To this day, I remember the first time I left my baby. My husband and I had been parents for six weeks when we finally decided to leave our child and go out alone. I remember being excited and looking forward to a little time with just my husband but I also remember the ache and worry in my heart as I got ready to leave her for the first time.
What if she cried and needed something and no one knew what she wanted? I frantically packed her diaper bag, trying to be sure that she would have everything she needed while I was gone. The zipper on the diaper bag broke from me trying to cram so much stuff into it.
I laugh now reminiscing – we were leaving her for exactly an hour and a half so we could go two miles down the road to a restaurant, and I would be home before her next feeding, and we were leaving her with my parents, who had successfully raised five children. You would have thought I was shipping her off to Alaska for two years with cave-people who had never seen a baby. That night I experienced my first taste of mommy guilt.
We have all experienced guilt at one time or another. You eat that extra piece of cake that your thighs didn’t need or you snap at someone you care about after a long day at work. But “Mommy Guilt” is different than any other kind of guilt I have ever experienced, and it will cause you to worry and stress in a way that no one other than a mom can understand. Mommy Guilt can eat at you even when you are doing something healthy for yourself. I swear, I think when you deliver a baby, the placenta comes out and the Mommy Guilt comes pouring in and fills every ounce of your body where the baby had once been.
As I prepared to go back to work full-time, I could feel the Mommy Guilt seeping into my heart. My first day at work was really tough as I watched the hours go by. I had spent the weekend doing wonderful, fun things with the kids so that when I left them the first day they would think fondly of me while I was gone for eight hours. My mind was in guilt overdrive as I played out scenarios of how I might be ruining their lives by not being there, and what if my working and absence leads them down a path of anger and resentment? You really would have thought I was leaving them for 8 years, not 8 hours.
The hours went by and I arrived home ready to cuddle them and try and heal all the anger and resentment that I was sure had blossomed in their little hearts. What I walked in the door to is something I will always remember. There was singing coming from the kitchen as my two little ones were making a surprise salad for me of everything they could find in the fridge. I had no idea that lettuce, left-over hamburger patties, yogurt, and BBQ sauce could be such a special dish. The other kids came running up to me and excitedly told me to close my eyes and go upstairs to my room. Being careful not to trip as they guided me up the stairs with my eyes closed, I found myself realizing that maybe my Mommy Guilt really wasn’t necessary. These kids didn’t seem angry or upset.
When I got into my bedroom I opened my eyes to find that the girls had organized my entire closet and dresser. The curtains that I had been to busy to hang had been nailed into the wall above the window. They had gone through everything in my closet and hung it up according to color and proudly showed me two baskets filled with clothes that they took out and told me needed to be thrown out because they were officially uncool.
They smiled as they told me they had spent over four hours getting my room organized to surprise me.
That night as I climbed in bed in my nice, organized room, I felt the love of six amazing children. Maybe it is not the quantity of time that we are with them but the quality of that time that will leave the imprints on their hearts. I looked at the bags filled with uncool clothes that I was supposed to toss out. I made a decision right then and there to be sure and toss the Mommy Guilt out as well. I think my kids are going to be just fine.