Juggling the stress of work and family life is a source of heartache for many (if not all) moms. Whether you’re off to work in the morning or stay home, there are troubling emotions to contend with.
If you work outside the home you may feel guilty for not being home with your young children, for not being available for school activities, and for not waiting with open arms when the school day ends. Mothers who stay home sometimes feel self-conscious for not contributing financially, for not challenging themselves more intellectually, or for the days they feel completely incompetent as a mother, which is their full-time job.
A critical or defensive tone is often in the air when working and stay-at-home moms get together. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for each to feel un-nerved by the other. And in their discomfort, may suggest that their choice is really the better one. “I could never let a stranger raise my child” Or, “I’d go crazy staying home all day. I need more than that.”
But could there be only one way to raise a family? What makes these lifestyle decisions so gut-wrenching? Sometimes, it’s ambivalence, unaddressed envy, guilt or insecurity that could make a mom critical of something she doesn’t have but might want.
Without realizing it, criticizing others could actually be a way to make yourself feel better. Rather than facing your own frustrations or doubts, you lift your spirits by disapproving of others – even if just in your own mind.
An example of this would be judging a mother who is going back to work instead of admitting that, from time to time, it’s something you’ve fantasized about too. Or maybe you go off to work, but sometimes wish that you could stop the rushing around and just stay home with your kids.
Another explanation for why you can’t get comfortable with your decision concerning going to work vs. staying home is because regardless of which choice you make, there’s something to gain but something you lose too.
More often than not, dads don’t feel conflicted about whether or not they should go back to work after a child is born. Generally, the pressure is on moms, whether working is a necessity or not. Of course, there’s opportunity and satisfaction in either option. But there’s loss and disappointment for what is given up too.
Managing painful feelings isn’t what most moms think they’re signing up for when they decide to have a family. Nevertheless, it’s a big part of the job.
Guilt, disappointment or loss that is sporadic and fleeting is normal. Ride the wave; be self-assuring; and be kind to yourself when you’re feeling down. However, if your negative feelings are on-going and unrelenting, it’s time to examine them.
Ask yourself why you’re unhappy? Then listen very carefully for an answer. Don’t settle for the first thing that comes to mind. Keep asking and listening, asking and listening until a true answer emerges. It’s only when you know what’s at the core of your unhappiness or dissatisfaction that you’ll be able to figure out what to do about it. In other words, rather than avoiding your emotions or trying to fix things too quickly, allow yourself to focus on your feelings and learn more about what’s really bothering you.
Loren Buckner, LCSW is a psychotherapist in Tampa, Florida. She is the author of ParentWise: The Emotional Challenges of Family Life And How To Deal With Them.