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Replacing “mommy guilt” with separation anxiety

Categories: Balancing Act, Your life


I went back to work when my daughter was three months old and I started to feel guilty almost immediately. I read a lot of articles about how feeling guilty wasn’t productive or helpful, did a lot of pep talking, heard great advice from lots of moms about not feeling guilty, and tried really hard to nip it in the butt. I failed.

But a funny thing happened this year — the guilt didn’t disappear, but it did become a lot more muted. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen just how damn happy my daughter is at her daycare, how much she is growing and learning. Or because I’ve realized that while I’d love to work a bit less, I do really love to work and it makes me a really great woman, mom and person. I don’t know how or why, but the working mom guilt is now well on the back burner of my mind.

It would be really fun if that was the end of the story. But it’s not because its spot has been taken up by something else — my adult version of separation anxiety. When I am not working or doing something that’s a must-do, like cooking or cleaning or running errands, I feel that I need to be with my daughter. I rush through my shower every morning so that I can get a few more minutes with her before dropping her off at school. I say no to endless (OK, that was fun to say and feel popular, but they are not endless, just a few) invitations from my friends to grab lunch on a weekend because if my daughter is not sleeping I want to be with her. And so on.

I guess it’s a form of mommy guilt but it’s not that I feel guilty. I just feel COMPELLED to be there, with my daughter, whenever possible. She is four and a half and I realize that things will be much different when she is a teenager and slams the door in my face when I want to hang out with her. But for now, she is happy to have me.

Thing is, I know I should separate more and not just for work. It would do me a lot of good to have a relaxing day alone or with a friend or hey, more than a day. I got completely envious when I was reading Angella’s post about taking a vacation on her own, away from her kids and her husband. And then I read Britt’s post about taking a road trip with her girlfriend and got even more envious. We all love our families, but c’mon, we all need a break from them. Now I just have to get over this annoying separation anxiety and get on my way.

Am I nuts? Do you take time away from your family regularly? Or do you have a bit of adult separation anxiety?

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26 comments so far...

  • Those five days away were AMAZING. Do it if you can :)

    Angella  |  February 5th, 2009 at 8:17 pm

  • I am the same way. My daughter is 19 months old. I changed my hours so I work from 6:00-2:30. When I am not at work I am glued to my daughter. My husband encouraged me to join and go to the gym on weekends when she naps. I go, but I really don’t want to be there. He also wants to go on 3 dates a month without her. I don’t like the idea, but will try it. I feel like I am missing so much of her life. She does seem to like daycare and her friends. I think it is really “my” problem.

    ramseyquipp  |  February 6th, 2009 at 7:00 am

  • I feel exactly the same way. I only exercise when she’s sleeping, I try to only go out with friends if she’s sleeping… i work through lunch every day so i am away from her for exactly 8 hours and 20 minutes. hubby and i go on dates after she is sleeping… if she’s awake, i want her with me…

    i just miss her so much when she’s not!

    Emma  |  February 6th, 2009 at 9:41 am

  • I’m in the same boat, too, and would love to hear any advice anyone has. I love working part-time, but feel guilty taking any time to myself since I’m already leaving them for work (ages 3 and 5). I know Kindergarten is coming and time is short…

    Christy  |  February 6th, 2009 at 9:42 am

  • My little guy is just 15 weeks old. I work full time and still make sure to have a little me time. Yes when I’m home and he’s awake I like to spend time with him and play with him but I don’t think he needs to be “attached to my hip”. He has his daddy time too. I still have a couple meetings with groups a month and my husband and I have meeting together every month. My son gets to have quality time with grandmas on those nights. We also have grandma babysit usually on friday night so we can get groceries and have a nice dinner out. I spend most of the weekend otherwise with my son unless I have a long errand to run. Maybe it will get harder to leave him as he gets older but right now it’s not to bad for me. I was actually ready to go back to work. We live on a farm and I had had limited company while on maternity leave. My husband was in the fields so he wasn’t around much either.

    Angel  |  February 6th, 2009 at 9:45 am

  • Mine are 7 and 5, this year both in school full time for the first time. as a WAHM I’m pretty flexible, so I do what I can to be with my kids as well. I also know there’s a time coming when they won’t welcome me, so I’m drinking it in while I can.

