If you’re a parent and happened to catch Karen Koster’s documentary on TV3 last week, “Mammy Guilt“, chances are that it resonated with you on some level. I related to the mammies that struggled with leaving their children to go to work, and with mammies that had made the decision to stay at home with their kids. I also understood the mums who were featured and were completely at peace with their decision to continue in their careers. What hit me most about the stories featured in the documentary, was that we all seem to suffer from mammy guilt, no matter what our situation might be. It also seems that those most critical of others decisions were other parents – baffling!
Mammy Guilt is one of the elements of being a parent that surprised me most, and that I wasn’t prepared for. I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum, having gone back to work when Jack was 5 months old, and packing it in three months later to be a stay-at-home mum. Working all day and being away from my baby ate me up inside, the thoughts of missing out on his childhood killed me. On the flipside, I love being at home with him but struggle with this new me. I’ve always been career driven, and have worked since I was 16. I feel guilty for missing that part of my life and guilty for not contributing financially to our household. The mammy guilt struggle is real, and we all need to go a bit easier on ourselves.
Two working mums featured on the documentary worked away from their families. One was a doctor who commuted from Dublin to Galway every week. She was shown face-timing her kids after work, with her children seeming happy and care-free at home with their dad. Another mum was an entrepreneur and marketing executive who commuted to Dublin from Dunmore East every week. She was interviewed on the Grand Canal Docks, looking every bit the professional that she is, but with no footage of her and her children. I was impressed by both of these women, excelling in their fields while raising families. I mentioned this to a friend, however, the next day and she didn’t share my views. She thought that the second mum was cold and didn’t seem bothered being away from her kids, and the first mum was lovely and warm. I pointed out that they both had the same family set-up, only you didn’t get to see the second mum with her children. I’m sure her children are also happy, well-adjusted kids, but I found my friends perception interesting.
Some thought should be given to the other side of the parenting team – Daddies. Daddy Guilt is a real thing too. The traditional stereotype of a father is changing, and dad’s are very hands-on these days. In fairness, I grew up in a household with a dad who did my hair before school every morning, so hands-on dad’s aren’t a new phenomenon. We don’t give much thought to the guilt that fathers carry around though – they are also making the choice to go to work, or stay-at-home, with the sacrifices that those decisions bring. My husband works in Dublin, and does the early morning wake-up with Jack every day, just so he can squeeze in time with him before work. With Jack wobbling around the house at the moment threatening to walk, we’ve also been on “first steps” watch, with Colm hoping he won’t walk when he’s not there to witness it. It’s hard on dad’s too, there is no perfect balance.
Since I’ve quit my job, I have had lots of family, friends, and complete strangers, tell me that I “did the right thing” and that “my place” is at home with my son. I happen to agree that right now, the best place for me is at home. However, that’s for my own needs as much as Jack’s. Jack would have been perfectly fine with a child minder 5 days a week, and I’m sure he would be just as happy, smart and social as he is now. Society pushes an ideal on women that their rightful place is at home, with their kids. This isn’t true. Some women thrive in the professional environment, and prefer the balance of family life and a career. Some love the stay-at-home life. For some women, the choice comes down to finances – they either can’t afford childcare, or can’t afford not to work. Regardless of whether a mother is at home 24/7, or juggling a full-time job and a family, all of us seem to carry some form of guilt around. We need to be kinder to ourselves, and kinder to others. If your kids are happy, loved and you’re meeting their basic needs, then guess what mammy? You’re doing an amazing job!
Read about my decision to become a stay-at-home mum here.