Working Mom Guilt

There is nothing like the completely helpless feeling that comes when your child is really sick. When they look to you to make them feel better, and you just can’t. That kind of helplessness makes you feel guilty and inadequate. Add to those emotions the complete pity and heartbreak you feel for your sick child and your emotional cup runneth over. Add to that already overflowing cup the stress and demands of a job for two working parents whose careers march on, no matter who is sick at home, and you have a bonafide basket case for a mother.

Hi, I’m the basket case. Nice to meet you.

Bean has been sick for a while, and while I don’t share too much medical information about my family on my blog (one of those rare boundaries we have set as a family), I can tell you that I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this sick. We’ve been to the doctor three times in the past two weeks, and all three times the last part of our conversation with the doctor has been what signs to look for before we need to take him to the hospital.

Yeah, those conversations don’t leave you too warm and fuzzy on the inside.

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He’ll get over this, I know. But until he does, our world is a little bit of an emotional mess.

As terrible as it sounds to say it out loud, mine and Chris’s jobs are a large part of the stress. I know that when children are sick, the parenting status quo is that everything goes on hold. And that’s all well and good, but it’s kind of BS, too. Yes, we can put everything on hold, but our jobs are still there. Students need to learn, Chris’s company needs someone to sign the paychecks, my language arts department needs a chair, Chris’s show must quite literally go on. And it goes without saying that we are 100% okay with those things being set aside while we care for our sick child, but the reality is that while we are sitting at his bedside or in the doctor’s office or – God forbid – in the hospital, in the back of our minds is that little nagging nugget of job responsibilities.

That doesn’t mean we don’t put things at work on hold. It doesn’t mean we don’t do whatever is needed to help our children get better. But doing those things is a lot easier said than done. Just because I set my priorities and put my family first doesn’t mean that my other responsibilities simply go away.

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So on top of all the emotions that come with a sick child, there is the working mom guilt for me. Guilt that I even have to stop and think about my job when I have a sick child at home, and guilt that I’m not fulfilling my responsibilities outside of the home, too. It’s a very delicate double-edged sword for working parents, and one that I’m sure sounds absolutely ridiculous to someone who doesn’t work outside the home.

I try not to get caught up too often in the working mom guilt trap because the truth is that I love working and 99.9% of the time, it is the right thing for my family. My job provides health insurance and helps pay the bills. It is necessary, but it’s more than just a necessity. Chris and I love that our kids are in daycare. We really do. We love what they learn and how they grow, and while it may not be the right thing for every family, it is the right thing for our family. And so, most of the time, I really don’t struggle with working mom guilt.

Except when things like this happen. When times like these happen. When medicine and fluids and luke warm baths and humidifiers and breathing treatments are nothing compared to a good snuggle on mommy’s lap. Let me tell you, they don’t call us Dr. Mom for nothing…

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And so, during times like these, I remind myself that this is temporary and that if I have to lower my professional standards for a while to make sure my children get everything they need and more from me, it’s not the end of the world. Yes, the guilt will creep into my mind, but I pray it away and remind myself that none of this is really not in my hands after all.

Which is good because the only thing in my hands right now are Michael’s little hands. And that’s just how it’s supposed to be.

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16 Thoughts to “Working Mom Guilt”

  1. Andrea in SC

    Feel better real soon, Bean!!! And good for you, Katie, for cutting yourself some slack. As a fellow teacher, I know it’s usually harder to be out & have to plan for a sub than it is to go to work, but you’re absolutely doing the right thing! Y’all will be in my prayers.

  2. Been there! Hang in there!

  3. Oh, Katie, I am so sorry! Even though I am a stay-at-home mom, I *do* totally understand what you are saying and how you are feeling. It makes complete and total sense to me. You are so good at what you do — in your job and as a mother! And you never want to feel like you aren’t giving 100% because you’re just amazing like that. 🙂 But this is an extreme situation, so I imagine the stress is extreme too. I’m so sorry Bean is sick. I will be praying for you all! Lots of LOVE.

  4. Mae

    I feel you! I actually just came from my daughter’s room after giving her 1 last breathing treatment before I go to bed. Between my two kids being sick on/off for the past 3 weeks I’ve been struggling with the same feelings. It breaks my heart to hear them say “I don’t feel good, just stay home and cuddle me.” Hope Bean feels better soon!

