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Something always gives

There are just some things you accept that you give up experiencing when you’re a working mom. New foods. New friends. New words, and new teeth.
The first all-by-myself monkey bar expedition. The first fairy princess dress-up playdate. The first goal scored at soccer practice. The first snowman drawing. The first snowman making.

Mostly I’ve learned to do without; what choice do I have? Still, some of them hurt a little more than others. There’s not a day that I don’t wish I had a magic mirror that Ozma gave Dorothy, so I could peek in on my girls at any given minute to witness the small triumphs and sweet moments.

But for me, my Achilles heel is missing pediatrician visits.

I want to be there. I feel I should be there. I’m the mom, dammit, and it kills me not to be there, holding hands and stroking heads, ready with a lollipop after those boosters. And so I never make the appointment until the last possible minute and the school is calling and ugh did we miss a deadline or something? because I simply am not available during appointment hours. Of course procrastination doesn’t somehow make the need to visit go away. One of these years I’ll learn that.

So I finally resigned myself to rely on my sitter to take the girls in for well visits (remember when they were just called check-ups?), willing away memories of sanctimommy judgments I once made myself about nannies in the waiting room with children.

(Oh, don’t we all know best when we’ve got our first baby in our arms?)

I briefed my sitter on the questions to ask, the forms to get, the little nighttime cough to discuss. I looked Sagey in the eye and promised, don’t worry sweetie. I don’t think you get a shot this time. It’s just a visit. With the nice doctor.

And then, in the middle of a meeting, I get the call from the nice doctor about the shot.

The guilt hits. The crushing, debilitating, evil, pathetic working mom guilt. The stuff that never goes away even when you think you’ve got it all under control. Like it just has to creep up into the forefront of your consciousness once in a while to keep you in check; a stinging reminder that no, you can’t do it all. Something always gives. It’s a guilt that wants you to feel it, and feel it good. Yes, right now. Yes, right in the middle of a meeting. And no, you can’t suppress it.

I’m wondering whether my 3 year-old feels betrayed or abandoned or simply in pain and I’m just not there. I’m in a meeting debating the very important, life-of-death decision of how big the title card should be at the end of the commercial.

The tears burn the back of my eyes. I’m just not there.

{ 44 comments… add one }

  • Mama Cas 9.28.2010, 12:13 pm

    Ouch. I'm not in your same position, but I can easily imagine how it hurts sometimes. We have 4 children, which means it's not possible for me to be at every class trip or hockey game. When my oldest son won his hockey championship? I was at home with the 3 younger ones…feeding them supper and putting them to bed. I hated that I wasn't there for him.

    On a pediatrician-related note: My kids ALWAYS always always ask if they'll get a “pinch” at the dr. I tell them, “I don't know exactly what the dr. has planned. We'll find out when we get there.” Then they sit in terror until the dr. says yay or nay. If the answer is yay…they immediately start screeching as if he's ordered an anesthesia-free amputation. OMG I hate pediatrician visits.

  • MDTaz 9.28.2010, 12:53 pm

    All month long, because of an all-of-a-sudden-wacky work schedule, I've been running to catch up with myself in a frenetic sprint, and the thing that seems to fall between the cracks is always something to do with the kids. I often feel like I'm failing spectacularly. I wrote about this recently and was blown away by the comments reminding me of this: You don't have to be perfect. You don't have to do it all. Those kids know you love them.

    But the guilt. I know, it's hard. I can't shake it, either.

  • Jenna 9.28.2010, 12:56 pm

    I feel your pain. I'm a full time working mom with infant twins and a three year old and I'd be lying if I said I've never sent the nanny to the doctor with the kids. While it's certainly not possible for me to make the drop everything sick kid visits, I really really try to make the “well visits.” I schedule them eons in advance and put in for sick or vacation leave at the same time, which usually means I'll actually be able to show up for the appointment once it happens. Since these only happen once a year, it's reasonable on the work end, and something I get to look forward to with my oldest. Maybe worth a shot? (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

  • amanda 9.28.2010, 1:18 pm

    The dentist. That's my most tremendous and shameful failure. My oldest begs to go and I keep forgetting to make the appointment, then, just as I make it her doctor at her physical tells her she has a cavity. She looked at me in absolute horror and I saw the question, “How did you let this happen to me?” ricochet in her mind again and again. I walk stooped some days from the weight of what I haven't done, then something happens and I am reminded of the unique experiences she has for her inclusion in my professional life.

    The blade is jagged and I believe no matter which way you parent, the edges get you.

    So sorry.

