The stay-at-home vs. working mom rivalry. So much has been made about it—and made up about it. Truly, it’s just another way for society to pit women against one another to keep us from ruling the world. There’s actually much more that unites mothers—regardless of where we work during the day—than divides us.
One of the biggest commonalities, something we all share like a virus, is guilt.
The guilt for mothers over the issue of work is massive. Working moms feel guilty about not being with their kids enough. They worry that having someone else put them down for naps or ask about their day when they get home could lead them to feel unattached or unloved.
Those who work within the home are often guilty about their family's financial situation. They also worry they aren’t setting the right example, that they’re letting their children get the idea that girls grow up to be moms who serve their kids' needs for an eternity. And those with expensive educations or mountains of sacrifice in their previous careers worry their choice to stay home has let everyone down, from their parents to their coworkers to Gloria Steinem. It’s a heavy load, indeed.
This is a way for me to try to do something about all these unhelpful feelings. Because guilt isn’t helpful. It’s about feeling you are unworthy, essentially unlovable—not things anyone needs to tell themselves, even though it’s only human to do so.
And worry? George Lang, in David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner, says, “Worry is like interest paid in advance on a debt that never comes due.” This is one of my all-time favorite movie quotes. I mean, the choice not to worry is really there for the taking. Even if sometimes it’s hard for us all to see it that way.
I get this brand of mother-guilt all the time. When my daughters seem visibly upset about staying with a sitter for the second time in a week so I can meet a deadline, the last thing I want to do is set boundaries with them when I get back. It’s like the mother-guilt inside me is roaring up and saying, “No—you’re the one in the wrong here! What more can these kids take, after what you’ve done?” But we all know that giving in on the cookie doesn’t make the whining for the cookie any better. It only delays it.
And during the months when I bring no money in from the outside and my small kids seem to forget I ever worked at all, I hear my daughter playing nurse with her dolls and think, Why not doctor? Is this because I don't work enough?
But since we all have these feelings of guilt, and we’ve all made vastly different choices based on vastly different needs, how could we all be wrong? Perhaps the guilt is what’s wrong and we're actually all doing our best. In fact, we’d probably do an even better job if we stopped beating ourselves up about the sacrifices that come once children arrive and tried to love ourselves as unconditionally as we do our kids. We work hard, we deserve it!