Mothers Guilt

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I’m starting to believe the expression that a mothers lot in life is to feel guilty. A case in point – this week. I’ve been on maternity leave for two and a half months already.  I’m scheduled to return to work at the beginning of May. However, as part of my very hotly negotiated maternity leave benefits is that I would start from the 1st March assisting with some admin from home. Initially I was happy with the arrangement, that is before we settled into our lives as a family of three. Now, I’d much rather stay at home and take care of my little darling for the remainder of the two months of my leave.

The problem with this is that, although South Africa has a very progressive constitution, we’re still living in the dark ages in terms of maternity benefits and maternity leave. W worked for a large Swedish corporation up until last year, he travelled to Sweden and I was so jealous to discover what Swedes are offered…. 18 months maternity leave @ 80% of their salaries. It kind of makes the South African allowance of 4 months with no pay seem harsh and really unfair.

Add to that, its almost impossible to register for UIF benefits because our child is adopted and we’re pretty much sitting in a tight financial position. My UIF benefit, while I qualify for the highest payout, will only pay in around June, and will be back dated for the time of my maternity leave because the labour department don’t pay Mom’s through adoption until the final adoption order is passed, we estimate we will get ours in May, but can’t be certain.

As a result, I’ve agreed to assist from home in order to improve my earnings. But its been a hard decision to come to terms with. I’ve felt sick with guilt over having to do this. I feel like I’m depriving my child of precious time with me in the early days of her life. I’m disappointed in my employers for putting me in a position where I’ve had to make this choice, granted, by law, I’m not entitled to anything but really, after 5 years of service I would have hoped for more. Especially because this is our miracle child, our only child, its not like I will take maternity leave ever again and I just wanted to be able to enjoy this time and look back on it without regrets. But I suppose I can’t really expect them to care about that now can I?

Sadly, because of the unusual circumstances of our arrival at parenthood, I can’t just sit back and live on our savings for the next few months, we still have an adoption to pay for. So, it was with a very heavy heart, red eyes and tear stained cheeks that I headed into the office on Wednesday to collect a company laptop and be brought up to speed with what has been happening with my clients. I swear I heard my heart crack when I kissed my little darling goodbye and left. The entire time I was there, which was only 2 hours, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I wanted to get home to her.

I really hope that this is going to get easier!!! Somebody tell me it will??? The thing is, I’m not cut out to be a stay at home mom, I’m not cut out not to work. I’ve tried it once before, for 18 months I was a housewife and I nearly lost my mind in the process. So now I’m trying to figure out what will be the happy medium. What will allow me to go to work but also not feel guilty about leaving my baby. I know because of the type of person I am that I will be a better mother to her if am working outside the home but how do I get past my feelings of guilt and this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach?

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18 Comments

  • Reply Yvonne

    Sorry Shaz. I remember the day that I returned to work after my daughter was born I was literally hysterical. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Luckily it DOES get easier…you’ll hit a routine that works for you, you’ll learn to balance things…it will work out.

    I’m not sure whether you got the email I sent you a few days ago recommending a forum? I really would urge you to head on over and have a look, you’ll get loads of support and survival strategies there.

    xx

    March 5, 2010 at 8:22 am
  • Reply Paula

    Firstly, it WILL get better. I have had to go back to work twice after ML, and everytime it seemed like the worst thing to do, the guilt oh the guilt… But it gets easier.
    Secondly, and this will seem scant troos at the moment, it is better for your child to have a mom who is happy than one who isn’t. And I, like you, cannot stay at home. I love my kids dearly, but if I were to stay home I would be the WORST mom because I will turn into a frustrated, bored person. Better to go out, do my thing and come back home happy to see my kids and spend time wiht them.

    I seem to have found the happy medium in taking a half-day job, admittedly at a paycut but it gives me time to do my job (which I love) and see the kids the whole afternoon, play with them and tend to their needs.

    Anyway, good luck, hang in there, it will get better!

