When I was in college, there would be times (mostly during finals or when some big research paper was due) that my roommate and I would secretly wish for some illness (like mono) to give us a legitimate excuse to buy more time before facing whatever hurdle we were dreading. Yeah, it was warped thinking. In reality, neither of us really wanted to be sick; luckily, the universe didn’t grant our delusional wishes in order to teach us a greater cosmic lesson. But now that I’m a mom, my daydreams sometimes drift to thoughts of another equally absurd escape, and I can’t imagine I’m the only person who has ever wished this. My desire? That I could freeze time and escape to a parallel universe to get a guilt-free break. You know, like maybe make myself a decade younger and do a European vacation with my girlfriends for a few weeks, pigging out on gluten and sugar with abandon (and no ill consequences). I wouldn’t have to worry about Miss Fancy Pants missing me, or if my husband was messing up her sleep schedule and feeding her GMO’s and high fructose corn syrup every day that I was gone. I could leave without Macho Man (MM) putting up a big protest, needing to stock the freezer with a month’s worth of meals so that he wouldn’t starve to death, or dreading the mountains of laundry that would await me had my real life not been paused. Because in reality, while I could probably rope my mom into taking care of her granddaughter for a week while I took a much needed vacation, I would still be calling MFP multiple times a day, wondering if she was ok, and missing my family.
I’ve been told this is part of the affliction called “Mommy Guilt”. Some moms have it to a greater degree than others, but all moms have some. Notice that you’ve never heard the term “Daddy Guilt” – that’s because it doesn’t exist (alright, I just Googled it and there there is a term “Daddy Guilt”, but I don’t personally know of any men who have it so stick with me folks). MM travels for his work…A LOT. He also works really late hours most days and sometimes even works weekends. Sure, he misses MFP and mentions that it bothers him that he’s missing out on seeing her grow up, but that doesn’t seem to curb his enthusiasm when he opts in for “networking” opportunities (i.e. overpriced dinners with colleagues who are all looking for an excuse to take advantage of their expense account and get out of family obligations for a night). I’m not saying that MM doesn’t love our daughter and he certainly has been making an effort to get some quality time with her on the weekends, but men seem to have the ability to put any concerns about their family on hold and enjoy their free time. I can’t ever imagine a career mom (with similar work related obligations) feeling the same freedom.
Sure, I can go out with friends and thoroughly enjoy myself, but it usually involves ample planning, preparation, and relaying detailed instructions. Meanwhile, MM is all, “Hey, I’m going out to dinner tonight with my coworkers…I forgot to tell you about it. I won’t be home until after MFP is in bed. We’re going to be talking shop, so I really should be there,” [Me: eye roll]. Notice, no daddy guilt.
I think moms should have free time and enjoy it thoroughly without feeling like they need to justify it, to others or themselves. As a stay-at-home mom to “only” one child who is now in pre-k for two half days a week, I’m often asked, “So what do you do with all your free time now?” Well actually, when I’m not at the spa or taking dance lessons with Juan Pablo (bad “Bachelor” reference) [insert another eye roll], I can usually be found doing laundry, shopping at Costco, working on my consulting business, or trying to batch cook meals to freeze for days when JP and I need to practice our Salsa (haha). Yet, I don’t recall anyone ever questioning my husband about how he spends his “free” time, even though my days are often longer than his.
But I don’t mean to sound all bitter…really. I love having the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom and I wouldn’t trade being a mom to our daughter for anything in the world. But loving your family and wanting a break aren’t mutually exclusive. When moms take time for themselves, they are questioned or criticized (i.e. “I heard Sarah gets to work out with a personal trainer while her kids are at school. Wish I had that luxury. Why isn’t she back at work?”). Meanwhile, if I were to complain that my husband seems to find the time for his crazy workouts, I would be told, “Well, he needs to do something for himself. He does work all day long.” And it’s true. Dads need their “me” time. I get it. And most take it without blinking. But moms feel guilty and/or are judged when they demand a little down time. Don’t (I understand, easier said than done). You need that down time for yourself. It’s cliche, I know, but if you don’t take care of yourself, it will be hard for you to be fully there for your family. How much time or what sorts of activities will vary based on individual needs. Me personally, I need time to work out, an occasional outing with my girlfriends, and date time with my hubby (it’s been way too long!). And after MFP is asleep, I love to immerse myself in a good book or occasionally (like during “Bachelor” season) watch some mindless TV. I don’t always get my “me” time, but when I do, I feel like a new woman and a much happier mom.
As an aside, last night (around 7ish) MM called me from work to let me know that his old colleague was in town and that they were going to meet up for a drink. As a result, he might not make it home for MFP’s bedtime…again. I emailed him the rough draft of this essay. Shortly before I was about to tuck MFP into bed, he rushed home to tell her good-night. Hmmm. Maybe Daddy Guilt does exist…if you work it the right way.