Mom Guilt: Why Do I Have It? How Can I Get Rid Of It?

When I walk in the door after having a sitter, my mere presence sets Emmett off. He is like a cat that can sense me a mile away. He starts howling. This has happened with the previous nanny, with every sitter…. basically everyone but Phil. Phil is excluded because the same thing happens when he walks in. Emmett wails.

He could be perfectly happy playing or eating, but wham, we walk in and he is suddenly aware that he hasn’t been with mom or dad and starts to cry. Often real tears stream down his little face. I usually walk over to him, pick him up and hug him. “Emmett,” I say, “it’s okay. Mama’s here.”  His crying immediately ceases. He burrows himself into me, his arms down at his sides in a little cocoon. We call it “pod-ing” like he’s a pea going into his pod. I kiss his head. And every sitter says the same thing, “He was fine until he heard/saw you.”

I know this is part of an infant-toddler’s development. But it gets me every time. I have this heart pull. It’s not even conscious. It’s a visceral reaction. I know my kids are in excellent hands when they aren’t with me. Three days a week Fia is in preschool and absolutely loves it. She is really blooming there too.

I know Emmett has loads of fun with our sitters. I honestly don’t believe in the extreme version of attachment parenting–where you’re supposed to be with your kid 24/7 until they’re 3. Or 13. I’m not judging those who do it, but for me, I know exposing my kids to different people, different races, different environments is good for them. So why is it so hard to NOT feel guilty? I wish I knew…

I’ve said before that I think moms with full time jobs in some ways have it better. They have a purpose, whether it’s career aspirations, or providing for their family, etc. I’m in a murky place because I’m freelance and I don’t have a set job. Each time I plan my week I do it in a way that I get enough play time with Em, enough with Fia and enough with both. Then I fill in the gaps with a sitter. But why do I even have to make sure I clock in with my kids?

In November I stopped having a nanny. Now I have about 15 hours a week of help. But the fact that I want to say in the next sentence “but I try and book my sitter while they are napping” is just whacked. It’s like I have to continually justify to myself that I’m not abandoning my kids. I have to make sure people know that “Hey, I’m a good mom. And I’m around.” It’s ridiculous on so many levels.

My sitter Michele is amazing. She was our night nurse for, oh, 7 months. I didn’t feel guilty about that at all, because with Fia, my lack of sleep led to an insanity that wasn’t pretty.  I am terrible without sleep. I never pulled an all-nighter in college. So justifying my night nurse for Emmett was easy. I have no regrets. I was a better mom to everyone. I don’t feel like I “missed out” on anything.

When we didn’t need Michele anymore she offered to babysit during the day. And get this: she has 5 kids. Yes 5. Her oldest is 19. Her youngest are twins Fia’s age: Maci and Cruz (pictured below).

As a veteran mom, Michele is always telling me to stop feeling guilty. She pounds into me that we all need our own time.  I know she is right. But in going to my yoga class this morning, leaving to the cries of Emmett, I felt that usual pull on my heart. It sinks deep into my stomach. Not for long, but it is always there. Should I be doing this? In downward dog I noticed how bad my toes look. Damn, I need a pedicure. I guess I could do one while they nap tomorrow, since I have Michele again, I thought.

I am seriously pissed at myself for thinking this way. I would have slapped myself silly in my pre-kids day if I ever thought I would be like a walking blanket of guilt.

I often ask Michele to bring her twins. They go to daycare most days, but if Fia isn’t in preschool, the three of them have a near perfect chemistry. Plus, instead of saying to Fia, “Michele is coming today!” and her replying, “No mama, I only want you”, (cue the guilt) I can say, “Guess what? Maci and Cruz are coming!” She jumps up and down. “Yay! Yay! No Way! [pause] Ballet” (her new thing with rhyming words). I am reassured she won’t miss me. That I am ok. 

It’s like the rational side of my brain can’t reconcile with the primal side of my being. Logically, I know I need a break. I know it’s okay to go to the store by myself. I know it’s okay to do yoga, get a pedicure, write a blog, and have time to myself. I also know it’s good for my kids on so many levels. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t even consider it. So this is all on me.

So how to get rid of the guilt? Maybe I need to go back to my hypnotist. Or maybe this is just the way it is when you’re a parent… battling conflicting emotions that put your heart and head in the middle.


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  1. by Rebecca

    On March 27, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    Oh I feel you there! With the guilt we feel it’s pretty crazy that we go through everything we do to be mothers. Your statement about working moms is partially correct, I mean I have to go out and work, my career as a graphic designer means a LOT to me, but at the same time I have the guilt of the morning. My HB is able to stay home with Clark since he works freelance in film, but when Clark says, “Don’t go”, and tells me he wants to “relax” in bed with me for a while it is so hard to say, “Well I can only snuggle for a minute cause I have to go to work”. I can only imagine that it will get worse when my second boy arrives!

    PS. I love spending a little time in the morning reading what you are up to. So try not to feel too bad about the blog!

  2. by May

    On March 27, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    I can relate. My son is 2 and he used to wake up just in time when I’m about to leave for work and cries. Now he tries to be brave and says bye bye just so he won’t cry which is a lot worse because I can see that he’s sad but he’s trying not to be. It really breaks my heart.

    It’s much worse if you’re a working mom because I’m already away from him most of the day. Whenever I don’t spend my non-working hours with him (movie, grocery, using laptop/ipad, reading a book) I feel so selfish. I feel like I should devote all my free time to him.

  3. by Michelle

    On March 27, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    I’m not sure if what I have is guilt, but I definitely hate being away from my son, for ANY reason – work, a date, even just going to a meeting when he’s with my husband. I miss him so much and just feel so attached… maybe I need a psych! I think I feel this way because I feel 100% responsible for him. I made him. I grew him. I shall now take care of him. I feel this insane need to “do it all.” I guess I just don’t want others to feel responsible for what is my responsibility. Is that weird?

  4. by Jill Cordes

    On March 28, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    I’m so happy for all your comments. Not because I want us all to feel guilty, but it is validation. And I hope I didn’t offend anyone with the working mom comment. It would be so hard as well. You guys made me feel a lot more sane in my insanity. Does that make sense?

  5. by Julie

    On March 29, 2013 at 1:07 am

    As a mother of 3 and a mom who has had to go back to work when my youngest (ok he is now 18) was 6 weeks old I just have to say to you that it does get better. My children all very independent. They can all do dishes and their own laundry and clean a toilet. Sometimes the hardest thing to do for you child is to let go a bit and let them bloom. They will be fine.

  6. by Rebecca

    On March 29, 2013 at 11:41 am

    By the way Jill, no offense taken with the working mothers comment. I just wanted o let you know we still have the guilt even though working takes your mind off it for a while.

  7. by Jill Cordes

    On March 29, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    I didn’t take offense at all! Thanks for reading. I’m pretty hard to offend if you’ve seen some of my rants. Ha! Did you see yesterday’s post about how to NOT feel guilty anymore? I think it’s like anything. If I workout really hard and run around for weeks, I don’t feel guilty getting a massage. Same goes for my kids. If I am supermom, then I don’t feel badly leaving them. I experimented this week. And I swear it’s working! Granted, it’s spring break, so it’s super overload, but since I’m a type A overachiever, maybe this is how I mentally justify it. (you can read what I’m talking about when you see the post). Let me know how your guilt meter is doing.

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