I often think about the role guilt played in my life as I rose through the corporate ranks. It was an ever-present companion, a specter. Rationally, I knew I was a competent mother—subconsciously and (at times) consciously—that nagging feeling of guilt ate away at me. I felt guilty because I was out of the house and not participating in the raising of my children 24/7.
I’ve also worked extremely hard at being the best mother I can be. My kids turned out great. All four are successful adults. They don’t resent me for working long hours. In fact, they’re proud of the achievements their mother has made.
Nonetheless, for a long time I felt extremely guilty about my decisions.
I remember a day when my daughter, Jacqueline, was two years old. Dressed in a business suit, I was walking my daughter to the babysitter while she clung to me sobbing, “Don’t go, Mommy. Don’t go!”
Jacqueline was so upset that I couldn’t bring myself to leave, yet I had to go to work. I hung around outside for a bit, crying, mascara streaming down my face. After about 10 minutes, I peeked in the window and saw Jacqueline in the center of a group of kids, laughing and bouncing a ball. She was fine, but I was a mess. As the mom of two young kids at the time (I have four kids in total) and a professional at a demanding job, guilt was my steady companion.
I know every working mother understands this. Let’s say, the baby has a fever, you still have to go to work. It doesn’t matter if your mother, husband or a perfectly competent caretaker is there to care for your child. You are the mother and you want to be there. Then, there are the looks you get when you bring store-bought cookies to the school bake sale or maybe you forget the cookies altogether. You feel the eyes of the teachers or other moms and hear them silently judging, “You are ruining your kids!”
In the earliest drafts of my book, You Are NOT Ruining Your Kids: A Positive Perspective on the Working Mother, I focused on the guilt that was always with me when the kids were little. I now understand that so much of that guilt was self-imposed. I’ve learned to let it go. I want to encourage you to let your guilt go, too.
One day, however, when I was about halfway through the first draft of my book, I realized that something was missing. I was writing about the challenges and feelings of guilt all working moms face, but I wasn’t giving equal attention to the joy. I was taking all the magic and reward of parenting for granted.
There is no greater joy than parenting and nothing is more magical than your child’s laugh, whether that child is six, 26 or older. Nothing is more rewarding than watching your child learn a new skill or accomplish a goal. No purpose or professional title is greater than the love you have for your kids.