If you can name a way to be a crappy mother, I’ve probably done it. It started before my kids were even born. I’m convinced that if God wanted me to be in pain during labor he wouldn’t have invented the epidural.
I never co-slept or carried my baby in a sling. I used disposable diapers. I bottle fed. Hey could I help it if my boobs don’t work? I fed my babies inorganic store bought baby food, fed my youngest peanut butter at 10 months, and let all my kids eat sugar before their 1st birthday. I watched as they ate dirt and told them lies about how the ice cream truck only plays music when they are out of ice cream.
But probably the worst thing I ever did as a mother, was go back to teaching school when my oldest daughter went to kindergarten. I wanted to stay home with my kids, I really did. But it was while I was searching around in the couch cushions for loose change so I could have $1.50 to buy celery for a church function, that I realized that one educator’s salary wasn’t cutting it for my family. If anything can bring on the mom guilt, it’s not the realization that you are going to need to hire a babysitter. It’s not even the realization that you might miss a class play. The thing that really gives you the most guilt about being a working mother is the stay-at-home mothers who let you know you suck.
Picture this…It was my first day back to work after five years staying home with my kids. Because my principal was a mother as well, and a generally awesome lady, she gave me permission to take an hour off to register my daughter for kindergarten. When I went into the school as a brand new, guilt-ridden first time kindergarten mom, I was surprised to see a zillion tables set up full of mom volunteers trying to get other moms to volunteer. It’s kind of like a yearly contest of seeing who can be the superest of super star volunteer moms. Not to be outdone by all the stay-at-home moms that I completely envied, I quickly went over to the table where two of my neighbors were looking for PTO volunteers. I thought, ‘Hey, I know I’m busy and I work full time, but I can do it all. I can teach and totally rock the PTO!’ so I wrote my name on their paper.
My first neighbor who I will politely call Bambi to protect the not-so-innocent, looked at me and said, “Oh, you can’t be on the PTO committee, you are a working mom!” Surely, in my guilt-muddled state, I heard her wrong! “I think there are probably some things I could do,” I said. “I could make phone calls, or send treats. I think I could help out.” My second neighbor, I’ll call her, Candy, said, “No, we have our meetings during the day while you’re at work. I think you better not be part of the PTO,” and she crossed out my name. SHE CROSSED OUT MY NAME!
I sat there stunned! That was the first time in my life I realized that sometimes we as mothers put other mothers down to make ourselves feel better. I’m pretty sure if I could have lived inside her head right then, I would have heard this internal dialogue, “I totally think it’s unfair that I have to look through my couch cushions to find $1.50 so I can take carrots to a church function to go with your celery when you get to go to work every day and don’t have to worry about such things. So to make up for my suckiness, I’m going to say something mean.”
There were things I could have said and maybe should have said, but I didn’t. If I had said those things it would have really been me silently saying. “It is so unfair that I have to go back to work when really I’d rather be home with my kids going through the cushions in my couch trying to find $1.50, so I’m going to say something mean back to cover up my suckiness.” I held the tears until I got in my car. Then I cried all the way back to work.
This year…13 years after my oldest went to kindergarten, and my neighbors told me I couldn’t join the PTO, I finally got over it! I have spent too many years having mom guilt over being a working mom. I have spent enough time resenting it and wishing I had the luxury of staying home. But this year I walked into the school on a summer day, long before I was on the clock, to begin preparing my classroom for 20 third graders who I would soon come to love as my own children, and I felt a rush of joy. I felt like I was home. I was so happy to be at school and I finally came to know that this is where I belong!
Oh, I still have a hard time getting celery to church functions. Now it’s just because it’s hard to find time to get to the store, get dinner on the table and make it to church on time…I’m a working mom. My own kids love me, 125 third graders love me, my husband loves me, and that’s enough for anyone!