Can we live without mother’s guilt?

I have been thinking a lot about something that seems to plague myself and many other busy working moms out there- mother’s guilt.  Such a small, seemingly innocuous word has the power to make us crumble without mercy.  Guilt can creep into our brains without our knowledge until it rears its ugly head like Medusa.  Guilt interferes with our ability to have work-life balance.  Guilt can cause undue stress on our body.  As this post says, excess stress sets us up for disaster and leaves us mentally and physically exhausted.

Why is there such an abundance of mother’s guilt?

The many reasons for this mother’s guilt seem to be related to fear– fear of disappointment, failure, letting people down, not having enough time.  The list goes on and on.

As a working mom, I often feel guilty about missing out on my children’s activities and school events.  A veterinarian does not have normal 9-5 hours.  We have to be available when pet owners need us, so we often have nontraditional schedules.  We also work on weekends most of the time, at least part of the weekend.  I am fortunate and thankful that I only work every other Saturday.  However I have missed many soccer games, as well as dance classes, etc.  I miss class parties and field trips, because they are never on my day off.

Some days I don’t get home until after dinner and don’t have much time to spend with my girls before bedtime.  Thankfully we have a wonderful nanny who has become part of our family.  That certainly doesn’t mean that other mothers should feel their own mother’s guilt if they use traditional daycare.  We all have to do what works best for us.  Consequently, I feel much better knowing that my girls are at home instead of their previous daycare.  However, that doesn’t stop me from placing blame upon myself and has led me to cut back on my work schedule, which is another source of mother’s guilt.

work-life balance, mother's guilt

My girls in a rare moment of peace

Veterinary hospitals are usually small businesses with a few employees.  Because of this, asking for time off places a burden on the employer in most cases.  This is not the fault of employee or employer.  It’s simply the nature of a small business.

For myself and other veterinary moms, there are no subs.  There are relief vets, but not all hospitals utilize that service.  A sick day is like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, a beautiful idea but an elusive dream (unless you have the plague or something similarly horrific).  Vacation time is use it or lose it, and many don’t use it at all.  If the old-school vets worked fifty years without a vacation, why should us younger docs take a break?  There are always scheduled appointments, patients to see, emergency toe nail trims (can you feel the sarcasm?), so someone has to be there reliably.

As I previously said, I recently asked to cut back on my schedule in order to have more time at home (the nerve, right?).  This was met with a less than enthusiastic response.  I felt extremely guilty for asking, because I knew how hard it would be for the practice owner.  If I worked less, he would have to work more and spend more time away from his family.  I worried about disappointing my employers, but knew it was the right decision for my family and myself.  I don’t regret the decision to decrease my hours, as I know it will greatly improve my quality of life.  I’m just sad that working moms are faced with this guilt.

Why should we feel this guilt?  Why can’t we just support each other in whatever decisions we make for ourselves.  My hope is that working moms can come together and form a bond in this crazy world we live in and thereby decrease the mother’s guilt most of us feel.  We can accept each other as being different, instead of judging each other for decisions we might not agree with.  If a mother has someone else watch her children while she is at work, we should credit her with finding a responsible temporary caretaker.  If grandparents can come to extracurricular activities in our place, we should celebrate that we have supportive families to lean on (that’s the only way I survive some times).  If I need to spend more time at home, I should be congratulated for realizing my priorities and not be blamed for being a burden at work.

My hope is that my girls realize I worked hard to achieve my goal of being a vet and to get where I am.  I hope they see that as a positive example and work to accomplish their own goals in the future.  I want them to be confident in who they are and what they can do.  I want them to pursue whatever life skills they choose, whether it is art, cooking, science, teaching, etc.  I don’t want them to have the same guilt I have, especially if they choose to work outside of the home.  If they do work, I want to be able to help them as my mother has helped me.  I hope I can show them how to achieve that mystical work-life balance and find their passions in life.  I think that’s ultimately what we all want, no guilt involved.

mother's guilt

A peaceful sunset in Santorini, Greece


Joyful thought for the day:  “We need joy as we need air.  We need love as we need water. We need each other as we need the earth we share.”  -Maya Angelou (a wise and wonderful woman)

Heidi Ball
Heidi Ball is a licensed veterinarian who left general practice in order to focus on her health and family, and still does occasional relief work. She is a mom and wife who loves to cook real nourishing food for her family, garden in her illegal front garden bed, listen to enlightening podcasts, go out on foodie dates with her hubbie and be a homebody with her family.

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