The Mother of All Catch-22s

My name is Kendy and I’m a working mother.

This relatively innocuous statement actually has the power to evoke pride, guilt, judgment and even jealousy depending upon who’s in the conversation and their bias about what’s “right” for children, and society.  But what’s right for the moms?

Of all discussion topics, working vs. staying home gets the most play among my group of friends.  Some of us have full-time jobs and some have forgone a career to raise children.  Some need two incomes to get by, while others simply can’t imagine life without a career.  Some who stay home have realized that working is actually more expensive than not, given the high cost of childcare.  Regardless of the situation and our level of satisfaction with it, we all agree that there is no single “right” answer, as we are all faced with a different set of circumstances that impact our decisions on the issue.  However, no matter how satisfied we are with those decisions, we sometimes find ourselves peering over the fence to see if the grass truly is a deeper shade of green.

Even moms who count their blessings about being able to stay home with their children sometimes long for the adult conversations they remember having when they were working.  As one friend says, “When you start to discuss your problems with a toddler-sized plush SpongeBob doll, you know you need some time with grown-ups!”  I’ve had moms admire my shoes and comment longingly that they could never justify the purchase given the few places they would have to wear something so dressy.  Others feel they have no break from their children – as precious as they are – and battle conflicting expectations when their husband arrives home from his own long day at the office.  But these may very well be good tradeoffs for the ability to share all of life’s important and teachable moments.

On the flip side, working moms are often overwhelmed with guilt about the time they spend away from their kids.  I’ve always been career-minded and relatively confident in my ability to have it all in life.  But, even though I often don a super hero cape, I also have some pretty powerful kryptonite.  Looking down at those little people in my life makes everything go just a bit hazy.

At work, I find myself drawn to various pictures of my smiling kids.  I wonder if they’ve had a healthy lunch, whether they’re watching Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel, if Nolan’s had a good “pee pee in the potty” day, and whether Bailey’s loose tooth is still hanging on by a thread.  I feel anxious.  I guiltily remind my mother-in-law about the soccer practice that begins before I’m even supposed to clock out for the day.  And I miss them.

All that would be fine if the culmination of my day wasn’t hearing Nolan burst into tears and state emphatically that he doesn’t want to leave grandma’s house with me.  Bailey sends her own message by ignoring me altogether.  In these moments, when I’m kidnapping my own children from their grandparents’ house, I feel unsettled, disconnected, and a little like I’m watching my life go by from behind a pane of glass rather than out living it.  I’m jealous…jealous of my friends who don’t HAVE to work and surely aren’t subject to the sadness I feel at this repeat, albeit momentary, rejection.  I’m jealous that they get all day to reinforce bonds, while I’m trying to force that into the 60 minutes between dance class and bedtime.

These are the moments when the fantasies of quitting my job and becoming an at-home mom take over.  I imagine myself going on all kinds of daily adventures – to the zoo, the park, and museums – while organizing play dates, catching up on scrapbooks, teaching the kids a foreign language, and sewing their winter wardrobe.  We won’t go into the holes in my fantasy, but let’s just say the likelihood of me actually doing all these things is iffy at best and I stopped just short of adding to the list “make my own soap.”  Hey, it’s my fantasy and I’m sticking to it.

...and I stopped just short of adding to the list “make my own soap.” - Click photo for Making Soap article.

But it’s not all bad.  In fact, when I stop to remember that life isn’t all about me (what??), there are some really great benefits to my kids of being a working mom.

First and foremost, they have an amazing relationship with their grandparents that they likely wouldn’t have if I stayed home.  Having more than just mom and dad to teach, reinforce, and love is an incredible blessing.  In rational moments, I’m glad to endure some hard mommy moments in exchange for the wealth of experiences and memories made with their grandparents.

As much as I enjoy the work I do, my kids are really proud of me, too.  When we’re having our “what happened today” conversations, I get to tell Bailey about all the babies and children who have the benefit of two loving parents in their lives because of the work my company does.  The pride she feels and the fact that I’m modeling for her what I preach – that she can do anything and be anything – is enough to give guilt a high-heeled kick in the pants!

So, do these benefits outweigh the disadvantages?  I honestly don’t know the answer to that question, nor would my answer be the same tomorrow as it is today.  What I DO know is that I have two great kids who will never want for love, guidance, or the discipline and boundaries they need to grow into the kind of adults I want them to become.  And that makes my heart happier than any amount of time with them could.

But, just in case I happen to win the lottery one day, I bookmarked some You Tube videos on making soap at home.  I’m just sayin’….



8 thoughts on “The Mother of All Catch-22s”

  1. Kendy, what a great article! I have been a stay at home mom for 27 years except for the short stints when I worked to help get our family over a hump. Today, my youngest is a senior in high school so I tell everyone that talks about “empty nest syndrome” that I will be retiring in May. I feel so fortunate to have been able to be at home with my kids, doing the room mother thing, field trips, classroom crafts, etc. but I have to tell you there were times when I felt like I had to apologize for staying at home with my kids! I know, you are probably thinking that is crazy, but it is true. You see, in today’s economy there are so many moms who NEED to work to help with their household/family expenses I feel like I have to apologize for being a stay at home mom. So you see, those high-healed shoes are on the other foot whether working mom’s realize it or not!

    1. I think that’s a great perspective, Jani! It just reinforces the fact that we all have our own concerns and pressures, and sometimes they present themselves in ways people might not expect. Good luck with “retirement!”

      1. I wonder if earlier generations were the lucky ones, because they didn’t have to deal with the guilt that today’ s women have to deal with or did they have the guilt of maybe not feeling satisfied with their endeavors as wife and mother. I was fortuntate and blessed not to have to work when my children were younger, but did as they grew older, and dealt with both aspects. As I grow older though I realize it’s not so much our thoughts that bring these feelings on, but the influences of the world around us, and the thoughts of others. To remain strong in our own beliefs with the guidance that our spiritual knowlege gives us, should be enough to help us feel confident as long as our main conern is always for those we love and not self gratification. May we always look to the One who has so graciously given us this role for guidance and the wisdom to know when things may need to change for the betterment of those He placed in our care. May He bless and watch over our families as we try to do His well. Thanks for placing these issue before us, for thought and insight.

  2. Oh how I can relate to this! I am a working mom of 2 sons. While there are many times I wish I was heading to the zoo with the kids instead of the office, I know it is good for my boys to have a mom that works, also. I have been made to feel guilty for wanting to work by some moms who stay home. I say that we need to stop criticizing the other side and support each other as wives, moms, and women. Each of us must make our own decision about what works for our family. I know that I am raising healthy, happy, independent, well-adjusted children and that’s all that really matter. Great job, Kendy!

    1. Thanks, Jen. While I rarely feel criticized by others (I do enough of that on my own!), I agree that support is so important. Whether it’s in the form of SAHMs who get together for playdates, working girls who “lunch,” or spouses and employers who make life just a little easier with their support and understanding.

  3. Kendy, I have to tell you that you could have written this post just for me. I felt like I got a gift when I read it. THANK YOU for putting it all together, regardless of how many versions you went through! Interestingly, I think I have one grown girl who embraces the idea of being a working mom, and one girl who thinks she wants to be a stay-at-home mom. So, of my two girls…two different views!

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