an important one), even to the point that they don’t feel a smidge of guilt about it (well, except for that whole thing about feeling guilty about not feeling guilty).
Anyone out there love going to work so much that, although you miss your kids, you don’t experience that classic working-mom guilt while you’re away?