I went to a conference for work a couple months ago. It was in a city a couple hours away so we were put up in the Embassy Suites for two nights. It was quite a fun trip, despite it being a “working” trip. My co-workers and I (3 other fun girls) road tripped it in a company van, went out to eat on the company, enjoyed the free food, drinks and massages the hotel had to offer, and got to attend the Crisis Prevention Conference put on by our boss. It was very relaxing.
Of course I did have to sneak off every few hours to my room to pump milk for my 4month old I left at home with Daddy and Didi (David’s mom). And I did so happily. Both the pumping and leaving Brynn at home.
Yes, you read that right. I was happy to leave my precious, happy, smiling, joy-inducing 4month old baby girl at home for two nights and 2.5 days. I looked forward to it for days before and enjoyed every minute of it. I got two nights of completely uninterrupted sleep in a giant bed all to myself. I didn’t get any spit up or snot rubbed on me. I didn’t change one poopy diaper. I didn’t have to plan my wardrobe based on if it would be easy to nurse in public. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
That is until the guilty un-guilt started.
At one point during the conference my boss introduced us to the attendees so they would know who they could ask for extra copies of their slide print-outs and who to complain to when the coffee ran out. When she got to me she said “This is Kiley. She left her brand-new baby at home to come help out.” This elicited many “awws” and I smiled and waved. At the break, people kept coming up to me saying “Oh honey, I’m sorry you had to leave your baby! We appreciate you being here.” And “I remember trips like these, feeling guilty the whole time for having to leave my babies” and “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe you left a baby that young! Who is watching her??” I started responding with “Oh it’s ok, it’s a nice break.” And “She goes to daycare during the day anyway and my husband is loving some extra daddy-daughter time at night.” But those responses were usually met with confused and concerned faces so I just started smiling and saying “Let me know if I can answer any questions for you.” One lady actually asked me “Don’t you feel guilty? I would feel so guilty.” With my face reddening I politely said something along the lines like “gotta do what you gotta do” while thinking “Well I didn’t feel guilty until now. Thanks.” At lunch, one of my coworkers said “Dang, maybe you should pretend to feel guilty…I think most moms do when they leave their kids.”
And then I started feeling guilty. I still didn’t feel guilty for enjoying myself and leaving her at home, but I felt guilty for not feeling guilty. Apparently being a good mom is feeling guilty for wanting to sleep without a baby monitor by your head. Apparently being a good mom is feeling guilty for enjoying your work and the little perks that come with the job. Apparently being a good mom is feeling guilty for trusting other people to take good care of your baby. Apparently, guilt is a quality of a good mom.
Except I don’t believe that.
I’m not sure why we as moms/parents think it necessary to give each other unsolicited “advice,” or share experiences in ways that are blatantly judgey or just passive aggressive “you need to do this if you want to be a good parent.” Even the statement “Enjoy every minute now because they grow so fast” bothers me now because when you don’t (not if…when) it implies you are not doing your duty as a parent. It makes you feel like you are being ungrateful for one of the best things in your life, even if your heart is in actuality bursting with love and gratitude but your mind is not “enjoying” the wailing at 3am. As I’m learning, motherhood is hard enough without the self-doubt that can creep in when someone questions something you are or are not doing. Hard enough without the shrinking feeling that can spring on you when someone says “well my baby never did that,” or “if you try this, that probably won’t happen.” God did not leave us very many specific instructions on parenting, so let’s stop trying to force our own Parenting Ten (or 100) Commandments on each other.
I personally think I’ve done a pretty good job as a mom so far ( I know I know “wait until they are two blah blah blah”). I work full time and enjoy working. I am starting grad school in the fall so I will also be a full time student and am already reading my textbooks because I am so excited to be learning again. And I don’t feel guilty. I don’t feel guilty that I’ll probably wean Brynn from exclusively breastfeeding before she is a year old. I don’t feel guilty that I don’t enjoy breastfeeding and pumping. I don’t feel guilty that I get annoyed when Brynn pinches me, even though I know it’s not on purpose. I don’t feel guilty for not liking poopy diapers. I don’t feel guilty that it took us awhile to let her “cry it out.” Or that we sleep trained “wrong” because we both had to get up at 630 to go to work and just wanted some sleep. I don’t feel guilty for putting her in daycare even though “you can’t trust any daycares.” And you know what?
I don’t think I should feel guilty.
You know why? Because while at work I log in to the daycare cam and smile when I see Brynn trying to get the other babies to play with her. Because walking in to the daycare at 4:30 and seeing her light up when she sees me is the highlight of my day. Because she will grow up knowing work and school are viable options for a woman/mom. Because it doesn’t matter how I feed my baby, she is fed. Because I change her diapers even though I don’t enjoy it. Because she sleeps. Because I thank God every single day for this little person I don’t deserve to be a parent to. Because when I got home from that work trip, the first thing I did was go in Brynn’s room, pick her up and bask in the evident love and affection she has for me. I looked at her smiling and giggling, reaching her hands out to caress my face as she bounced back and forth in excitement because her Mama was home. Because she loves her Mama. Because she knows her Mama loves her. And I will not feel guilty about that.