  • Mir 9.28.2010, 1:40 pm

    Amanda said it best. If you didn't work (or worked differently) so that you could be there for every ped visit, it would be something else. Nature of the game.

    Having made it twelve-and-a-half years through this gig so far, I feel confident saying that the traumas — when they happen — are nearly always worse for us than for them. My daughter thinks it's HILARIOUS how much I still agonize over this or that thing from her youth that she barely remembers. Thank God.

  • the grumbles 9.28.2010, 1:41 pm

    “the stuff that never goes away even when you think you've got it all under control”

    yes, this. exactly. makes my heart ache.

  • Meagan Francis 9.28.2010, 1:42 pm

    Ooof. I can feel how much this hurts. The thing is, too, that no matter what (working, at-home, work-at-home, whatever) there are always going to be things we miss that we believe, feel, know we NEED to be there for. But…sometimes we can't be. Sometimes we don't even really WANT to be, it's just that we “should”. I cringe to bring up the oh-so-hackneyed “kids are resilient” phrase, but I really believe it. I think these moments stay with us much longer than they stay with them. (I do remember getting a shot when I was 5, but I don't remember anything about whether my mom was there or not; all I remember is I got a sucker afterward, and was mad because my brother got to get the live polio vaccine–orally, not a shot–and I had to get the needle.)

  • Annie @ PhD in Parenting 9.28.2010, 1:45 pm

    I miss out on a lot as a working mom. For me the biggest guilt inducing one is school field trips, because other parents do go (as volunteers) and I always get the guilt trip about why the other mommies go, but I don't.

    For the doctor's appointments, I'm always there. But that is less about mommy guilt and more about my general lack of trust in the medical establishment. But now that I think about it, I wonder whether sending the kids to the doctor with a sitter would be a way to avoid some of the intrusive questions about my parenting that I don't think it is her place to be asking. Hmmm….something to consider.

  • Marinka 9.28.2010, 1:45 pm

    I'm going to break rank and tell you, because my kids are older and I am very wise, that you can't succumb to mommy guilt. Because it's, what's the word? Bullshit. Sexist bullshit. How many hours has their father spent fretting about not being able to accompany his daughters to the pediatrician? I'm guessing the number is a fraction of yours, and I'd also bet that he loves them just as much.

    If I told you that your place is with them, title cards be damned, when they get a shot, the internet would rise against me and I'd be Gloria Steinemed off the URL. And yet. What we do to ourselves as mothers is so much powerful and so much worse.

    I'm sorry that you're feeling bad about it, truly. I know it's not easy. But I'm sure it's harder for you than it is for your girls.

  • Mom101 9.28.2010, 1:49 pm

    Oh yeah Annie, I'm already letting the field trip guilt creep in.

    Marinka, I love you and your tough love. I don't know if it's sexist or if it's just some biological maternal need to protect and comfort. Probably both. But I suppose it's more fun to blame the patriarchy.

  • Magpie 9.28.2010, 2:14 pm

    Oh, I hear you. I send her with her daddy, and I'm sure he'll forget to ask all the right questions…

  • Cloud 9.28.2010, 2:19 pm

    Oh, ouch. I think Sage will forgive you before you forgive yourself, but I hope you'll go easy on yourself. There will be lots more doctors appointments, right?

    I've missed lots of pediatrician appointments. It is my husband who goes instead. I always try to take the ones with shots, but that is because he doesn't handle needles all that well. My 3 yo does fine….

  • Flucky Mom 9.28.2010, 2:20 pm

    I think guilt is an intrinsic part of motherhood. If you're a working mom, you feel guilty for missing out on events, and when you're a reluctant SAHM, you feel guilty for wanting a break. It's always a lose-lose situation. I think we set the bar so high for ourselves that we create an unattainable ideal.

  • Motherhood Uncensored 9.28.2010, 2:24 pm

    This is a reminder for me to be thankful for the little things that I often over look or take for granted.

    One mom's pediatrician's visit is another mom's…

    It's all relative, isn't it?

  • TheOneTrueSue 9.28.2010, 2:49 pm

    Oh, how I feel your pain. I've always worked, but for the last nine years I worked from HOME, which meant that I had oodles of flexibility. Now (thank you crappy economy) I'm working in an office, and I leave at 5:30 in the morning and have to trust my husband to do the kids hair for school – for a control freak like me that is pure hell. We have a great nanny, but somehow that doesn't make me feel better about it.

    I'm only now realizing how very good I had it all of those years when I thought it was so hard to juggle.

    I hold the baby for an hour after he falls asleep at night, wishing this could count as quality time, because now, suddenly, I’m one of those moms who is forced to care about quality time. And I hate it.

