I don’t travel by myself a lot, but when I do, it’s a major undertaking. The planning, the scheduling, the packing. And that’s not even for me. It’s for my children who aren’t going anywhere. By the time I hit the road, I’m already suffering from an affliction that has plagued me since I first became a mother.
An acute case of mommy guilt.
I spend way more time with my kids than my husband does. That’s not a knock on his parenting skills. It’s just a fact. As hard as couples may try to spend equal amounts of time with their children, in most military families, it’s just not possible. Even though my husband hasn’t had a lengthy deployment recently, he still disappears for a week here, a month there. The kids are used to dad packing and unpacking. It’s simply a part of their lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to over the years.
What they’re not accustomed to is mom packing and disappearing.
I struggle with how far in advance to tell them about my trip. If I tell them too far out they’ll have more time to stress, but if I wait too long they’ll have the surprise freak out.
I struggle with logistics and planning ahead. Okay, I think I covered everything in those detailed lists of phone numbers and driving directions and bus stop times but, oh shoot, I gave my in-laws the wrong baseball game times and I forgot to put them on the list of approved adults to pick up my daughter from after-school.
I struggle with finding opportunities to talk to them while I’m gone. Between conference sessions and meetings, time zone changes and their school and bedtime schedules, sometimes I can only find a few minutes to say hello. Sometimes I miss my window completely and an entire day will pass without hearing their voices.
But most of all, I struggle with the guilt. I should be making them breakfast instead of driving to the airport. I should be helping them with homework instead of chatting with other MilSpouses. I should be putting them to bed, saying I love you in person instead of over the phone, being there if they wake up in the middle of the night. Mommy guilt to the max.
I got to thinking about mommy guilt after reading all the hubbub surrounding the Wall Street Journal article titled “The Mommy Business Trip: Conferences Appeal to Women With a Guilt-Free, Child-Free Reason to Leave Home,” which I happened to be reading while I was preparing to leave on a 4-day business trip. The author got slammed in the blogosphere for portraying blogging conferences as party central for work-from-home moms who want to escape their families. (The graphic that goes along with the article depicting women acting like teenagers on their first night away from their parents didn’t soften the blow either.)
I can’t say I agree with the perspective of the article since I have personally left my children at home to attend blogging conferences like the ones described, and I did so not because I needed a break from my family, but because I was pursuing my own interests by networking and educating myself. But the part I really didn’t get was where the “guilt-free” part of that headline enters the picture. I’m not one bit guilt-free when I travel alone. I feel like the entire time I’m gone is a steady stream of one mom fail after another.
Mommy guilt isn’t exclusively for working moms either. When I was a stay-at-home mom, I felt that guilt all the time. I wasn’t feeding them a diet that was nutritious enough. I wasn’t playing enough educational games with them. I wasn’t good enough at being both mom and dad to them during deployments. I wasn’t being fair to them by making them move again.
We moms put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do it all. And when we fall short in one parenting area or another, we lay a whole lot of unnecessary guilt on ourselves. We’re all the doing the best we can for our military kids. We’re all doing the best we can to nurture ourselves and our careers or whatever personal interests we’d like to pursue all while supporting our servicemembers’ military career.
So why do we feel so guilty all the time?
Editor’s note: while away on a business trip last week to attend Military.com’s Spouse Experience Quantico, my one-year-old took his first steps. In front of a babysitter. So while you’re telling me why it is that I feel guilty about this … tell me how to get over it!