  5. Praying for y’all! And you do NOT sound ridiculous. I’m a part-time stay at home mom… I stayed home for 3 years with my boys before going back to teaching part-time. Everything you said makes sense and I totally get it. Praying for your little man and you both. =)

  6. aw, poor Bean! I hope he gets to feeling better soon! I can totally relate to the feelings you are having. It is tough, but he knows his Mom and Dad love him and are there for him. You guys are awesome parents. Try to not let that guilt eat you up too much.

  7. E

    Oh how I know this feeling!! I just tweeted this morning that no matter how much I love my job my heart still hurts every single time I have to peel little arms off my shoulders and my little one says “Mama STAY.” Uggg.

    Hope Bean feels better! Thanks for being honest!

  8. Jess Z.

    I’m in the same boat right now…for the past 3 weeks actually. Totally understand how you feel.

  9. I think this is something all working mom’s deal with occasionally. You are not alone. I pray that the guilt stays away and your kiddos get and stay healthy! Hang in there!

  10. HeatherM

    Praying that Bean feels better soon! I really have to wonder whether Sheryl Sandberg ever had to be Dr. Mom when she told women everywhere to just lean in a little harder. In reality, sometimes kids (and other life matters) just require you to lean out from your career for a season- be it a week or a month or a year- to focus on the things that are most important to you. Your heart and your priorities are in the right place, and this tension is normal. As far as the somewhat helpless feeling a parent encounters when his or her child is sick and won’t get better and only wants them, well I think that feeling is pretty universal in parenthood. I grew up with really bad asthma and I spent A LOT of sick days at my Grandma’s house. My mom was a single mom and I know she felt SO guilty that she couldn’t stay home with me. But I had an extra-special one-on-one relationship with my Grandma because of those times. Don’t lose sight of the grandmas and all of the other blessings that keep you going during this difficult season.

  11. Thank you for posting this. As a working Mom to 3 boys I often feel the exact, same way!!!! Praying for sweet Bean!!!

  12. susie

    “Yes, the guilt will creep into my mind, but I pray it away and remind myself that none of this is really not in my hands after all.”

    what a great reminder. so easily this gets pushed out of my head with the guilt pushing itself in. hoping bean recovers quickly!!

  13. I understand so much how you feel! I hate it when my children are sick and yes, I have faced a hospital stay (5 days when Lil Mister was 9 months old) and it was not nice. I was more miserable than he was. I too often feel like I’m choosing between my children and my work….it makes me resentful towards my job. But then I try to remind myself to praise God and be thankful that I have employment. I am very blessed to have a nanny who loves and cares for my children so well. I know that I leave them in good hands. And while she can’t replace mommy because a sick kid always wants their mommy, she can ease their suffers and moans and care for them until I return leaving me with a lighter burden!
    I pray for healing for your little and peace for yourself! You are an amazing mommy and you are doing the absolute best you can. God wouldn’t have chosen your for the task if your best wasn’t good enough!

  14. I totally hear this–being a working mom is always a tough balance, but when a kid is sick it gets very crazy and hard. Hoping for good health for Bean soon!

  15. Oh, how well I remember the working mom guilt. It was really horrible.
    But Katie, as a 48 year old woman with almost all my kids raised, hear me. When I look back, I would not waste one second on feeling bad that I was not at work. Not one single second. And the times I didn’t, and made my children my first priority, are some of the moments I am most proud of and the few times that I never, ever second guessed myself. Not even 20 years later.
    Prayers your way. I know I am seeing it a little late. I also know you already know this in your heart. Never doubt your heart. For what it’s worth, from an older woman further down the same road. 😀

  16. Audrey

    Katie- I’ve read your blog for about three years now and never commented. I have two girls, one just a few weeks older than Gracie and a four month old. I teach kindergarten full time in a large urban school district and I LOVE my job. I also LOVE being a mom. The day to day balance isn’t so bad (exhausting but manageable most days), until someone gets sick, that’s when they guilt hits me. Before the school year started a friend of mine shared this blog and I had a good long cry. After reading this post, I wanted to share it with you. Consider it a virtual hug. I understand 🙂

    http://lisajobaker.com/2013/01/grace-for-the-working-mother-and-her-guilt/

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