When the COVID-19 quarantine first started and I realized I’d be working from home, I was hit with a wave of mixed feelings, much like the rest of the KC community. There were the normal feelings: Is everything going to be okay? Thank God I still have my job. The slightly-weird feelings: Which of these throw pillows could I slash in event of a true T.P. emergency? And the unhealthy feelings: This is it. This is the chance to be The Perfect Mom™. I will be able to be both a stay-at-home mom and a working mom, all at once.
Lemme just fast forward for you. I did not emerge from a COVID-cocoon as The Perfect Mom™. I am still Meagerly-Achieving Mom®, and while I thankfully did not contract a contagious disease during the pandemic, I came down with a serious case of Mom Guilt.
Let’s be clear: Mom Guilt did not just pop up during quarantine. Mom Guilt has been hanging out since my now-two-year-old was the size of a petit four (I had a French bakery-themed pregnancy tracker. According to the app, I delivered an actual croquembouche. Let’s see you do THAT, Gordon Ramsey).
Mom Guilt has many forms, and if you’re a mom, you’re probably familiar with at least one of them. If you’re playing with your kids, you might feel guilty that you’re neglecting the dishes. So you go to scrub the tomato sauce off your nice dishware, but then you feel guilty that you aren’t asking your children to help out more around the house. So you go to get the kids, but then you feel guilty for making them grow up too fast. You decide it’s time for some self-care-flavored ice cream, remember the dishes are dirty, hear your kids calling for you to come play, and shove a quick spoon into the heart of the ice cream container before starting the cycle over again.
Most often, my Mom Guilt manifests as Working Mom Guilt.
If you are picturing Mom Guilt as a Power Ranger (and why are you not), Working Mom Guilt is the Megazord of Mom Guilt. “Less time with baby! Missing milestones! Societal gender roles! With our power combined…we are going to wake you up at 3:00 a.m. and make you question every decision you’ve ever made!”
I thought quarantining with my family would be the answer to Working Mom Guilt. It took less than an hour for me to realize working from home would really just be me locking myself away from my family to try and get my work done. I thought this would be a chance to see all the milestones I imagined missing while I was at work—but really, I just saw them all in vivid color through the glass of my bedroom window, ten feet away from where my husband was teaching Finn how to go down his new slide.
It was after a week of deadlines that felt important, overwhelming amounts of work, and “missing out” that I decided to take it out on my husband, the stay-at-home dad. “You know, I’m jealous of you,” I snapped at him one day.
“That’s okay,” he said simply. “I’m jealous of you, too. Do you want me to load the dishwasher so we don’t have to eat ice cream out of the container?”
That’s all it took to see our positions reversed—if I was the stay-at-home mom, I’d be jealous of him getting to interact with adults and leaving the house, plus feel guilty for not contributing financially to our family. If we were both working parents, we’d feel guilty for spending time at the office instead of with our kid. There’s no way to win with Mom Parenting Guilt. And that’s okay.
So how do you defeat an enemy you know you can’t win against?
For one, I’m trying to remind myself why I make the decisions I do as a parent. I’m not going to hang up a cat poster for every time I choose twenty minutes of washing the dishes over twenty minutes of playtime with my toddler—but I did write down reminders of why I go to work every day. The next time I get bummed out during a meeting on a sunny day, I’ll look at the list and remember “Oh yeah, I really like my job despite this one terrible week.” Or “Oh yeah, we’d like to go to Disney one day.”
I’m also going to work on setting boundaries that help me feel better about myself and less guilty about missing out. The hardest challenge with working from home is knowing when to stop, and I haven’t been great about it. I’m going to stay focused on my tasks, shut the computer at the end of the day, and then high five my delightful toddler. Nothing makes you feel you’re “good enough” like a high five from a delightful toddler. Trust me.
Lastly, I’m going to try staying in the moment. I’m constantly worrying about how my daily decisions impact me two weeks, a month, and ten years down the road. But it’s very unlikely that the extra 20 minutes of screen time Finn gets today is going to turn him into a sociopath, so there’s no point feeling guilty about it. I’m going to look at my decisions, decide playtime is immediately more fun and dishes can wait, and not feel guilty about making my life easier or my kid happier.
There’s a lot still to unpack from our time at home. But moms, when you’re throwing out all the physical and emotional junk you’ve collected during quarantine, don’t forget to throw out Mom Guilt, too. Unfollow toxic social media accounts, forget comparing yourselves to other moms, and just make the decisions that work best for your family with no looking back. We’re all just Meagerly-Achieving Mom®, and that’s okay.
In fact, I think it deserves some straight-from-the-carton ice cream.