From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

Mother: Guilty as Charged

From the time daughter Savannah was born, I had many decisions to make that would often leave me questioning if I had done the right thing. Whether it was a major decision—nurse or bottle-feed—or one as simple as the time limit I should allow Savannah to keep her sense of comfort—her beloved “pacey”—my mothering skills were under constant scrutiny.

One of my decisions, however, was never questioned: becoming a stay-at-home mother. Since the beginning of our marriage, my husband, Terry, and I agreed that if we were ever blessed with children, I would leave my elementary school teaching position for the career of “homebound” mom, especially during those early years.

Recently, another decision left me feeling much like a Benedict Arnold. After eighteen months of defending and praising my happiness as a stay-at-home mom, I rejoined the other side—the work force. Never mind that the job was only part time, my decision to accept a position at a local community college caused not only a controversy among various friends, but also within myself.

My stay-at-home mother friends asked me, “Aren’t you happy being a stay-at-home mother?” My friends who worked outside the home gave me their support with smug smiles, as if to say, “We knew you would not stay content at home.”

My once well-thought-out decision designed to allow me to enjoy the best of both worlds now made me feel guilty and confused. As I drove to my teaching assignment for the first time, I was still reevaluating my choice, all the while enjoying listening to the radio instead of Savannah’s nursery rhyme tape.

Trying to convince myself that my main motive was to add to our family income, my mind also had other, more selfish reasons. Like many stay-at-home moms, I had missed conversation with adults. Lately, when I had the opportunity to talk with an adult, I found myself either refraining from using comments such as “That’s okay, sweetie,” or struggling for a topic of conversation (besides Savannah). Although I was still an avid reader, I didn’t think my latest reading choices, The Three Pigs or Goodnight Moon, would be on anyone’s book club list.

Slowly but surely, I was breaking a vow that I said I would never do to myself, my husband, or my child: Savannah was becoming my life.

Driving home after an enjoyable class, I reevaluated my statement to appease each set of friends, the stay-at-home mothers and those working outside the home. Then I began to feel that this silly battle of mothers could be summarized by the old statement, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

While a stay-at-home mother craves adult conversation, a working mother misses the babbling of her baby. While a stay-at-home mother feeds strained peas to an uncooperative infant and thoughts of a nice luncheon with other adults cross her mind, a working mother picks at her plate, worried that her finicky eater is not eating for the new caregiver. So instead of choosing sides, I thought that as members in one of the world’s oldest occupations—motherhood— we should unite against a more important battle: the guilt of being a mother.

Friends warned that my life would never be the same once Savannah was born. I will agree that motherhood did change my life. Life has often become a struggle of my own personal needs against what is best for my child. More often than not, a mother’s personal needs and desires are unselfishly placed a distant second. But as mothers, we should encourage each other to overcome the guilt of occasionally meeting some of our own personal needs.

After returning home from my class, I joined Savannah and my husband out in the yard. As Savannah clapped her hands and squealed in delight when we blew on dandelions, I was thankful for this moment together. Seconds later, she tried to eat the seeds instead of blowing them.

Whether it’s blowing dandelions, deciding to stay at home, or working outside the home, motherhood is full of decisions. I often pray that I will choose what’s right for Savannah; I also include a prayer to help ease my guilt as a mother—or maybe that’s a bit too selfish?

Stephanie Ray Brown

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