Bad mom?

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(the post I wanted to write last night.)

A friend called me Thursday morning with an important question: “Are we bad moms for working?” Or, more accurately and guiltily “We’re not bad moms for working, are we?”

I don’t quite remember what I said in response, though I know I acknowledged that work is important and we sometimes have to and sometimes want to. And we discussed what that then means in terms of using the time we’re not working: if we’re not 100% focused on our kids during this “free” time, are we then even worse moms?

I know I’ve been feeling a bit like a bad mom lately. I’m reading some about Montessori education, and baby-led weaning, and other things, and I wish I were giving my daughter a more structured home life, more learning opportunities and more attention. I also know the advice I will get: if it makes you feel bad, don’t read it! Moms do enough and don’t deserve to be made to feel badly.

When I think about working and bad-mom-dom, 3+ months into being a working mom, I have a better handle on why I might work. Or not work. Right now, I work for a few reasons. First, this job I have is the first real job I’ve ever had that is just right for me. I’m good at it. I’m very good at it! And while I’ve done volunteer work and contract work that I’ve been good at in the past, I have lacked confidence or a certain level of knowledge about processes and working with others and modifying my methods, and definitely a lack of appropriate remuneration for effort. The job happened to come along 7 months into my marriage, and I was pregnant 6 months after the job started at the age of 37 (I think … I lose track of my age a lot more easily now). In other words, the classic problem facing educated, career-oriented women: career possibilities take off as child-bearing years start to wind down. I’ve gone to school for so long and know I’m capable of and want to make a contribution to the world through my work. I want to keep on going with this first great job opportunity and at least grow into a few years of experience at this work.

Second, money. We need it. We will downsize as soon as we can, but to get to the place we want to be (no debt, low mortgage, saving up for our dream home – see earlier post on our small-scale dreams) I need to work. To keep afloat now, my income matters. So I “have” to work. The other option, of course, is to stop paying essential bills or buying food but that’s not really an option I’d like to choose.

Third: I’m enjoying my job. I have occasional moments of insight into the general weirdness of having hundreds and thousands of people working to build and maintain an institution and wonder what the overall purpose is to its existence, aside from self-perpetuation. However, society needs institutions as well as healthy families and individuals, and I”m doing my best to build a healthy, welcoming institution. I love connecting with people, organizing cool events, providing learning opportunities, completing projects.

Back to the bad mom bit. These are my personal reasons for working. I think they are valid and I feel good about my decision to work. For someone else, the reasons might differ and they might feel more or less strongly about the value of what they’re doing.

Society matters, too. We’re pushed into buying houses or can only get accommodation that costs too much so we have to work to avoid living on the streets. Jobs often aren’t too flexible so we have to take the hours we’re asked to work in an all or nothing marathon. I’m lucky to be able to work 4 days a week and have a reasonable amount of flexibility in scheduling plus sick time. So if these things apply to you and you have to work, you’re taking care of your family and you’re not a bad mom. Though it makes me feel horrible to think about 6 week old babies put into childcare … and sometimes that’s the only option if you’re going to have a child. Hmm.

At the same time, I think each mom is constantly questioning what she’s doing and if there are other options. I think being open to those options pushes you into the “good mom” category. In other words, if you are feeling that the amount of work you’re doing is too much or problematic and you consider what else might give to enable you to work less, that’s great. If it isn’t possible, at least you tried. I think this includes questioning expectations about providing things for your child (clothes, experiences, toys, classes) and really looking at a child’s main needs: love, a strong bond with loving caregivers, time to explore, learn, play, rest and be. At least, that’s my understanding of what children need. I worry about kids who are given too much stuff, especially electronic gadgets, or are rushed from one activity to another.

Conclusion: Do your best. Stay with your child as much as possible. Give your child love, attention, holding, listening. If you work because you love it or you need it, do it. If your children are doing okay (this requires a great deal of honest insight), that’s great. If they’re not, consider what might give. Always remember, kids need their parents, and parents need to be well, and we’re the ones who decided to have them, not vice versa, so think about their needs before yours. Within reason.

And if your daughter is crying and fussing at night and it takes until 9:30 to check her diaper and realize there’s poop in there, and she finally calms down and go to sleep by 10 once she’s changed and worn in the Ergo, well, at least you tried.

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