    I volunteer in each child’s class every week for an hour and join them both for lunch every Friday (Since there’s 25 min between their lunch periods so I’m gone 2 hours for this). I also co-lead or co-coach many of their activities just so I can be there a lot, and not do the dump off and “I’ll pick you up in an hour!” It means I have to work a lot more when they are asleep. I’m ok with that!

    Having said that: I do go away once a year with my girlfriends for a weekend, and maybe every 6 weeks for dinner with either the girlfriends or my husband. Adult time is ALSO important for mental health!

    gretchen  |  February 6th, 2009 at 10:22 am

  • SOOO feeling you on this one, Nataly. I have taken to sitting on the floor, most unproductively, on Saturdays and Sundays when we have no other plans, just because it means I am WITH the kids. It’s definitely important to me to spend the little time I have with them. Focused on nothing else.

    I know some time away would be good for me - refreshing - but I don’t typically take it.

    Lee  |  February 6th, 2009 at 11:11 am

  • Every other weekend, my mom keeps my son overnight, this weekend, she is actually keeping him the full weekend, and I love it. It is a great time for me to watch a movie, uninterrupted (before 10 pm), sleep in, or just relax. I think all moms need “me” time sometime, but if you feel compelled to be with her and that’s what makes you feel good, go for it! I do have the mommy guilt about working 50+ hours a week, but when it’s granny’s weekend, I am all for it!

    Tracy  |  February 6th, 2009 at 11:20 am

  • I really enjoy including my kids in everything I can. Maybe because I’m older and I know it’s now or never. In the rare cases when bringing a child along is not feasible, I reluctantly call on a close person to be with my kids, and I get back home as soon as I can. It’s really not guilt, I don’t think. They surely benefit greatly from their time with the aunties and grandparents when I leave them. But I feel like we’re a team. This is my time to expose them to my interests, values, and lifestyle, so we can share more completely as time goes by. Maybe this is a “single mom” thing . . . .

    SKL  |  February 6th, 2009 at 1:37 pm

  • This is like *Me* talking!! I stopped working out because if I’m not working (or driving to and from work) I feel like I’m not allowed to do anything away from my kids. Who doesn’t “allow” me to be away from the kids? Well, me!!!

    My mother thinks this is one of the consequences of working–she’s always surprised that we don’t let the kids have alone time when we’re home. Then again, they are only 2.5, so maybe that will change.

    No solutions, obviously, just really that I get it!!

    spacegeek  |  February 6th, 2009 at 2:49 pm

  • I go through those stages too. Especially when they are toddlers/preschoolers I think and changing so quickly. I feel like I HAVE to soak it all up.

    But for me it comes and goes in waves. :-)

    Miss Britt  |  February 6th, 2009 at 3:23 pm

  • I AM with my daughter when she isn’t sleeping, and I feel that separation anxiety of which you speak. 3-4 hours is about all I can take. If I go longer, I chomp at the bit a little until I get home to her.

    That being said, a couple of weeks ago, I went to the movies twice in one week with friends and it felt fantastic to get to sit without someone yanking on my clothes or asking to eat or drink something, or changing diapers. I’m definitely going to do that more often!

    Bibi  |  February 7th, 2009 at 1:02 pm

  • Dear Nataly,

    I’m now more convinced than ever that you have some kind of Truman Show-like camera in my home to record my parenting adventures. This post captures my experience so perfectly!!!

    Worse that the guilt, for me, are the comments from the in-laws who have let me know in all sorts of passive-aggressive ways that my little one spends too much time with me. (And then after their brief visits and lectures, they conveniently go back to their homes, 6-8 hours away!) I would love to have a break, but I have so little time between after work and on the weekends, and this adds to the guilt. Fortunately for me, my job does take me away from home for a week and a half each year and so I’ve begun to use that time as part of a mini-vacation for myself. But it is an uphill battle!

    Claudia  |  February 7th, 2009 at 1:15 pm

  • Hi Nataly-

    I feel a lot of pressure about the time being short and precious…it’s all I think about when I’m not struggling to work….

    Leslie  |  February 8th, 2009 at 11:42 am

  • Ok, am I the only mother in the world who DIDN’T have this guilt? I love my son, but I hated being on maternity leave and I could not wait to get back to work. Now, that doesn’t mean anything against my baby — he’s perfect :-) — but for me, I just do not do well being with anyone or anything on a 24/7 basis. I have found that I need breaks from him and time to myself.

