Reader Excellent Taste writes,
Hi, I read your article about how to brainwash your kids to be happier, and I promise I'm not trying to flatter, but I thought it was genius. (Editor's note: this flattery is why she got the name I gave her above...)
I'm wondering if you can help me apply it to my own specific situation. I have a 2.5-year-old daughter and a 6-month-old son. I work full-time, but I work from home 90% of the time. My husband works three days a week. I hate that I have to work full-time, and constantly feel guilty that I don't spend enough time with my kids. I have read enough of your blog to know this is probably because my own mom felt very strongly against mothers working, and had never-ending guilt herself when she had to go back to work when my brother was 10 (years, not months, I know, I know).
I wish I could cut back my hours or quit, but I can't, because my husband suffers from depression and anxiety and is not in a place where he should be the main provider for us. He has found that working part-time is the best thing for his mental health. He has a really flexible job that allows him to take some extra time off when he needs to, and the fact that I work full-time means that is doable financially too. And (combined with meds and therapy) it really has seemed to make a difference in his mental health, which obviously makes a big difference in our family life in general.
I should be very thankful that my education and job allow him to work only part time. I work in finance, and I am aware how unusual it is to have an employer who permits my setup, without even making me feel guilty or like I can't still get promotions because of it. I really do have the holy grail of working-mom jobs, and I know it.
The trouble is...I still feel guilty for working. And I think I have probably managed to transmit this to my daughter. She dislikes it when I work. In the morning, she asks if my husband and I are both working that day. When I say yes, she moans "noooo, no, I don't want you to work." All day, when I leave my office to use the bathroom or whatever, she asks "are you not done with your work yet?" Cue heaping of extra guilt.
She isn't having meltdowns over it or anything. She likes our babysitter just fine, and I know that she's having fun because I am at home and I know what she's doing all day. When I go in my office and close the door, she gets over her disappointment and finds something to do. She separates from me just fine in other situations. So I hesitate to class this as separation anxiety, or a childcare situation that isn't working out for her, etc. She just doesn't like the fact that I am not right there with her all day, and she expresses it fairly rationally and eloquently. One detail that probably isn't helping is that I am still breastfeeding the baby, so several times a day I bring him in my office and nurse him while I'm working. This predictably makes my daughter very jealous.
Can you help me get my daughter to like this situation better so that I will feel less guilty about it? Or, can you help me find a way to feel less guilty about it, so that I'll stop transmitting to my daughter that I think this situation is sub-optimal, and she will enjoy it more?
It's great that you're aware of how lucky your position is, but I agree that you are likely struggling with guilt in part because of your mom's guilt. She transmitted guilt to you, and now you may be transmitting it to your own daughter, which is what happens with anxiety or guilt intergenerationally. I think you also may have some resentment toward your husband for not giving you the option to work part time like he does, but you are squelching this as much as you can, ostensibly for the good of the marriage. However, too much squelching is not great, and you may explode in anger one day if you keep stuffing your feelings down. I believe that therapy would be useful to help you explore the role of guilt and shame in your life. Your mom sounds anxious and then you married a guy with depression. It may be that you are always in the enabler role of comforting a loved one who struggles with life, first your mom and now your husband.
Your daughter sounds healthy and fine. If she didn't want to hang out with you, you'd likely feel even worse. The fact that she wants to spend time with you is a positive. As you mention, she's happy with the babysitter, so it's not like this is traumatizing her. She is basically expressing her love. Any time she says she wishes she was with you, just say "I love you too! I know you're going to have fun today with your babysitter and I'll see you at lunch (or whatever your break schedule is). One suggestion: maybe while you nurse your baby, you can also hang out with your toddler during the nursing session. Then it's 20 minutes with Mommy for both kids.
Another key point: start talking about how much you love your job and the fun things you get to do when you work. She may see that you view work as a burden, but if she knew you were having fun, she may be less focused on missing you. Show her a role model of a woman who loves her job and values her financial independence. My kids know that Mommy loves her job. I tell them all the time. Loving your job, and making money, are valid and healthy reasons to work. We discussed earlier that you may have been in an enabler/caretaker role with your mom and with your husband, and you of course need to care for your child, but don't get into a toxic enabler role with her where you live only for her. You can enjoy your work and be a great mom too.
However, if you don't love your job, then the resentment issue may crop up and the guilt is even worse (e.g., "I'm missing time with my daughter for this BS job that I hate.") I suggest that you figure out whether you love your job or not, and if you don't, then sit down with your husband and an Excel spreadsheet (you'll be good at that, being as you're in finance and all) and figure out the bare bones income that you actually NEED to survive. Reading blogs like Mr. Money Mustache or the financial independence reddit are good at helping people see that they may be able to transform their lifestyle so that they don't need as much money as they think they do. If he can work part time, maybe you can downsize your life so that you can as well. Or get a different job altogether. You said you are well educated and maybe it's time to steer your life in a new direction, versus just supporting everyone else because they "need" you to. Also, maybe your husband can get some side work, or cut his own spending drastically such that he can compensate for his reduced income, or a million other ideas that you, being in finance, can likely think of easier than I can if you allow yourself to be objective and think outside the box.
Best of luck, and till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, She Sounds Securely Attached To Me, FWIW.
Learn about Dr. Rodman's private practice, including therapy, coaching, and consultation, here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.