Ditch The Mom Guilt And Think Like A Dad Instead
The first trick to getting rid of mom guilt? Change your perspective.
I was an hour into my drive when I got the call. My kids were screaming in the background and my husband wasn't sure what to do first. They'd both vomited at the same time and I'm sure it was a scene out of a parenting horror movie. My instinct was to turn the car around.
I'd already been feeling a ton of guilt. I had a much anticipated work trip and like clockwork, my youngest started throwing up at 4 in the morning before I left, (I say like clockwork, but it was her first stomach bug EVER, just predictable that a kid gets sick before mom has something important to do). As I lay awake anticipating her bi-hourly need for a barf receptacle, I kept trying to talk myself into still going on my trip.
Honestly, the mom guilt was intense. I'm still nursing my youngest. I'd read breastmilk is the best thing for a stomach illness. With no breastmilk stashed, I felt like I was letting her down (even mere days before her second birthday) by leaving her without the one thing she might be able to keep in her belly. My mom neurosis flashed to scenes of my husband having to take her to the ER because she was too dehydrated. To my credit, it was very early in the morning and I hadn't gotten much sleep.
Despite all this, I still left. She seemed better when it was time for me to hit the road and I really wanted to go. At that point, my oldest hadn't started vomiting yet, and my husband seemed to have everything under control. I'd definitely taken my fair share of sick days to care for the kids, so this was my turn to go off to work while he stayed home. I ordered a Prime Now care package, left all the typical worried mom instructions, and headed out the door.
Nonetheless, the guilt was there each mile of my drive. But finally, somewhere between Sacramento and San Francisco, it hit me. Dads leave for work (and work trips) all the time and don't look back, even if the kids are sick. Sure they might offer to stay, but unless mom says "yes," they're out the door with a guilt-free "Bye, Felicia!"
So why is it, in 2019 when parents are finally co-parenting in a major way, that moms like me still feel so bad leaving sick kids with fully capable partners? Is it a control thing? Do we not actually trust they're capable? Do we think we're being bad moms by not being there to nurture our kids when they seem to need us the most? For me, it's probably a combination of all of the above.
But, as I drove farther and farther away from my family, I remembered who always went to great lengths to take care of me when I was sick — my single dad. Sure my mom was attentive and kind and rubbed my back and scrubbed my puke off the floor, but my dad would go to the store and get all my favorite things and check on me a million times, too. And, that was in the '80s and '90s, when parenting hadn't even become quite as egalitarian yet.
Remembering how comforted I was by my dad when I got sick as a child made me feel better about leaving my own kids. They deserve to have these memories of their dad, too. It's good for them and it's good for him. It was his chance to step in and really nurture them when usually I'd be the one staying home and holding them through it all. And, when I called to check on everyone at the end of the day, he said it was "illuminating."
It made him realize how much work I do each and every day to keep our family functioning even when I have my own professional work to do, too. Between all the sick-kid laundry and dishes, he saw things differently than before I'd left. Talk about win. I know I'm lucky to have a reflective and supportive partner, but the truth is, I don't let him do as much as I should.
Like a lot of moms, I try to own everything in my life and don't expect my husband to do quite as much around the house because he works outside the home more than I do. While in many ways this works, in others it creates a certain martyrdom to motherhood. Letting myself see the world through dad eyes for a couple days is making me rethink this.
As for my time away from home? I got to be an independent working woman and it felt good. By the time I stepped foot in the office, I wasn't feeling guilty anymore. I trusted my husband had it under control and that if things got really bad, I could always go back home. I reminded myself husbands go away guilt-free all the time.
So, even today, weeks later, as I sat down to write this and felt the mom guilt creeping in that it's Sunday and I could be playing with my daughter instead of typing, I asked myself this: "How would a dad feel?" And, the truth is, dads play with their kids and then give themselves time to do their own things (besides obsessively cleaning the house). They don't seem to overthink it and this is something I'm trying to get better at. After all, dads are working to see the world more like moms these days, so we owe it to ourselves to meet them in the middle and see things a bit differently, too.