Sunday, October 30, 2011

Mommyguilt

Mommyguilt. [mom-ee gilt] Noun: A mom's feeling of responsibility or remorse, real or imagined, for some offense, crime, or wrong. Also being in the wrong place at the wrong time, running late, and/or having conflicting events, etc. Especially common in moms of preschoolers who travel regularly for work.

Just when you think you've got everything balanced (ha!), the universe decides to throw you a curveball.

I'm traveling a considerable amount over the next few weeks, and am very excited to announce that one of my trips is to the NMHC's OpTech Conference, where I'll be speaking on a panel about Too Many Marketing Vehicles. The kicker? I just found out that my daughter's very first parent-teacher conference is the same day as my presentation. And even though my husband is able to attend the meeting with her teacher, I can't be there. Helllo, Mommyguilt.

The emotional side of my brain wails, "Oh noooo. How on earth can I miss C's teacher meeting? I AM A TERRIBLE MOM."

And, the logical side of my brain wants to smack the emotional side.

C's not even three years old yet, and I'm 99.9% certain that she doesn't know or care what a teacher conference is. I have a good relationship with her preschool teacher, who I see nearly every day, and generally think of myself as an involved parent. Plus, I agreed to be part of the NMHC panel in September, well before the teacher conferences were even announced. But even though I know all of these things, I still feel terrible, because this is the first big "milestone" I've missed as a mom. (Side note: My husband insists that this is not actually a milestone. But I think that's because I married a really nice guy.)

Anyway, I think the toughest part is that I know this unfortunately won't be the last time this situation arises; as a working mom, there are bound to be other events down the road that I simply won't be able to attend. My wise husband says, "We do what we can do," and on one level, I agree...but I almost always feel like we need to do more. Balancing work and family is the ultimate juggling act, and though I'm extremely lucky to work for a family-friendly company in a role that I adore, I've come to realize that the juggle isn't getting any easier as C gets older and my career continues to progress.

However guilty I feel, I want C to know two things: 
  1. If we say we're going to do something, we do it, unless there is an absolute emergency. (We're working on the whole "responsibility" thing now, and let me tell you something: Congreve was wrong, unless the "scorned woman" he cites is three years old: hell hath no fury like a headstrong preschooler who's disinclined to pick up her Legos on Mommy's cue. But, as I said, we're working on it.)
  2. It's part of my job as a parent to help C understand that working is important. That means different things for different families, of course, but in our family, that means that both mommy and daddy go to work in an office, and sometimes have to travel. It also means that we both make meals, and help with bath time, and read stories. (And so on and so forth.) Last week, C said she wanted to be an astronaut so that she could drive a (pink!) rocketship and touch the moon. The other day, she announced, "Mommy, I'm Dr. C. Now come over here so I can give you your flu shot." These are little things, admittedly, but I can't help feeling a teensy bit proud: already, C thinks she can be anything she wants, whether that's an astronaut, or doctor, or whatever else strikes her fancy. If she decides that she wants to be a stay at home mom someday, I think that's great, too: though I can't speak from my own experience, I'd be willing to bet some serious money that stay at home parents have the hardest jobs of all. The fact of the matter is, I want her to feel like any of those choices are good choices, and to feel proud about whichever path she picks.
So, even though my noisy emotional side means I can't escape my guilt trip entirely, I'm reminding myself that this is all part of what we signed up for. If I have to miss C's parent-teacher meeting this year, so be it: an occasional conflict here and there does not make me a bad person, or a bad parent. I'll maximize my time at OpTech, because that's where I've committed to be, and I'm thrilled to be representing my company. And when I return home, I'll be able to tell C about the big airplanes and all of the "work friends" I saw at the conference, and we'll get back to our normal routine (aka controlled chaos).

Working parents, how do you manage family needs and business obligations? I'm planning on Skyping while I'm on the road. It doesn't totally make up for being away for the better part of two weeks, or for missing that parent-teacher conference, but hopefully it will help keep my family close—and help me kick my Mommyguilt to the curb.