    March 5, 2010 at 8:22 am
  • Reply Gwen

    Mmm, I sympathise. My arrangement is that I start assisting from two months, and work fulltime from home from four months. In return, I get my full pay for my six months at home and, if the arrangement works out smoothly, a “promise” that my company will consider allowing me to work part/full time from home permanently. In practice I know they’ll reimburse themselves by cutting back my bonuses, and that the “promise” is a flimsy hope at best, but it’s the best arrangement I can make at the moment.

    Just remember that because we live in South Africa, making a financial sacrifice to stay at home with your child could potentially mean a massive downgrade in the quality of medical care, education and security that you can provide down the line. And other countries do have it worse – I might be mistaken, but I think that American mothers only get 6 weeks, and I’m not sure that it’s necessarily paid leave.

    March 5, 2010 at 8:22 am
  • Reply Lea White

    It will get easier, I promise. And there will come a time where you will enjoy being back at work again. It is not about quantity time, but quality time spent with your child. And best of all, letting your little girl get used to others who also take care of her now when she is little is much easier than only doing it when they are 6 months or a year or 18 months when separation anxiety sets in.

    But yes, it is always hard in the beginning, just hang in there!

    March 5, 2010 at 8:26 am
  • Reply Jenny

    I PROMISE YOU it gets so much easier. We all think we are going to die from separation anxiety and we are screwing up our kids for life but you will settle in – you will both be happy – and that is all that counts.

    March 5, 2010 at 8:50 am
  • Reply Marina

    Hi Sharon

    It is so difficult, I know how you feel. I don’t think the guilt ever goes away, even if it does get easier. The one consolation is that at this age, it’s worse for us than it is for them. I always thought that I wanted to be a stay at home mom, but whilst on maternity leave I quickly realised that even though I adore spending time with my little angel, I need a life outside of nappy changes, naps and feed times. Coming back to work was the best thing for me especially after suffering from PND. I do miss Claudio terribly during the day, but it makes coming home to him every day so special and exciting. I guess the ideal balance would be to have a half day job, but the company I work for doesn’t offer that and to be honest, I can’t afford the pay cut right now anyway. Maybe something to look into at a later stage.

    All the best
    xxx

    March 5, 2010 at 8:58 am
  • Reply Hela

    Sharon, I so know how you feel! Xavier wasn’t even a month old and I was asked to assist with a month end because people resigned, so I helped and the following month I asked them not to give me stuff with deadlines… they didn’t listen and chucked year end on me.
    Not only did I not have time for myself, but I felt guilty because neither my son or my husband got much from me for a week.
    Needless to say, I have now resigned and will start my own business from home. I can’t imagine having to go back into an office without my son.

    But there are millions of women that have done it so I’m sure it gets easier. And if you can’t be a stay at home mom, and you realise that, then you and your family will be better off if you enjoy the office. Perhaps a half day job might be the answer.

    I know I’ve thought about the traffic and the late meetings I would have to attend and how much time is left for you and your child at the end of the day? Maybe the evenings if she’s not asleep by the time you get home, and only weekends? It was all too much for me.

    March 5, 2010 at 9:13 am
  • Reply Mash

    I’m not a believer in half day work, because you still have to drive to and from the job etc. In Europe, job share is becoming very popular. Many people (men too) work 3 or 4 day weeks. When I started contracting at my job, I made a 4 day week one of my conditions. It’s amazing, I have so much more balance in my life now, and it’s never actually caused a problem with my work. Good luck, I hope you find a solution!

