Let me be the first one to tell you that I don't care what anyone else says, Mommy-Guilt is real! I can’t say I'm an expert on the phenomenon, but what I can attest to is that no matter how hard I try, I always seem to have that nagging feeling that as it pertains to my children, I could be doing better.
Up until recently, I've been able to keep my Mommy-Guilt at bay by compartmentalizing my work and family lives; so much so, the concept of compartmentalization became the first piece of advice I would give working moms who asked me, "How do you do it?" For me, compartmentalizing work and family meant when I in the office, I would try not to think about what was going on at home and conversely, when I was at home, I would try not to think about what was going on in the office. Like so many other things in our lives, this thought-process got ripped upside down by the emergence of the pandemic.
COVID-19 is making the challenge of keeping Mommy-Guilt at Bay virtually impossible. Whether it's working together under the same roof, or leaving your middle-school aged child at home to home school while you head to the office, the ability to separate work and life has become a Herculean task.
In our house, this was the first full week of hybrid school with the kids virtual learning at home for three of the five days. In an attempt to be prepared and create a boundary between work and school, I did everything I possibly could the night before to make the following day run smoothly. After getting the boys underway with their classes, I would head into my ”office” and attempt to mentally flip the switch from home-mode to work-mode, which is easier said than done when we're all under the same roof. It seemed no matter what I did, I couldn't flip the switch entirely because I was constantly feeling guilty about working as opposed to being with the kids making sure they had everything they needed. Whether it was the older boys fighting, the little guy crying, a load of laundry to be washed, or a printer malfunction; there was always something I could've, or should've been doing other than working.
Rather than fighting the Mommy-Guilt, I decided to embrace it and use it for something more positive. Instead of focusing on what I wasn’t doing and forcing myself to draw a mental line between work and family life, I finally realized that not only is it not possible in the current climate, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. As long as I'm still getting my work done, why isn’t it ok if I use the extra time from a meeting that finished early to check in on the boys or start a load of laundry? If I was in the office, there would be transition points in my day as well as water cooler conversations, so the only real difference is my new coworkers are my kids.
The more we can relax and remind ourselves we're doing the best we can, it'll slowly become more normal to have a work life and family life that coexist. Who knows, maybe the post COVID “new normal” might actually lead to an increase in female leaders as more companies continue to offer increased flexibility where work/life integration can be seen as not only ok, but possibly even a competitive advantage? In the meantime, let’s all start on an individual level by letting go of the Mommy-Guilt that's holding us back. The more we can advocate for integration, the less we'll feel obliged to apologize for family interruptions during the 9-5 workday.
It’s like Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, "Fight for things that you care about but do so in a way that will lead others to join you.” I for one am ready to fight for work/life integration by breaking the chains of pressure and guilt that shackle working Moms the world over. If anyone out there would like to join me in this quest, you would be most welcome.