Working Mom Guilt: I Get It Now

Call me a hard-nosed bitch, but in the 6 years since my daughter was born, I’ve been a working mom every step of the way and I had never fallen prey to working mom guilt. Never, that is, until today.

While the mommy wars raged, I’ve more or less taken comfort in the knowledge that if I weren’t a working mom, my kid wouldn’t eat. Really. I read pretty much every day on a blog post somewhere that “oh, you could do it if you wanted to” or “you just need to cut out the wants and go with the needs.” Folks, I live in the boonies where wages are horribly low. If I didn’t work, my kid wouldn’t eat. Period. End of story.

That’s been enough to get me here. To the summer after her 6th birthday, the summer between kindergarten and first grade.

To the summer when she’s decided swimming lessons are just something she isn’t interested in. Allow me to preface this by saying I don’t know how to swim. It wasn’t for lack of trying on my parents’ part . . . or lack of swim lessons. I spent summer after summer at the community pool with an instructor telling me what to do. And yet, I never really got past tadpole. Was it klutziness? Probably. Was it a lack of desire? Maybe. Was it no chance to really hone my skills? That too.

It’s a fact that’s haunted me over the years. It’s a fact that I didn’t want to befall my daughter. It’s hampered me more than you’d know. I even bypassed an application to a promising college because I saw that one of the requirements for graduation was to pass a swimming test . . . and I doubted I could make it.

So three summers ago, we started swim lessons. She was 4, the youngest age accepted at our community pool. And she went through two sessions — two weeks each. It was glorious. My schedule was at its most flexible that it’s ever been during my daughter’s childhood, and we bonded daily.

Last year it was more of the same, save for the scheduling. By then I was working full time at The Stir, and the “half-hour lesson in the middle of the morning” wasn’t easy to get to. Designed not for the working mom but the stay-at-home or the mom who’s a teacher, it tested my skills of manipulation as I tried to find substitute drivers, as I worked my own schedule, as I made do with a mother’s helper hanging out with her in town for the entire morning.

We got through, but I wasn’t going back there again. And then the gods dropped a gift from the sky. Or should I say a godmother? Kid’s godmother is a certified lifeguard and happened to teach swimming lessons at the community pool when we were in high school. She offered, and I gladly accepted. It was, I thought, perfect. Someone I knew loved my kid would be teaching her, someone I could trust wholeheartedly, someone who .  . . most importantly . . . the kid would trust.

And so the summer started. Godmother picked her up at the house. She dropped her off at the house. I started pondering the sort of present to buy Godmother at the end of the summer to adequately express the type of gratitude that would normally require kissing one’s feet. I knew she needed more than that.

And then the call came. “Can you talk to kid? She just doesn’t seem to want to DO this.”

What? She talks about swimming lessons constantly. She begs to go. She can’t wait to go.

So I did. I talked to her. I had a long talk, used all my mommy powers of persuasion. No dice. She spent 15 minutes in the pool, at which point she got out, and wouldn’t return . . . at least not until she begged to be involved in the “kids jumping in” fun portion of the lesson.

“Can’t you be there,” Godmother asked. “I think it would really be better if you were there.”

Her point was valid. But my heart sank. These were mid-afternoon lessons. Even before Godmother offered to pick her up, the plan was for me to take her to lessons and pick her up. There was just no way I could take out an hour and a half of my mid-afternoon from my job to go sit on the side of the pool and convince Kid to act like she really wants to be there.

But I was torn. I had to make money. I can’t take off from my job, the job that puts food on the table. But this is important, swimming is important, it’s a life skill. It’s something that could one day SAVE her life. And I was failing her. My job made me fail her.

And it sucks. It sucks to be here, feeling like I’m doing something wrong when I’m doing something that’s as right as I can do it.

As it happens, we made it work for one day. I made one lesson, and it did nothing to improve her attitude. I’ve pulled her from lessons for the summer, pulled her so that she’s not wasting Godmother’s time, so that Godmother can focus on other kids, so that Godmother’s kindness is not tested any more.

But I can’t help wondering if we’d started off the summer differently, would it BE any different? If I were there? I know I’ll kill myself if I’m forever second guessing myself. But there it is. The working mom guilt has taken hold. . .

Do you have working mom guilt? What spurred it? 


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  1. […] a second, I cringed. The all too familiar angst of mom guilt flooded in, and I could feel myself slipping into full […]

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