    My friends who work tell me I will get used to it, that it won’t bother me so much after a while, but I’m not sure that I WANT it not to hurt. I’m not sure I want to get to the point where I’m totally o.k. with leaving my kids for almost 50 hours per week.

    When I talk to my SAHM friends, I am absolutely eaten up with jealousy. I think moms are just wired this way. We want to be there. I, at least, ache to be there.

  • Fairly Odd Mother 9.28.2010, 2:53 pm

    You remember Marcie? Well, she used to say, “Guilt is a Useless Emotion”. I love that saying. I think mothers should tattoo this to their arm.

    I'm pretty sure Sage has no idea you are “supposed” to take her to the doctor's. And, god, I love Marinka: I don't think my husband has ever taken the kids to the doctor. Nor do I think he's ever spent a second upset about it.

    Us stay-at-home moms? We forget to make appts too (still haven't made my 6th's 6yo checkup appt), have kids who get mouthfuls of cavities and forget appointments, miss soccer games and basically screw up. And I beat myself up about it way more than my kids do.

    Hugs to you. And you are an AWESOME mom, in every way.

  • Penelope 9.28.2010, 3:00 pm

    Here via the grumbles. GREAT post. As a working mom, the demands on our time are endless…I always feel like I'm falling short at something. It's comforting to be reminded I'm in good company.

  • Kami 9.28.2010, 3:40 pm

    Yup. This is why I started my blog. I was desperate to hear that other moms feel this way too. And that though it may never get easier, it's ok to work and mom. We miss stuff. But we gain stuff too. I, for one, have gained a saner outlook on my life now that I'm not all about the bodily functions of the people I birthed. Work helps me be me. And when I'm me, I'm a much better mom.

  • Sarahviz 9.28.2010, 3:41 pm

    I so know these feelings. But all the comments here have made me feel better about being a Working Mom.

  • Cloud 9.28.2010, 3:59 pm

    @Kami- EXACTLY. I've written a lot about this on my blog, because I don't feel a lot of guilt, and I like to try to explore why that is. It is certainly not because I have life all figured out or because I don't drop balls in my own juggle.

    I always say I'm a better mom because I work. That doesn't mean that would be true for all moms, or that I think I'm a better mom than anyone else (HA! Not by a long shot.) Just that for me, being a working mom is the right thing to do.

    @Marinka's right- I don't hear a lot of angst from the working dads out there, my husband included. So anytime I start feeling guilty, I try to remember that.

    It also helps that I have plenty of SAHM friends, and we pretty much agree: it is the state of being a mom that makes life crazy, regardless of how you do it. It is easy to look over to the other side and think “life would be easier if I stayed home (or worked)”. But I think the truth is that being a mom is hard no matter how you do it.

  • Tracy C 9.28.2010, 4:14 pm

    I'm right there with you Liz…our 15 month appt is tomorrow and Dave just called to say he can't make it because his pre-pro meeting has been changed and I've been contemplating how I'm going to fit in 3 sample classes at Kidville that I bought on Groupon before October 31 because it was such a good deal, knowing there is no way I can get out of work 3 times to take her to these classes.

  • Jen L 9.28.2010, 4:25 pm

    I'm not in this exact position because I only work part-time. So as long as I plan far enough in advance, I can make sure the appt is on one of my days off and I can be there. But I think that, for me at least, the annual dr. visit is one thing I wouldn't miss, at least not at this age (mine is 4). I've missed some field trips and Halloween parades, but after getting a shot, my kid really needs his mom's comfort. I think even if I worked full time, the one dr. visit a year would be worth taking the afternoon off. Or making my husband take the afternoon off, because why should it always be the mom's job? It is all about individual priorities and what's right for my kid might not be best for yours, but for me, a dr. visit is more worth a day off than a field trip. Working parents can't be there for every little field trip and we have to accept that we will miss some of these things. And by the way, our kids are fine with that. It's good for their independence. But at the pediatrician's office is not the time that my son wants to exert his independence!

  • Issas Crazy World 9.28.2010, 5:16 pm

    I think we all have our thing. Mine is field trips. School events during the day. I just can't afford to take off a whole day to do these things. It sucks too, because I work at home. Yet I'm contract. I only get paid for the hours I work and I just can't do it. It sucks. I want to be that mom going to downtown day. Or the zoo. Or or or. My girls deserve me to be there for that, but in the end, they need food and clothes more.

    Hugs Liz.

