As I pondered on what to write this first post about, the issue of maternal guilt came up. As someone who went to a catholic school for eight years, I am quite familiar with the concept of guilt. However, the mama guilt is a whole different animal. All moms feel it, at some point or another, and we all have our reasons. Mine strikes daily and most related to work.
You see, I am a physician, and when the time came to choose my specialty, I chose one of the most demanding specialties. I chose pediatric intensive care medicine. During those younger days, I only thought of all the children I could save. I forgot to think about my future children. So now I work many nights, many week-ends and because I think it is important to always have a plan B, I became a certified health coach and started a side health and fitness business.
The truth is that I always want to keep my options open in case this medicine thing doesn’t work out. Healthcare has changed so much over the past 10-15 years and it will continue to evolve, likely not for the better, so I think it best to always have an escape route.
I thought once I finished my training the hours would get better. I would be able to make my own schedule and have greater flexibility. Well, now I have more work than I did as a trainee, more responsibility and I still have to stay in the hospital 5-6 nights a month.
I came to realize the problem with my chosen profession a little over 7 years ago, when this little pink bundle of joy came to my life and life as I knew it came to a screeching halt. I know everyone always talks about how children change you, but I really did not expect it to hit me like a ton of bricks. My entire perspective changed.
When she was 4 months old and the time came for me to go back to work, I didn’t want to. The whole ride to the hospital my first day back I cried, I felt I was abandoning her. Luckily, strong women that had gone through this before surrounded me. With time, I realized I missed adult interactions. Work provided a means for this. But then I felt guilty that I was enjoying my time away from her.
As she grew, every time I missed an activity or event because of work I felt guilt. When she cried as I left in the morning, I felt guilt. In fact, guilt became my modus operandi. Everyday. If I was tired and not nice to her, I felt guilty. If I bought her something that she didn’t really need, I felt guilty for spoiling her. I often wondered if my being at work so much would cause emotional damage or make her less adjusted than her peers.
So, I did what any good physician would do, I started looking for the evidence. What does research say about children of working mothers? Of course I went straight to the Mecca, to a study out of Harvard Business School.
They looked at working moms from 24 countries, including the UK and US, and hallelujah, they found that their children appeared to thrive, with daughters deriving the greatest benefit from a mother with a career.
It turns out that when these little girls joined the work force, they were paid more than their non-working mom peers and achieved higher positions. What about taking care of the household? Because lets face it, whether you work or not, the mother is still (in most cases), the true head of the household. Well, it also turns out that these little girls were equally capable of caring for family members. So, maybe my not-so-little-anymore pink bundle of joy would be all right?!
In the end, did this give me comfort and make me feel a little better? Sure. Does it get rid of my maternal guilt? Well, truth be told, nothing gets rid of the mama guilt. It is a chip that becomes active the second you become a mom. But at least in this case, it gives me room to feel guilty about other non work-related issues.