The Guilt-Ridden Mother

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“Mothers who work cannot wait until their children go to bed. Mothers who stay home cannot wait until their children wake up.”

I heard this quotation yesterday from an exceptionally dedicated working mother of three small children with a guilt-ridden conscience.

I saw that this quotation, which my friend had heard from another mother, was whittling away at her heart slowly but surely like a stream through the rock of the Grand Canyon. I even sensed that my friend was dreaming that she would also one day be able to quit her job in order to become one of those SAHMs who eagerly sits by her child’s bedside, just waiting for that glorious moment when her child will open his eyes and whisper, “Eema, did you finally remember to wash my blue sweater?”

I don’t tend to vigorously disagree during conversations. I nod. I say consensus building woman-y things like “You’re right!” and “I totally hear what you mean!”

But when my friend mentioned this quotation, I pounced on her like a cat on a lizard (I live in Jerusalem, and that’s what cats pounce on here:)).

I assured her, far too emphatically, that I have been a SAHM for the past 12 years, and I personally cannot wait for my children to go to bed so that I can have a few hours of quiet and solitude in order to wash some dishes and answer some waiting Emails and listen to a class and generally nurse my frazzled soul from the hectic, non-stop day that just transpired.

And, far too few hours later, if I wake up and discover that my children are not yet awake (I cannot remember the last time this actually happened, but let’s just say for argument’s sake) then I would be beyond thrilled to have some minutes of quiet and solitude to get done whatever I wanted without a 5-year-old tugging on my nightgown or a wired 3-year-old calling out “Look, Eema!” as he somersaulted onto my sleeping baby.

This untrue, guilt-inducing quote about the supposed differences between working mothers and SAHMs reminded me of two things.

It reminded me of Emerson’s quotation:

“There was never a child so lovely that his mother wasn’t glad to get him to sleep.”

And it reminded me of just how frequently we good moms convince ourselves that we are bad moms.

And that, in my opinion, is a problem. A big problem.

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  1. Yes! When my girls were babies, I had a working-mom friend who seemed to have all these idealized notions of the way us SAHMs spent our days–long playdate-lunch dates with other housewifes, etc. We never know what another person’s reality is really like, we just have to do the best we can with our own reality.

    And on a more specific level: I am writing this in the minutes while my daughters are playing at a neighbors and my son takes the last minutes of his nap. I miss them all and yet I am longing for bedtime.

    I live in that space constantly: staying home and wishing I was in shul; out with my husband and wondering how the kids are doing; folding the laundry and realizing I missed a chance to connect with a child– the challenge is to be present to the moment that’s in front of me and really experience it without feeling divided.

  2. I don’t think a day has gone by yet in my 10.5 yrs of mothering that I haven’t longed for bedtime so I could lay them down and be by myself for a little while… and I certainly never stand by their bed just waiting for them to awaken!

    Being home is a full-time exhausting job. Not to say I don’t love it, because I totally do. But like any other hard job, when the day is done – so am I!

  3. I’ve been both SAHM, working mom, learning mom and bits of each in my 19.7 years of parenting. As with anything, of course, it all depends on many variables and it’s “chaval” to stereotype or generalize and lose ones self confidance.

    One of the things I love about TheJewishMomBlog is the support for mommies no matter what choices we make. There is so much good in everything and so much bad we can find if we look for it – the support of other Jewish women is a priceless gift not to be underestimated.

  4. Amanda Bradley

    Agreed! When i am running the dinner-bath-bed marathon, i cannot wait to close the door on them. When i get my children into bed, i collapse with relief into a chair. And an hour later, i am planning all the wonderufl things i will do with them when they wake up. And when they wake up, i wish they would stay asleep for a bit longer! I think the issue is as chaya said, to live the moment, and not waste it wishing for the next one.

  5. Oh so true! This is a great one, Thanx for bringing it up. The guilt is thick. Perhaps there is some reason that H” gifts us who are so dedicated with particularly intense doses. To keep us aware/on our toes? Because we have high expectations? Anyway it’s good to know m not alone.

  6. HHHHHmmmmmmmmmmm… I expected lots of heated argument and dissent… instead everyone is supporting everyone else with great respect. Maybe Moshiach will come today. Maybe!

  7. I had the guilt layed on thick this week after hearing a shir that said how important it is for children to wake up and see their parents dressed or already “on the move” and not lying in bed with one eye open and taking their time to get up….ok, my kids are up at the crack of dawn—you can only imagine what daylight savings does to them..4 kids all under the age of 6…they just play and run around like its 2pm, at 6am…My dream is to be up before them and have a half an hour to myself- to pray with kavana- even just birchos hashachar, a cup of coffee, some make-up and get dressed without having to block the door so they dont run in…I have tried everything to be up before them but one of them always joins in or beats me to it…and then they just see you up at 6am and think its time for breakfast and mommy will you color with me???and by 7 they are antsy and at each other for everything and I just say-what for? I could be sleeping with one eye open for at least another 45 minutes! yet that shir keeps echoing in the back of my head…but now I see that I’m not alone…SAHMoms need to recharge their batteries – so when evryones in bed by 730-8, you have you time – and no thats not laundry dishes cooking time, they need to see you do that stuff and even help out if possible/age appropriate…so that you can afford to crash when they are asleep or – if you have energy left actually go out or do something for yourself.

  8. People with regular jobs get promised time off. Mom’s don’t. Businesses try to find ways to improve moral when employees are not performing and moms get what– suggestions to take medication if they are not feeling up to the job for weeks on end.

    This post illustrates that we need to do self care. My youngest is now five and my eldest is 22. I am 42. My 30’s are a blur and I remember very little from when they were all young. I offer to take care of my friends’ little guys so they can spend some time alone, or I send one of my teenagers over with breakfast on some mornings just to make their lives a bit easier.

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