  • Elaine A. 9.28.2010, 5:24 pm

    Yeah I hear ya, and I'm here – at home! Like today I forgot to put a snack in my son's backpack and even though it's not really on the same level, he's going to be disappointed and upset and that makes me sad. But I can't bring it to him because baby is napping, etc.

    There's so much give and take in parenting.

    I'm sorry that you're hurting though…

  • Tristina 9.28.2010, 5:28 pm

    I can't empathize because my first is still a baby and my husband works his arse off so I can stay home with her (for now) but I can understand the need to be there for everything and the need to protect.

    So, I hug you instead.

  • Melba 9.28.2010, 5:29 pm

    I succumb to the Mommy Guilt too. All the time.

    But thanks Marinka for the wake-up call on that. I got similar advice from Cloud recently too about how no good Mommy Guilt is. I struggle with it, but until recently have never been told flat out by someone that it's OK and the guilt is just toxic so drop it already. So thanks you two.

    Something does always give though. My Rosie has a brand new filling in her back molar to proove it.

  • Angela 9.28.2010, 5:49 pm

    Yes, it does suck when you can't be everywhere and do everything. Sigh…been there, feel that everyday. I work outside the home but I know that my kids feel loved and important. Try and not let the guilt eat you up…yes, I know, much easier said than done. Your daughters know that you love them more than anything, and you would be there, if you could.

  • Mom et al 9.28.2010, 6:08 pm

    Marinka's comment is awesome, and makes me be all HELL YA! But then my experience as a mother is it that it is always me that the kids want for comfort. When work gets in the way it is so hard to explain why. I'm with you.

  • Cloud 9.28.2010, 6:37 pm

    OK, so clearly I have a lot to say on guilt. I hope you don't mind the repeat posts.

    Anyway, someone on a recent AskMoxie thread about working mom guilt made the distinction between feeling sad because we miss something and feeling guilty. I think that is a really valuable distinction. Of course you are sad that you weren't there for Sage when she was getting a shot. I'm sad when I'm not the one at home holding my baby when she's sick (my husband and I take turns with sick days, and we try to call for backups- my mom- whenever possible). But I don't feel guilty about it, because it is not like I am leaving her at home sick with someone else to go do something frivolous- I am going to work. To make money to buy my children food and shelter and clothes and other good things. Yeah, we could live off what my husband makes, but we live so much better when you add in what I make. We can do fun, enriching things that I honestly think make more of a difference long term than whether grandma is the one holding the feverish baby for her nap. (Or whether the nanny is the one taking the preschooler in for a shot.)

    You should only feel guilty if you are doing something wrong, and I think that providing material needs and enrichment for your children IS part of being a good mother. Even if you are independently wealthy and don't need the money at all, if working keeps you sane, then it is good, because being a sane mother is being a good mother.

    OK, I'll step down off my soap box now. But mothers of the world- ditch the guilt!

  • Jen 9.28.2010, 7:28 pm

    *hugs*

  • Julie @ The Mom Slant 9.28.2010, 9:16 pm

    I can only echo the others. It's always something. You're there for so much; focus on what you've experienced, not what you've missed.

  • Random Chick 9.28.2010, 9:17 pm

    Wow, have I been there.

    Here's how I reconcile those times when I can't be there: I am TOTALLY and COMPLETELY focused on my kids when I'm with them. Not so much to spoil them, but I've seen so many parents “with” their kids and ignoring the kid who is obviously dying for his/her parents' attention.

    Be there completely when you can. Your children will remember this always.

  • Lovely In Pink 9.28.2010, 9:21 pm

    I feel you. She will be fine and in 20 years, she'll never remember that “wellness” visit that you missed out on. Mommy Guilt is a horrible guilt but we all feel it. Don't focus so much on the things you don't have or can't do but on the ones that you can. Because that is all that matters.

  • Asha {Parent Hacks} 9.28.2010, 9:41 pm

    Understand, understand, even though my work schedule and the pressures that come with it are so very different.

  • Jen 9.28.2010, 10:40 pm

    Oh, the guilt of the working Mom. I feel your pain. It's impossible not to feel guilty at least some of the time.

    Yesterday I was knee-deep in work and I would get periodic guilty flashes regarding my 3-year old's constipation and how she refuses to poop at preschool. I imagined her using every effort to “hold it in” and was berating myself because I forgot to tell the school to make sure she drinks a lot of water, and I forgot to pack prunes in her lunch, and oh my god, I'm the worst mother.

    And, you know, when I picked her up at the end of the day, she WAS crying and WAS still constipated and told me that she was crying because she missed me.

