Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"Catching Up" Guilt

I have a pretty bad memory, so I have no idea why this particular moment has stuck with me so vividly: it was the summer of 2006, and I was in a sort of lobby/holding-area room at the Chicago Board of Trade, awaiting my first interview with HR. There was a stack of magazines on a coffee table, and the one on top had a cover that screamed "Mommy Guilt."

I didn't understand what that phrase meant at the time. I don't think I even read the article, but there must have been something else on the cover that clued me into the phenomenon of hard-working, loving and responsible mothers who believe they're failing on multiple fronts. Now all I can figure is that my mind stored that memory away on purpose, because it knew that one day I would want to remember that I'm not alone in feeling this way.  

"Hey, 2013 self! It's me, your 2006 self. Don't you remember that I saw a magazine article about this? A cover story, no less! It is real — you're not the only one!"

To say I've been overwhelmed by the different types of guilt I've experienced these past 13 months is putting it lightly. So yep, I think I'm going to have to make this topic a regular column. Today I'll start with a kind of guilt that doesn't even have anything to do with failing as a parent, but rather failing as a friend/relative/confidante/message-responder/what-have-you.

A few months ago a friend who I worked with at the Board of Trade, as it were, called me because she had two job offers and wanted my take on the pros and cons of each. If there's one thing I'll admit to being good at, it's giving advice. (Ha! Doesn't everyone think that, though?) But seriously, I could be a life coach ... to everyone but myself.

Or at least there was a day in the not-so-distant past that I could have been a life coach, but not anymore. I didn't return my friend's call. Not when she first left me a message, or a few weeks later when she called (and emailed) again. After she accepted one of the positions we were finally able to meet up for breakfast, and I apologized. But I was frustrated with myself, because this wasn't the first friend who's wondered if I've dropped off the face of the earth.

I'm not going to say "I just don't have time," because that's the most annoying phrase ever, and technically I do have time. So if I'm being honest, I'll say, "I have ALWAYS hated talking on the phone, but since I've had Baba G that hatred has reached new levels. Unless it is an emergency, something for work, or my Grandma calling, I would rather not catch up via phone. Oh, and if you email me, Facebook-message me, text me or write me through Twitter, it'll still probably be a good long while before I respond to you. Sorry."

Yet THE GUILT I feel about this realization. THE GUILT. It is always, always there. Every second I am not doing something for work, spending time with Baba G or crossing a task off of my To Do list, I'm thinking, "Should I call X back? Should I check in with A, B, or C? Should I go through emails and other messages and reply to those that fell through the cracks? Does X hate me?"

This summer I finally made a concerted effort to stop worrying about those things. It took a delayed postpartum depression to make me wake up. I think the depression had its roots in my feeling like I just couldn't keep up with everything anymore. This is a nearly impossible thing for a Type A person to admit that you can't "handle" something, much less everything. I'm also the kind of person who worries extensively about letting other people down. But I just had to stop. I stopped because I have learned there are feelings way worse than the guilt of failing your friends and relatives. And those feelings are extreme bitterness and resentment that result from using your precious few spare moments of the day to do something you really don't want to do because you'd really rather just completely turn off your brain and watch last night's Smash. Or skim Entertainment Weekly. Or spend 5 minutes scrolling through Facebook or Twitter. Or make a huge bowl of ice cream with berries on top (you know, to be healthy) and just sit in bed and eat it in silence.

My true friends and the people who really care about me will understand. Months might go by, but we'll pick up just where we left off like no time had passed. The others who might get upset or can't deal with my new communication methods and timeframes? Those people will probably fade out of my life. But if they made me feel bad about myself in the first place, then so be it.

Around the time my friend from the Board of Trade was facing her career dilemma, someone posted the article below on Facebook. This person doesn't have kids, but her sister does, and I can only assume she shared it as a sign of support and understanding. It made me feel worlds better, so in case it helps someone else, I'm continuing the share-fest!

I am not a stay-at-home mom (I work from home and have a nanny) and still feel the type of mental and physical exhaustion described above. So I think ALL moms feel this way, no matter what their overall situation is. And rest assured I'll cover "working-mom guilt" and "stay-at-home-mom guilt" in the future, because I am cursed with having both!

In the meantime, don't call me and I won't call you. Hee hee.


  1. Excellent! Good for you for moving gracefully into this new era in life, allowing some things to fall away from the edges to focus on what's most important. (this is Tina. Thorny is my nom de plume for the blog and future books)

  2. I'm sure you've heard this a million times but those friends and relatives who really matter will understand your situation. And there are many other people out there (myself included) who dread having to call people back or talk on the phone when they just don't feel like it. It's harder now as people are hyper-connected but, as you say, they'll eventually accept your way of doing things. And if they don't, it doesn't really matter. Having a baby and children is hard work and that's a fact. Take time for yourself - put on the cartoon version of The Hobbit or The Snowman, eat some ice cream with fruit and caramel or chocolate syrup and relax. Everyone and everything will still be there when you are ready to get back to them.

  3. Thanks for writing this! So true- the pervasive guilt can be soul sucking. I have to make a concerted effort to just let it go as I have the annoying habit of wanting to please everyone. Thank goodness for friends who can pick up where we left off even if its been a long hiatus between talking.

  4. I made $20 for each 20 minute survey!

    Guess what? This is exactly what big companies are paying me for. They need to know what their average customer needs and wants. So big companies pay $1,000,000's of dollars per month to the average person. In return, the average person, like myself, answers some questions and gives them their opinion.