UK comedian Jenny Eclair admitted recently that hiring a nanny left her “a decade behind as a parent.”
She explained that she only really began parenting when her daughter was aged 12, as previously she relied on a nanny to help raise her only child. Eclair went on to say that once she took over the reins, she then became an over-protective, hysterical, neurotic parent.
Who can blame her? If you haven’t learned from all the inevitable mistakes you will make as a parent as you raise your child, how can you suddenly take over when a kid is 12 and expect to know what you’re doing? If you have only been a weekend and vacation parent, leaving the rest of the mundane day in/day out chores to hired help, then perhaps at the heart of all your over-protective neurotic behavior is simply guilt?
This certainly was the case for me. I’ll admit that I was relieved to go back to work full-time when my son was turning 2. It was great to go to the bathroom alone, have adult conversations, and get a paycheck. But the downside was I only got weekends with my son, and so I felt that they had to be packed with fun from start to finish to make up for my (assumed) failings as a parent.
My son was thriving at his daycare nursery — he’d made friends and loved the activities they did — but I couldn’t help but feel that I was missing the “mother” gene because I hadn’t wanted to stay at home with him all the time. It made me feel wracked with guilt, resulting in a huge chip on my shoulder. Deep down I felt inferior to moms who spent all their time with their kids. Why couldn’t I be that kind of mom?
When my son started school, the guilt only exacerbated. I felt horrific when he asked why I hadn’t been at his “Child Shows Parent” afternoon or watched a football match. I pretended to have a doctor’s appointment to attend a school play one morning and then fretted the whole way through it that my boss would call me and catch me in my lie. I felt like I wasn’t being brilliant at my job, nor at being a mom.
I came to resent women who were happy to be stay-at-home moms because I couldn’t relate to wanting the same thing. I thought it made me less of a mom, and I became incredibly defensive. I’ll admit that I felt I had to prove that I could “do” mothering well. This meant spending over $500 on my child’s 4th birthday party, buying him great gifts, and rushing to entertain him at every second he wasn’t in daycare. I didn’t have any kind of balance in my life and the result was one frazzled, stressed out, insecure, exhausted mom.
Yet why did I feel so guilty?
There is no denying that working moms do miss out on certain things, but we shouldn’t feel guilt for it. Women are encouraged to get good grades, go to college, climb the career ladder, and strive for all the things they can. The difficulty, of course, is that no matter how far down the career paths women get, there are sacrifices to be made when you have kids — in a way that is stereotypically not expected of men. This leads women to feel guilty for choosing to continue on with the life and career they have built — relying on relatives or nurseries or nannies for childcare — and trying to be the best “part time” moms they can be.
Often career women are incredibly determined, ambitious types (as I was) who strive then to succeed at motherhood too. Thus the neurotic attitudes and the need to prove that they are still very present in their kids’ lives.
So what did I do to change my attitude? I gave up my job and spent a year changing careers to become a writer instead. Sure, I was wildly broke, but I was so much happier. By that time, I’d had a second child and as she began nursery school, I knew I couldn’t juggle work and school hours without hiring a nanny — and this was something I didn’t want to do. I knew I would feel horribly jealous of anyone else getting to do all the fun stuff with my children instead of me.
Even though I replaced my guilt with money worries, it was totally worth it. In having more time for my children, I became less stressed. If we didn’t go to the movies that day or didn’t get the homework done, I wasn’t frantic because there was always tomorrow. I relaxed more and so did they. Instead of valuing time alone at work, I valued being able to do the school run. Instead of trying to please my bosses and colleagues, I simply tried to please my kids (no mean feat!). I no longer felt like a bad mom, one who never had any time for her kids. I no longer felt inferior to the other moms on the school playground. I no longer felt like I was missing the “mom” gene.
My only wish is that I’d done it sooner. My daughter starts full-time school in September and I realize how quickly the time has flown. Every parent has their own very personal reasons for the choices they make. Giving up my job to be more present for my kids, is definitely the best decision I ever made.More On