As I sat in our weekly Mommy & Me music class with my toddler son, a very glamorous power suit-clad woman walked into the room. With envy, I studied her flawlessly pressed shirt, perfectly manicured nails and freshly blown-out hair. She was clearly a successful professional.
I thought of my own career and admitted that at times I missed working. I missed running meetings and managing a team. At the least I missed showering daily and adult interaction. As if on cue, I started to feel a sense of guilt. I felt guilty for many reasons; that I let my parents down to have swapped my Ivy League education and Wall Street jobs for food-stained lululemon pants and two day-old fuzzy ponytails. I sometimes feel guilty that my husband has to carry the financial burden of the family on his own. It is not a question of ability, because he is wonderfully capable, but as I explained to him I started earning money when I was ten years old selling bracelets I had made to classmates in elementary school. Even then I felt a rush and a sense of independence being able to earn my own money. Lastly I feel guilty that I sometimes enjoyed time away from the baby.
Just at that moment the polished career woman from music class met my stare. I looked away self-conscious about of my disheveled appearance and transparent sense of envy. The woman then sat next to a little girl and her nanny, I realized that was her daughter nestled in the nanny’s lap. Minutes into the class that little girl’s wobbly knees gave out and I watched a tearful toddler reached out for her nanny’s comfort rather than her mother’s. The mother drew her eyes to the ground concealing her increasingly blushing face. She fished her phone out from her oversize designer bag as if to take a call and shamefully
left the class.
On her way out our eyes met once again – this time my son was on my lap snuggling up and displaying rare angelic behavior. I was overwhelmed by her sense of failure as a mother.
I was later informed by the nanny that the woman was the head of a company and had a very “big job” as the nanny put it with long hours and regular travel. Life is about tradeoffs as the cliché goes and as I speak with many more mothers I realize that we feel guilt whether we are with our children full time or not – we feel guilty missing our child’s first steps, going out for date nights, getting frustrated with sleep training and dreaming of long uninterrupted showers. We feel guilty because we love our children – both the career woman from class and I- we are good mothers. We want to be successful in all facets of our life especially with respect to our family– all in our Catholic, Jewish (insert religion) infused Type A perfectionist way.
That may just be my confession but I know many of you can relate.
Although I strongly believe children are born hardwired with a distinct personality, parenting and in most cases mothering styles can certainly influence behavior. With successful, well adjusted adults who grew up with career women as mothers with “big jobs” I have noticed a common trend; an amazing sense of independence and self-reliance often leading to entrepreneurial ventures or excelling in careers requiring a self starter.
On the other hand, there are equally accomplished and well-rounded adults whose mothers may have sacrificed their careers for full-time motherhood. This group (myself included) relished in having their mothers home to greet them with a snack and shoulder to cry on when they had a bad day at school.
As mentioned, I was fortunate enough to have an amazing and selfless mother at home to care for us. It is what I know best and a part of me aims to replicate my happy childhood for my son. Many people who had their moms at home seem to be great team players and often flourish at high level management positions and at large corporations. They seem to also have a great sense of confidence but often flourish in group environments where they rise up as leaders. Of course there are plenty of exceptions on either side but my unaccredited psychological surveying has come to this conclusion.
I ask that you join me in a New Year’s resolution to embrace our differing roles as mothers. In many cases our role is temporary. Many working women end up at home because of layoffs or after additional children are born and many moms return to work once children are in school. One possible perspective is that the mom from music class could be grateful her daughter has such a caring nanny to comfort her in her mother’s absence and stay at home moms like me could invest in new sweat pants to combat the “haggard chic” look while lowering their bar of an expectation of perfection.
Please join me not only in embracing our own individual roles and definitions of Motherhood and embark on a guilt free motherhood in 2012 which includes supporting each other. The next time my eyes meet a career mom’s guilty glance I will flash her a knowing smile that we are both just doing our best to love our children – you can’t ask for more than that, right?
Vanessa McCafferty lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with her husband Colin, her son Nolan (16 months), and her mini Goldendoodle, Birdie (2).