Every working mother has, at some point, bemoaned the guilt she feels for having a job.
She reels from the sad, wide eyes, like Puss from Shrek, from her offspring as she drops them at nursery, regrets the missed sports days because she can’t get time away from work, aches to cut the long hours that mean Daddy’s always the one who puts them to bed.
When they’re young and cannot comprehend why you have to leave them, it feels as if your heart’s being sucked out. I can always remember my husband holding my eldest daughter’s hair from her face as she was being sick in the bathroom. She was crying out for me and I had to go to work.
To some, that may not sound much of an issue, because her father was there. But he’d just come off his night shift and was staggering around – he couldn’t even open his eyes, he was that tired.
I’d had the same tummy bug only a few days before so I didn’t feel I could take more time off to be with my daughter. It’s the one moment that still plagues me, a brief decision where I put other people’s expectations of me before my own child when she was upset and ill. My sense of responsibility was stronger than my mother’s instinct – that’s how my mind chooses to torture me.
Working from home
A few years on, and I now work for myself, from home. You’d think I’d have eradicated all guilt with this move, but I’ve found it’s actually increased.
I feel guilty because the housework needs doing and I’m too busy.
I feel guilty because the dog needs walking and I’m too busy.
I feel guilty because…..(insert any number of daily tasks here).
I thought it would be easier to schedule every sports day, assembly, dentist or doctor’s appointment into my working diary – and, to be fair, it is.
But because I chop and change the hours I work to account for all family dalliances and dates, I find I have to work evenings and weekends to catch up, and that is where the guilt truly starts.
My youngest daughter has Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD), so no matter how many times I say: “Sweetie, I’ve got to work now,” it’s ignored. There’s a door on my office but it’s a glass door. She sees me sat at a computer, not banging out car parts or mining a shaft through the garden; I’m just doing what she perceives as ‘stuff’, comparative to when she goes on her Moshi Monsters’ account. That this can be more important than her must be a horrid thought.
She’s nine now, and mastering how to manipulate my guilt as each day passes. “I just want to ask you how your day was,” is the latest heart-breaker. The lip wobbles and I feel such a dragon, yet in the back of my mind I know I have to have boundaries or I’d never get work done.
I tend to reply: “If you give me half an hour, I’ll have finished my work and we can sit down and have a proper chat, where I’m fully listening.” With most kids, this would work, but her ADD doesn’t recognise common sense, only the ferocity of her need to have my attention.
Catching up when she’s in bed is not an option – I drop asleep as soon as I’ve tucked her in! I get up before 6 a.m. with my eldest to get her on the school bus, so no more hours can be carved out.
The grass isn’t greener…
Perhaps my eldest is old enough to do this herself/perhaps I pander to them when it comes to domesticity/perhaps I’m doing it all wrong? In truth: I’m just taking each day as it comes.
The grass isn’t greener on the other side. My working pattern and hierarchy may have changed, but the guilt hasn’t budged. And I’ve enough household jobs requiring action to know that women who choose not to work don’t get any kind of easier ride.