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Work, Guilt, and Feeling Like a ‘Real Mom’

My sister-in-law Barb, a K-12 teacher, is one of the most successful women I know–both on the career and parenting fronts. She is the mother of two thriving boys, with whom she stayed at home for four years before returning to the workplace.

She recently agreed to answer my questions about the emotional aspects of her choices around work and family. Here’s what she said:

Q: Do you work full-time or part-time outside the home, or are you at home full-time?

A: I work full-time outside the home. Luckily, I’m a teacher and my schedule matches my kids’. I could never work full-time if this weren’t the case.

Q: What has contributed to your decision to either stay at home or work?

A: Money–what else. In today’s economy, and with my husband being self-employed, it’s just not possible to not work. We have tried to look at the “big picture” in that: Why would I quit my job when the boys are in school full-time, and I’m home with them whenever they are? What would I do during the day? Selfishly that would be wonderful … but in the real world, it’s just not going to happen. Also, my job provides me with a retirement plan that we need to think about. I also use my job for my family’s health benefits.

Q: What do you think is easier emotionally–working outside the home, or being at home with your child(ren)?

A: It is a ton easier to work outside the home. When I was a stay-at-home mom [SAHM], that was the hardest job I have ever done. I often thought about being back in the classroom, in front of 25 1st graders, teaching them how to read. Way easier!!!!!

Q: If you are at home with your child(ren) full-time–or if you were for any length of time–what emotional challenges do/did you face?

A: I stayed home with my kids for four years. My emotional challenges were what any new mother faces … self-doubt, am I doing everything right? Am I playing with them enough? Are they thriving? Am I a good-enough mom? I never was concerned about returning to the workplace.

Q: Name two or three of the biggest emotional hurdles you’ve faced since becoming a mom. Have they been related to your identity? Work? Relationship with your husband?

A: Without a doubt, my biggest emotional hurdle is guilt. I feel guilt over anything and everything I miss in my kids’ lives since I have to work. Guilt over not getting them on the bus on the first day of school, not being there when they get home, not knowing who all their friends are since I’m not in their classrooms to get to know them. Everything I miss causes guilt. Whenever I take a day off to help in their classrooms, I always feel like a “real mom.”

Bottom line–I would much rather be a SAHM, I just think that’s what we’re supposed to do. Sometimes I wish I would have never gone to college, then there would have been no choice to make. I do love what I do (and feel I’m pretty good at it!), but my first priority is to my boys, and it’s often difficult to keep that focus when working puts so many other demands on you.

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5 Comments
  1. Ahhh. Many thanks to your s-i-l for sharing these thoughts.

  2. Great thoughts! I often wonder what I’ll do when my kid(s) are in school and I have my days to myself. I wonder what I’ll want to do.

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