As I continue to write here about the day-to-day life that we create and my choices and experiences leading up to any given moment, and as more and more mothers from every walk of life read this ongoing story, it becomes more and more important to me for you to understand not only why I have made the choices that I have, but also the things that were *not* factors. You hear terms like “mommy guilt” tossed around so frequently these days. Sometimes it almost seems like feeling guilty is a required part of being a good mom. If we dare to think we are good enough – that we are a good example – that we deserve to make the choices that we do, then we are violating some sort of sacred humility among mothers. A culture and community of guilt and martyrdom and perceived self-inadequacy.
And so, it is with a hearty pfffffft and a strong nose thumbing at this mommy establishment that I share this.
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I love my kids. I love them in the sort of heart-exploding, all consuming, take a bullet without a second thought sort of love that only a parent can know. I would cut my arm off for them without hesitation and their health and happiness outweigh every other thing in the universe as far as import to me.
But I didn’t leave my job for them.
I didn’t feel guilty when I left them in someone else’s care every morning to go to work. I didn’t feel pangs of regret every time the responsibilities of my career made it impossible for me to chaperone a field trip. I didn’t cry in my car over fears of being a bad mother because of my job’s demands any more than the men in my office cried in their cars over fears of being bad fathers for the same reason.
I would do anything in the world for my kids.
But I didn’t feel guilty about working – and when I did decide to leave the office job that took me away from them every day, it wasn’t for them. It was because that job didn’t fulfill their mother. And they deserved a mother that was fulfilled. And their mother deserved to be fulfilled – or at least the chance to seek it.
Don’t get me wrong. There were, to say the very least, aspects of that job that sucked from a work/life balance perspective. In fact, the phrase “work/life balance” does not belong in the same sentence as Big Law. Spending an entire weekend locked in a hotel room with a computer and a laser printer closing a deal while my husband and kids celebrated my younger son’s third birthday sucked. Having every hour hang in the balance of whether or not my phone dinged with an urgent client email (and they were always “urgent”) sucked. Never being fully connected with my family in any given moment because of the “gift of technology” … sucked.
But, while it contributed to the situation that made me unhappy and unfulfilled, it did not make me feel guilty. If there was one thing that truly made me proud about that situation, it was the example that I was setting for them in being a woman that worked long and hard and well to support her family. Giving them a mother who was smart and determined and did what she had to do was not, and never would be, a source of guilt. Even if it meant that I often had to rely on others to help to care for them. Even if it meant that I wasn’t often one of the moms in the classroom or accompanying them on field trips.
I sat around conference tables, the only woman in a sea of men – none of whom were questioned about whether their work schedules led to “dad guilt”, and negotiated for my corporate clients. I earned respect. I did my job well and the knowledge of how many women choose to exit along the way, and what that means to male to female ratios at the very top, was perhaps the hardest thing about my decision to leave. But at the end of the day I had to choose what was best for myself and for my family over how my decision affected those statistics. Even if it made me a statistic myself.
So please understand: My decision to leave was very much about them. But in that I wanted them to have a mother that was happy and present and setting an example to go after a better and more fulfilling life. Not because I felt guilty that I was working a demanding career. It is important to me that you understand that aspect of my decision and that women everywhere who work out of the house understand that aspect of my decision. I never felt guilty. You should never feel guilty. You are strong and amazing and inspiring and if you are happy and fulfilled by this life then have at it. As I’ve said before, if that particular career had fulfilled me, I would still be doing it. Without question. But it did not – and so instead I am now self-building a career that does.
If my children ever stumble on this article as adults I hope that they understand. I hope that they understand that I was as proud of the example that I set for them as a hard working female corporate attorney as I am of the life that I am living each day with them now.