This morning as I was leaving for work, I got a text message from some mothers at my daughters’ school. It was a sweet text message chain asking who was available this weekday morning to do a playdate. I declined because of work and had some disappointment my daughters couldn’t go. It was a pretty low-grade feeling and within a few minutes, as far as I was aware, I had moved on and forgotten about it. But then later, in the shower, I found myself thinking about wanting to get the girls into Girl’s Scouts but not knowing how to logistically make it happen with my work schedule and other commitments. Then while I was making breakfast, my mind began trying to figure out how I can make volleyball work per my eldest daughter’s heartfelt request. I can’t say no to that heart of hers. Then, on the drive to work, I was considering ballet and I started feeling guilty that I hadn’t gotten them into pink slippers at a younger age. It wasn’t until I was actually in my office about two hours later that I finally realized the familiar loop that had me in its grips.
I started feeling guilty that I hadn’t gotten them into pink slippers at a younger age. It wasn’t until I was actually in my office about two hours later that I finally realized the familiar loop that had me in its grips.
I am a working mom. Even as I type these words, I can feel the swirl of mixed emotions that rise up. I love my job. I have such an immense amount of gratitude to be a psychologist and a mindful self-compassion teacher. I feel so grateful to be able to sit with people and for them to trust me with the sacredness of their stories and relationships. At the same time, though, I have such complicated feelings about not being able to be exactly the type of mom I had growing up. I was lucky enough to have my mom pick me up from school everyday. If I wanted to do an activity, we weren’t limited by my mom needing to find a way to finesse her schedule to make the activity happen, or try to figure out which person she could ask for help. We were limited by finances, which was of course difficult in other ways, but my mom was always available to me—No Matter What. I was, and continue to be, so grateful for the fullness of her presence during my childhood.
So this morning, when my daughters aren’t getting to go play with some friends while I’m at work, my well-intentioned but busy mind starts collecting data around other activities my daughters may be missing out on because they have a mom who works. It doesn’t take my mind long before it has identified several places they might be getting the short end of the stick. My mind does not take into account the fact that I volunteer to coach their basketball teams, or the fact that I make it to almost all of their classroom parties, all of their sports events, have scheduled several playdates and maintained friendships for their overall happiness and social health. This data does not factor in…until I notice the loop.
This noticing is such a lifesaving skill. Once I noticed the storyline in which I was swept away, I could tend to the mother guilt that was clawing its way through my heart. I could recognize the ache in my chest and I could bring some tenderness to that experience. I connected to the ways this longing to give my girls every opportunity, and the ache in my heart for being limited and imperfect, is actually my admission ticket to the worldwide community of moms—all of whom are imperfect and all of whom experience mom guilt for one reason or another. I recognize the ways we humans want to please those around us—our children, partners, parents, friends, bosses, colleagues, etc., and that when we inevitably fail to please someone at some point, it is painful. It can feel like we are failing in some major way. I can feel this feeling even as I type these words.—this powerful, familiar dread of disappointing. So I close my eyes, and I breathe into the ache. I send words of love and acceptance to the ache, “Aw, Dear One, this is so hard right now.” I raise my hands to my heart and allow the soothing touch of my hands to warm the ache, and I just breathe. My self-compassion practices are such that now when I do this motion, my body relaxes and releases, almost the way my newborn babies did when they were placed upon my chest. The ache begins to lessen, to melt away.
I connected to the ways this longing to give my girls every opportunity, and the ache in my heart for being limited and imperfect, is actually my admission ticket to the worldwide community of moms
I know mother guilt is a feeling I will continue to experience. I know there are also other areas where I will feel the creeping feeling of inadequacy and I will want to desperately escape that so-human feeling. However, I also know, that self-compassion practices have become the balm to these painful places. They don’t always take away the experience, but for me, these practices feel like the difference between facing something scary alone, versus facing it with a good friend holding my hand, smiling at me with eyes that say, “You are worthy just as you are.”
Inadequacy and guilt are equal opportunity tormentors. I feel guilty because I work. Your inner critic may use different ammunition, but none of us are perfect and all of us have moments of suffering in that imperfection. I believe we all deserve support in the places we hurt.