Thoughts on Mommy Guilt
I have to preface this post by letting you all know that I have read more than one fabulous blog post, by much better writers than myself, on this topic. I am not trying to mimic or top those! Instead, I am just trying to add to the conversation by voicing my thoughts, as this is something I think about often… Mommy guilt.
When I was pregnant with Claire, someone at one of my baby showers (that obviously did not know me) asked me what I did, but not before she snidely remarked, “well, I mean, what do you do now? Of course, you will stay home with the baby once she’s born.” She said it as if there was no other choice… as if, I had already announced to everyone that my life goal was to have lots of babies and never “work” again. She said it because that is what she did, and even in her middle age, she still doesn’t work outside the home. She infuriated me (though I am confident she still has no idea that she did). Sure, I had no idea what it would be like to hold my precious baby in my arms, but I also knew that I really loved running a photography business and that nothing would ever change that.
I am blessed to be a small-business owner. In my heart, I know this is a huge blessing, especially as a mom, but… I can’t lie. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like a blessing. Sometimes, it feels like a burden to try to balance keeping up a business while trying to care for two very young children all day long. There is a constant battle within me. I know what it is to be a big fish in a small pond and to taste “success” and accomplishment in my job. 2008 was my busiest year to date. I had so much work that I had someone on staff AND I outsourced my backend workflow AND many of my album designs. I had to do all of these things to keep up, and I hated having to outsource! Somedays, I miss that. Somedays, I miss walking a quarter of a mile to my studio/office space to work those 8-12 hour days. Somedays, I just miss the notoriety I had in a small town. Somedays, I really miss having to juggle a million clients and actually having a calendar memorized based on the Saturdays I had booked 18 months in advance. And, most days that I feel this nostalgia… I feel a tinge of guilt.
No one has done anything to make me feel guilt for feeling this. But, there are all of those working moms that don’t take much of a break to be a mom and just move forward with their careers, and their businesses or jobs are thriving, even while being a mom, and they are okay, right? Well, not according to the words I hear my mommy friends say when they have to leave their 6 week old baby to go back to their job, and really, during 2009-2010 when I was still working a lot with Claire at home or at the nanny’s home, I had moments when I totally felt like I was totally missing out on her life or just plain failing at my mom job. Claire even went through spells where she acted like she just didn’t like me (particularly when she had a new nanny- which she had 3). She would get so mad at me: even at 3 months of age! She went through a “nursing strike.” No joke. I felt sick each time. So, there was guilt on the other side, even though I rarely worked a full work week after Claire was born (usually just those Christmas seasons). I felt guilty for working.
At some point, I just had to make the decision on what mattered the most to me. When we moved to Philadelphia, I truly felt like the Lord was closing a chapter of my life: a chapter that included having a flourishing studio. I am not saying I think that isn’t ever in the cards for me again. I just knew that leaving the Adirondacks meant leaving behind many of my great connections and clients and starting new. Well, starting new with a one year old toddler is not the same as starting new pre-babies. I had no extra time. In fact, every minute I had during the workweek that was child-free was a paid minute (ie. I was paying someone else for that minute), and thus, every minute suddenly had a HUGE value, which wasn’t all monetary either. So, I didn’t have time to waste. I could write an entire post on the topic of trying to start a business as a mom, but that is a post for another day… not today.
Anyway, Chris and I sat down and took a hard and long look at our finances. What did we have to do in order to make it possible for me to not work? Or, really, what did we have to do in order to take financial pressure off of me so that I didn’t HAVE to bring home a paycheck? Our answer was to get out of ALL debt: car payments, credit cards, student loans, etc. So, we did that, and once Ellen was born, we decided to no longer have a paid nanny to watch our littles while I work. I do not regret any part of this decision at all. I LOVE staying home with them. I love being a part of their lives all the time. I love that my relationship with Claire has become so much richer (as strange as that may sound, since she is only 3). I know that this time is fleeting, and any time I feel guilt for letting my business fall a few steps down from “flourishing” or feeling guilt for turning potential clients down because I just can’t handle the workload, I tell myself that in 5+ years time, I will probably have a crazy business life again and will probably be wishing I had these baby/toddler/pre-school days back!
My whole point is this… I believe we all should make decisions in order to get us to the place that will give us the most joy. We have to work through the guilt. Sometimes, I think “guilt” is a vehicle for learning what is and isn’t working for us. I believe I could never stop doing what I do with photography because I would get lost in my children’s lives and not have my own outlet. I also believe I could never go back to working 3-5 full days and hiring someone to watch my children while I work. Staying at home with the girls for 4 out of 5 weekdays (my mother-in-law keeps them on Fridays) is immeasurably priceless for me. These are the sweetest days of my life, and I can’t imagine anything more rewarding (or challenging, really!).
side note on this next one… Claire was trying to “pump milk for Ellen like mommy.” This is actually pretty funny, as I VERY rarely pumped while she was awake. But, this also leads to another topic I know some moms face: guilt for not nursing. We all know that nursing your baby is the best thing nutritionally, but stop the guilt!! I know that if I worked full-time, there is no way I would want to take breaks every 3-4 hours to pump in a bathroom or breakroom (or even in my office!). I know women do it, and I am amazed at every single one of you. I also know that some stay-at-home-moms just couldn’t produce the volume or the latch didn’t work or whatever… it is NOT something to carry guilt over. Feeding your child McDonald’s every day is definitely something you should feel guilt over, but not this.
the next few are from my February daily portrait project…