    March 5, 2010 at 9:36 am
  • Reply Chopper1

    Ugh! I’ve heard these words from so many of my friends and I’m really not looking forward to being the same position one day. Like you, I don’t see myself being stuck at home permanently (tried it for ONE month and it was horrendous!). I also like to be able to earn my own money to spend – I don’t want to have to rely on T’s income only.
    Sorry that you’re feeling this now! I am sure that it will get better! Take care! xx

    March 5, 2010 at 12:24 pm
  • Reply sophie

    Interesting topics in your post Sharon:
    1) Woman and guilt: it seems to go together; guilt for IF (even when it is a male factor), guilt for not spending enough time with children but also guilt for not working and not contributing to finances, guilt for … it’s like a spider’s net.
    I believe best is to do what feels right for you, sure your first day can not feel right but going slowly into it, like you plan should work out for all of you. A famous French Pediatric Phychologist said that children for whom you make too many sacrifices, are sacrified children….
    2)Yes, in Europe most woman work 80%, every day but Wednesdays because kids have no school on Wednesdays. It is the best of both worlds and it really improves life quality.
    Perhaps you could negotiate that.
    Good luck Sharon and shame for feeling the “mothers guilt” hope it transforms soon !

    March 5, 2010 at 12:58 pm
  • Reply charne

    but the thing is when you tried it for 18 months you did not have Ava Grace 🙂 i say try it again 🙂 just pulling your leg, i know thats easy to say, i know finances play important role in all our lives…

    And just to tell you, i find it harder popping into work for the 3 hours i work, now that she is older and more interactive 🙁

    March 5, 2010 at 3:08 pm
  • Reply susan

    They say it’s harder on the mothers than it is on the baby. In my case, our kids were abused in daycare. That was the drawing line for me. We downsized and I quite my job. I’ve now been home with them for 8 years. We’ve had to do without but I couldn’t be happier. Hugs

    March 5, 2010 at 5:31 pm
  • Reply Pandora

    It seems guilt is almost manadatory! I went back to work after 4 months, but we also had a 2 month headstart, as LG was 2 months when we got her. So she was 6 months old. The first morning I told my DH that I felt like I was abandoning her! It helps that she absolutely loves creche, and the staff. And she learns so much there. I don’t know if I could give her the same sort of stimulation at this stage. So, it does get better. But I have a sneaky feeling that the guilt never leaves!!

    March 5, 2010 at 6:25 pm
  • Reply Pandora

    PS, my sistes live in europe, and they get 24 months maternity leave, not on full pay, but still. They can then ask for a further 6 months. Granted, childcare for a baby younger than two is almost impossible to find. The downside is that companies don’t want to give young women responsible jobs. With 3 kids thats 6 years off work! Also, their kids were very clingy when they did have to got to daycare. There is a pro and con to all sides. But SA is definatley sadly lacking in that department.

    March 5, 2010 at 6:34 pm
  • Reply Jeanette

    It’s the worst thing in the world, leaving your child and going to work… I’ve been there twice, and the guilt does reduce over time

    March 5, 2010 at 9:59 pm
  • Reply Antigone

    Try this on your guilt…I am the daughter of a mother who worked. She worked not because we were that poor, she worked because she was not cut out to be a stay at home Mum.She loved me and I always knew I was loved. I grew up admiring her choices and seeing her as a Mum and a person who achieved well in her career and now I’m a Mum too she taught me brilliant Mums DO go out to work if its right for them and that their daughters grow up with positive role models.Because of her I wasnt too guilty about working once I’d got over crying my heart out over leaving them. Its not whether your mum works or doesnt work its how much you know yourself to be loved, and wanted.

    March 5, 2010 at 10:06 pm
  • Reply K

    I think in the main it gets easier.. when they are about 25 years old 🙂 seriously tho’, there are days when I go to work and cannot wait to get out the house before I throw some little person out the window 😉 and other days when the guilt is so acute I could cry the whole way to the office.. thinking of you! xxx

    March 5, 2010 at 10:23 pm
  • Reply Kirsty

    It does get easier… and there will be some days when you can’t wait to get in to the office! If you can do it, I think part-time works best, especially once theyre at school.That way you always drop off and pick up… I am a better mum if I exercise my grey matter! I NEED to work for my sanity, and I absolutely LOVE my time with my kids, rather than feeling resentful.
    Welcome to the world of mothers guilt!

    March 9, 2010 at 7:07 pm
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