    When he was 3 months old, he started day care and I was more than happy to return to work. For the first week he was in day care, I was worried — I just wanted to make sure the place was as great as it looked and he’d be ok. After the first week, I realized everything WAS ok and he was doing fine.

    Now I’m excited to see him after work. We ‘compare’ our days and chill out together before daddy gets home. Then he and daddy play and horse around until it’s time to go to bed. I see nothing wrong with any of that.

    And you bet — when we have holidays off and day care’s open — we take our son to day care and my husband and I have a full date ‘date.’ Some people seem to recoil in horror when I say that, but whatever — I feel more connected to my family when my husband and I are connected.

    CAH  |  February 12th, 2009 at 1:54 pm

  • Umm,…since when did good mothering instincts become a form of guilt?

    I think there is a good reason for our instincts and maybe we should listen to them.

    If your instinct is to be with your 4 1/2-year old whenever possible, then what the HECK is wrong with that?

    If your instinct is that you really, really need a break from you child, and you feel right about that, then what’s wrong with that?

    I think we care too much about how others may judge us, instead of listening to our own hearts and brains about what is right for US.

    That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t get feedback or advice from others. But I’m really sick of people terming a mother’s natural instincts to raise, teach, and protect her child(ren) as “mommy guilt.”

    In the final analysis, you have to do what’s right for YOU and YOUR family, not what’s popular. And that might be the best lesson you can give your child, anyway.

    Alison  |  February 12th, 2009 at 2:19 pm

  • I was very excited to see your post in my email today! It s amazing that I was just having this conversation with a co-worker about my anxiety about taking time away from my kids!

    Being away at work really isn’t that much of a social outlet. And, of course, I have to spend time with my husband. So, when it comes to getting some time with friends or just doinng something on my own, I feel extremely guilty. Especially, since my children say to me when I tell them I going to the movies, “you’re never home”.

    Then I feel the separation anxiety since, I feel like I’m not spending enough time with them, so I’ll keep them up late on a school night, or get them up early on the weekends, just to fit in some “face time” .

    I work 4 days a week, so my day off is spent dividing the school day between 2 classrooms, and a pre-school. Having to make every field trip boggles my mind. But if I don’t make this effort, I can’t justify giong to the gym on the weekends.


    Janice  |  February 12th, 2009 at 3:21 pm

  • I don’t think you are nuts at all! I also have a toddler and I want to be around her all of the time. I work full time too, so I understand the initial guilt and also, how it disappears after a while. I love to work and I love my child. When I am at work, I am at work. When I am not at work, I am with my daughter. I don’t feel bad for a second about not making plans with my friends if I don’t want to be away from her. I think what you are feeling is perfectly normal and I think it is wonderful that you aren’t giving in to the pressure to “get away”. You are the judge of how much time away you need. I don’t feel any need to be away from daughter unless I am working. When my daughter needs space, I give it to her. If I need space, I give it to myself. I don’t think that you are having “separation anxiety”. I think you just really like to be around your child : ) and there is nothing wrong with that!

    Lori  |  February 12th, 2009 at 3:23 pm

  • I’ve been struggling with similar guilt recently. I have flex hours and the ability to work from home as much as I deem necessary - but have kept my daughter in daycare full time, as I don’t think I can be anywhere close to productive when she’s around. But when I’m sitting at home working and doing some cleaning around the house, I feel guilty that I’m not like other WAHM’s that keep their kids at home. I took a drastic pay cut to allow for this flexible work arrangement, and feel guilt every day that I still have my daughter enrolled in daycare full time. And yes, she loves it and has lots of friends - so my guilt is ridiculous, but that doesn’t change the fact that I spend every other chance I get when not working, with her.

    Sara  |  February 12th, 2009 at 4:42 pm

  • When my son was in his first year, and at the tail end of colic. I had started to read about Sleep studies and Sleep Technologisst and got really interested. If I ever do become a therapist I wouldn’t mind one focus to be Dreams and sleep and how they effect our well being.

    One name started cropping up a lot as a Dr. in the forefront of research, mostly working with kids and PTSD sufferers. And he was in NM, so I wrote him an E-mail, expressing my interest, and asking for an informal informational interview so I can find out more about the field and if its something I would want to take some schooling to pursue. And about salary, which turned out to be nice and even nicer after a few months. Free training and schooling. Including for Respiratory Specialist if I choose to pursue that as well as they can compliment one another.

