Getting Over the Guilt

May 12, 2017

Balancing work and parenting -- and doing away with mom guilt.

Mommy Guilt

I tend to be a person bound by guilt and obligation, and there's no better experience than parenting to force you to work on getting over the guilt. My early separation guilt is best epitomized by the fact that it wasn't until the fourth day after giving birth to my daughter (I was in for 5 days following an emergency C-section) that I realized that I actually could put Laurel down in the hospital bassinet. That makes for about 96 hours straight where Laurel slept, ate, and breathed on my body.

Whether those first 96 hours were particularly formative, or I just continued to play out a pattern based on separation guilt, Laurel subsequently was happiest being toted in her sling or nursing for hours on end. Not surprisingly, I stretched my maternity leave from 4 to 9 months, after which point Laurel started going to day care. We both cried like babies on that first day and on many following. Each birthday since has marked a new room transition, agonizing goodbyes, and a fresh surge of guilt about sending her to day care. But as my professional life took new (finally passionate) form, it became very clear that I wanted and needed that time apart.

Alleviating Day Care Guilt

My guilt about day care has been alleviated primarily by tinkering with the balance of home/day care hours through the weekdays. When I was still in research, we needed full-time child care, but due to limited availability at the day care, had to cobble together a mix of two days of day care, family help, and me attempting to work at home while entertaining baby (you can imagine how the latter worked out). As day care spots opened up, we moved up to three then four days (the balance being covered by family), but in Goldilocks fashion, two days seemed too few (separation was harder due to the infrequency) and four seemed too many (I felt as if I barely saw Laurel on the weekdays).

When I left research to pursue independent ventures, one of my priorities was to scale back to three days of day care, which seems just right. I still wrestle with the problem that I have more work to do than hours to do it in, but the current arrangement allows me to enjoy time through the weekdays with Laurel, thus negating my guilt about hunkering down to work on the days she goes to school. And developmentally, despite her new room transition woes, I truly believe that day care has enriched Laurel's life. Her love for her teachers, friends, and activities at school is clear; the drop offs may sometimes be tough, but she's never ready to leave when I arrive to pick her up!

Mom and Dad Need a Guilt-Free Date

With this stage set, it's probably not surprising that in Laurel's first few years of life, my husband and I have been terrible about going out on dates. Our over-protectiveness about who could handle the separation anxiety and her nighttime routine was one issue, and Jon especially felt guilty about turning around to head off for a date after a busy week, since he didn't have the time with Laurel through the week that I did. But as Laurel has grown, we have realized that our family will be stronger by my husband and I having focused time together. We are committed and present in the hours that we are together as a family, and by letting other people into our lives, not only does our little village grow stronger, but we all learn to be more flexible and accommodating to life's changes.

Revisiting Prior Solutions

My husband and I strongly believe that the universe has a way of offering opportunity once you show flexibility and make room for change. A couple of weeks ago, once the pain and suffering associated with Laurel's preschool transition had finally dissipated, my husband and I revisited the babysitting issue, saying that we needed to get over ourselves and go out with more regularity than once per quarter. Literally the next week, our neighbor offered to babysit for Laurel, saying she'd love to spend more time with her (weekly, if possible!) and that it seemed like we really needed some time out. When the universe so clearly presents you with an opportunity like that, you get over the guilt and enjoy every minute you're out and about with just the two of you.

Sound Advice

Do I have any advice for others? Tinker with your schedule, if you have any flexibility, until you find a balance between time away and time at home that feels comfortable for both you and your child. And, don't be afraid to try something new. Sometimes, you just don't know what can work for your family until you try it. Being open to new possibilities doesn't mean losing yourself; it just means you might wind up with more options than ever before.

And check out this blog about moms fighting guilt and give yourself a little lift.

Christine Koh is a music and brain scientist turned publisher, designer, and freelance writer/editor. She is the editor of and the artist behind

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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