    And, I seriously thought that I should quit my job. That I should put my family in financial straits and give up my career because gosh darn it, my daughter needs me to poop! (Of course, she doesn't really need me to poop.)

    No matter how you look at it, you can't give your 100% best to your family and your job 100% of the time. There is always going to be guilt and it just stinks.

  • Ellen 9.29.2010, 1:06 am

    I get it. And I got a really bad case of mom guilt this weekend too—because, ironically, I was at a mom blog conference blabbing all about THE BLOG I WRITE ABOUT MY KIDS.

    It was wonderful to hang with you today!

  • Michelle 9.29.2010, 1:54 am

    As a pediatrician I can say that as long as you prep the nanny with your concerns, then no biggie! As for the shots? I can also say that most toddler/preschoolers do better with the shots when their mom is NOT there. Kids turn it on and freak out more with their parents. Sage was fine. It is healthy for kids to be able to depend on others for comfort, and to not always have to have their mommy. There are too many other things to feel guilty about in life. Don't let this be one of them.

  • the mama bird diaries 9.29.2010, 1:57 am

    Beautiful, honest post.

  • Sarah 9.29.2010, 2:02 am

    I'm so sorry. Not much can compare to what you must have feltl like in that moment. I just took Jack to his four year old check up and promised no shots (up till now I really font think he remembered what one was). But then the news came…this year or next – 4 boosters/vacs to be exact. I always opt for the now vs later. I felt that pit in the stomach horrible and promised a trip to Target for a Star Wars figure before we went back to daycare (working mom no hubby home during week) in exchange for bravery. But I got to give the hug and I wish I could give it to you right now.

  • whenismyturn 9.29.2010, 3:20 am

    I'd love to say “ditch the guilt” but first I have to figure out how to do that.

  • Jess 9.29.2010, 10:17 am

    I'm in the same boat. I wish I could tell you it goes away, but it doesn't.

    I need to work a very early shift, meaning I don't get to see my kids off to school. For a while it was fine – I'd just lay out their clothes and my husband made sure they wore them (and didn't deviate from the plan).

    But now, the girls are 10 and starting to turn into little ladies. They want to try new hairdos and are asking when they can wear some makeup (not yet!). My husband does the best he can, but he's totally out of his element.

    So, I've welcomed them home from the bus to find some scary hairdos (crooked pigtails, poorly placed hair clips) and thought, OMG. You went to school looking like that?!?

    I desparately wish I could help them get ready and send them off with confidence and pride — and not worry about caddy, clichy girls teasing them for their attempts.

    Guilt. It's a bitch.

  • ZipLine Lady 9.29.2010, 2:42 pm

    I've had to remind myself and moms in my parenting classes a thousand times of this: “The perfect parent would raise the perfect child completely unfit for society.” What a relief!

    PS Perfect is so… 1950's!

  • Sarah @ BecomingSarah.com 9.29.2010, 3:18 pm

    I think that parent guilt is a biological mechanism, a way to reinforce the parent-child attachment. After all, when I feel guilty about not spending enough time with someone or about not being there when they needed me…it affects how much time I spend with them or when I spend that time with them next time around. And I am all for following biology. I hate to admit it, but my husband and I are totally becoming crazy hippies in our quest to recreate as natural an environment as possible for our children: no television, growing our own food, slaughtering our own meat, wood toys from the tree that died in our yard last year, etc.

    I mean, seriously. The woman I was five years ago would never recognize me today. And also would have spend like two months making fun of the woman I am today.

    Anyway, the thing is: I also believe that parent guilt is a biological mechanism that we need to all overcome. Be confident in your decision – in working, you are providing for your children. And not just money. You may be providing some much-needed interaction with other adults, or a more patient parent at the end of the day than one that I, as an at-home mother, am able to provide. Who knows? What I do know is that this is the choice you made and you made it because, one assumes, the pros of working outweighed the cons. So stand by that choice. Look that guilt in the face and refuse to let it get the better of you. Sometimes what you think will work doesn't work at all – but instead of feeling guilty, just look at it as a learning experience. We all learn the hard way sometimes and it doesn't make us any less admirable a mother.

  • Alex 9.29.2010, 7:15 pm

    I'm not a full-time working mom, but I still hate it when my mom gets to do the cool “first” with my son. it bugs me and I get that mom guilt that “How dare you go get your nails done you should be out seeing him get on monkey bars for the first time”

    Sorry you feel that way. But when your kids get shots you can be the one to bring home a nice awesome treat. Like the Dr Superhero.

    Ps. Thanks for reminding me to make the 2 yro check up that I missed two months ago. Totally called while reading your blog.

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