Dear working mum colleague,
I have had the honour of meeting you in almost every of my jobs so far. You are an intelligent woman, good at what you do, and you have a kid (or more than one). You’re either nice or you suck, you have a sense of humour or you don’t. You have your moments of success and crisis in your career, have productive and unproductive days. You have your ups and downs, like all of us. In short: you are just like everyone else.
And yet there is one thing that divides you from all of us (and by “us” I mean colleagues without children as well as most male colleagues with children): you feel guilty. All the time and for everything.
Your constant companion: your guilt
You feel guilty because it’s not you who is helping your son with his everyday maths homework, but the private tutor. You feel guilty, because the muffins, which you pack for your daughter’s nursery party, are from Marks&Spencer, and not home-made. You feel guilty whenever you have to leave the office early. And equally guilty, when you don’t manage to do so, and your daughter now has to wait for you for 15 minutes with the grumpy kindergarden teacher.
You are constantly carrying this heavy load called ‘guilt’, which no young professional in her mid-twenties and no successful career-Dad really knows. Because the term ‘bad mother’ is reserved for women, who work.
Being the daughter of a working mum (as if this was the only thing that defines her identity…) I want to tell you something: you don’t have to feel guilty. There is absolutely no reason for that, to be completely honest. Chances are, your kid had a great time in those 15 minutes with the kindergarden teacher, because she enjoyed their full and undivided attention. Your little one will survive this – and I know what I’m talking about, because my mum was just like you. And yes, sometimes I was indeed the last child to be picked up from kindergarden. I remember it well, because I could now have that toy, over which all the kids had been bickering during day, all to myself. It was quite awesome, actually.
Long live the latchkey child
Later on, I had our house key on a pretty cool lanyard around my neck (latchkey children rule!) Despite the fact that I would constantly forget, lose or displace it everywhere, I liked it by and large. After school, I would enjoy the silence back home, do my homework – or eat melted cheese sandwiches and watch Rocko’s modern life. Well, if anyone thinks that this is a horrible and pitiful scenario, I’m sorry, but they must have this life-thing all wrong.
Dear working mum, please don’t worry too much. Your offspring will not end up wandering this earth as a lonely and angry individual, just because you’re stuck in the office from time to time and don’t manage to prepare some whole-food homemade avocado dip for dinner. It’s much more likely that your little son is enjoying himself a lot with his auntie, grandpa or the nice neighbours whose son is the same age as yours. The only one who is suffering is you, because you are feeling guilty. Because you are made to believe that you should feel guilty. But isn’t it merely healthy when a child has more than one or two caregivers in his or her life? Doesn’t it take a village to raise a child?
Learning to be independent is part of the deal
Is it just me or have we all forgotten what it was like to be a child? That as a kid you love your parents more than anything and love spending time with them – but that you also embrace those moments of increasing independence? Because they mean adventure and growth? Have we all forgotten those amazing moments, when the initial fear and insecurity made way for feeling bold and strong?
Many years after my childhood had passed, I was rather surprised, when my mother told me that she had often felt guilty. For working, for being late sometimes, for not being the typical perfect mum (seriously, what is that, anyway?). She told me that she had often asked herself whether we (my sisters and me) reproached her for it. I was honestly surprised, because I had never blamed her for that. No, not even secretly.
Mum and Dad work. Equally.
Quite the contrary. Today, I am grateful to her for raising me as the strong and autonomous woman that I am. I am grateful that she has always made me feel like being able and worthy to do anything I want, if I work hard for it.
More than that – I am grateful to her for living these values. Being the oldest of three sisters, it was a completely unheard-of concept for me that, for whichever dubious reasons, I should be less worthy or les capable of achieving the same as a boy (duh!?). Mum and Dad work equally – this is my sense of ‘normal’. Because neither of them will receive their paycheck for free, nor will they get their groceries from the supermarket for free. By the way, my Mum earns more than my Dad. It was only much later that I had to learn that for some people, this is offensive (?!#*!)
On a side note, I am also grateful to my Mum for teaching me how to prepare a halfway healthy dinner in only 10 minutes, if time is short yet again. And that everybody is happier and more satisfied when, instead, you spend some quality time with the family and joke around. Yep, they don’t teach you that at school.
The ‘perfect mother’ is a myth
Dear working mum, trust me, it’s all going to be fine. Your child will have plenty of opportunities to temporarily hate you – puberty, I’m looking at you – and having picked them up too late from kindergarden will really be the least of your worries. There’s no way for you to avert that, even if you were always the first to pick them up, with a toothpaste-commercial-smile on your lips. No, not even if you always bring homemade chocolate cookies.
And there is one more thing, dear working mum colleague. One thing that I already new before, but which you are proving to the world every day, namely that having a family does not make you less productive, or less dedicated, nor lazy. On the contrary: time pressure is the best way to increase efficiency and learn how to better prioritise. You don’t waste time in pointless meetings or with any unimportant nitty-gritty bullshit. You tackle the real stuff; you do it now, and with highest efficiency – because when the working day is over, you have more important things to do than sitting in a dark office and working endless unpaid overtime.
I advocate for pride, not guilt!
Dear working mum, please stop blaming yourself. Don’t make yourself believe that you are never ‘good enough’, be it at work or at home. Because you are. Instead, be proud that you lead by example. That you show your children and all of us that life is not over, just because you have kids. That you show your employer, against all prejudices, that people with children don’t cease to be full-fledged and valuable team members (this is such an obvious point that I feel silly to even have to say that).
My Mum is just like you. She also had these feelings of guilt – while I was happily and contentedly eating my melted cheese sandwiches and doing what was my job: growing up, finding my place in this world, and watch cartoons every now and again.
All’s well that ends well
I would have never even thought about being mad at my mother for all this. No, in all modesty, I think she did a pretty good job, I turned out quite ok, didn’t I. Had she committed herself to me and only me 24/7 – that wouldn’t have helped to eliminate my many flaws and shortcomings. In fact, I think I would have even more of them.
Today I just know one thing: I would be happy, if one day I did just half as good a job as she does – or you or all the other women out there.
Happy International Women’s Day, dear mothers!