    He actually invited me in to interview - for a job! I met, on different days,, everyone in his office. The last round, he sat me down and said I would be a great fit, and asked me to think carefully about whether I wanted to do this right now, while the baby was young. I was ready at that moment. Then he sent me in to meet with the sleep lab’s Manager who told me about her own experience. She loves her job, its always interesting but she really missed staying home with her babies at the beginning. She had to stop nursing, and she missed her baby terribly. I decided to wait. And now that I’m writing about, I remember how his wife, the office manager, emailed me saying she hoped we could work together in the future.

    But, now I’ve finished Massage Therapy school, and need to study for my nationals and I think working part time in an oncology dep’t (working with cancer patients) is better…less hours and no overnights! I still my miss my toddler in the very very few times I get a break - like while visiting family far away. I wish for a break every day and if I actually get it, I miss him!

    And now that’s my husband is putting in resumes for other bases though, as the contract ends here…its not fair. We could be transferred or transfer ourselves at any time. Better to be an independent contractor! All right, that was quite a ramble.

    Amy  |  February 12th, 2009 at 4:59 pm

  • Great post Nataly. I totally know what you’re feeling. I have to work full time out of the house and use daycare. First the guilt, now the just missing her, and knowing I am missing out on quality time with her before she is in “real” school and on her way into the world (my daugher is 18-mos.). There will never be a time when she is a baby/toddler–that’s a really tough time to miss out on, as a mother. Every mom using daycare must experience this. I see how she has thrived and grown at “school”–so that is good. But I really really miss her during the day. I carry some amount of anxiety, maybe even depression, because I have not yet reconciled the necessity to work and necessity to be with my child. Also, I’m so tired at the end of the day, I am sad she does not have the “best” of me. That’s why I also say “no” to girls nights out, or chances to go out. Every moment together is precious. Tough!

    Amber  |  February 13th, 2009 at 9:56 am

  • I’ve gone through staying home and feeling guilty for not going out with friends, I’ve also gone through going out with my friends and feeling guilty I’m not home with my kids… I just couldn’t win.
    Us Mom’s know how we place most of life’s responsibilities on our own shoulders. Then we feel guilty about not getting everything done. Well a book that was recommended to me, “Escaping Toxic Guilt” by Susan Carrell is the best book out there so far for treating guilty women, and everyone else for that matter. It really helps.

    Chrissy  |  February 20th, 2009 at 7:03 am

  • Thank you! This is exactly what I’ve been feeling!!! It was nice to read that someone else is having/has had the same feelings. Thank you for this post…and know you’re not alone. : )

    Katie  |  February 27th, 2009 at 2:32 pm

  • Hi
    I have a question and was hoping that someone can give me some advise. My son is 10 months and I am a full time working mom. (40hrs/week) He is very happy, social and very active. I make sure that I spend a lot of time with him giving him lots of hugs and kisses, reading to him, playing with him, taking him places, etc. but for some reason he doesn’t show me any separation anxiety. I can take him to daycare, anywhere and he doesn’t even seem to look back. I read somewhere (Similac) that if your baby experiences separation anxiety, that means that you have a great relationship with your baby. I almost died when I read that. I go to pick him up from daycare and he doesn’t seem to care that I am there. He actually reached out for the daycare provider while I was bringing him to the car to go home. It is killing me. He seems to be like that with everyone but me. I am starting to get a complex and I want to have a strong relationship with him. What am I doing wrong?

    Sarah  |  March 19th, 2009 at 2:44 pm

  • So glad I found this post. I feel exactly the same way. My daughter’s 15 months and I worry that she likes her provider more than she likes me. I go to the gym when she’s sleeping. I’m going to go see a therapist for this and other issues…(job, etc)

    Colleen  |  March 26th, 2009 at 3:09 pm

  • I work full time and I have a 1 year old. I had hoped my separation anxiety would fade but it just hasn’t. I enjoy working for the most part but I have long days and feel I am doing my child a disservice because of this. Like you, I feel like I have to spend every other living breathing second with him and I sacrifice any sort of me time to just love him and cuddle him. My husband things I am crazy but I really just can’t stand to be apart from him anymore then work forces me too. Its just a nasty cycle that I don’t know how to fix!

    Julie  |  January 23rd, 2012 at 8:54 pm