Since we moved back, I’ve been plagued — day in and day out — by two kinds of Mom-Guilt.
The first is very much work-related. It’s something I never had in the states too, because with my visa restrictions I really wasn’t allowed to work. That left me with time to be with the girls 200%. I would help out on projects back home, but with the opposite time zones, the little work that I’d do only interrupted my sleep-time (hence, my very dark eyebags).
Now, back on the same timezone with no legal restrictions, I’ve been trying to get back into the working groove. It’s a slow process, much slower than I’d anticipated. If I’m lucky I get some work done in the mornings when the kids are in school, or late at night after I’d put them to bed. With the traffic situation and the girls’ schedules and extra-curricular activities, it’s hard to go anywhere and make it to them in time, so I try to limit my interactions to things I can do from home. Sometimes I take a call during the day but it gets difficult (and slightly embarrassing) when the person on the other line can hear one of my daughters crying or chattering non-stop, desperately trying to get my attention. They say things like, “MOM! Put down the phone!” or, “I want to talk I want to talk I want to talk!” I tell you, they have no shame.
Last Tuesday though, I was able to squeeze in three fairly good meetings and I got rid of some of the email clutter in my inbox. That evening on our way home, I looked back at the day and felt a kind of “high” that I hadn’t felt in a while. It was good, but it didn’t last very long as the guilt set in. Of course I missed my kids.
I realized when I had put both to bed, that I had spent only an hour’s worth of waking time with them and I’d never been away from them as long as I’d been today, so none of us were used to it. They’d been left to the care of four different yayas (More on this in a different post, but I can now understand why my cousin Patty has four for her two boys!), one of them was someone who’s been with the family a long time, so I trusted they were safe. Many people here reassure me that they’re “fine” being left with the “yayas”, but what does that mean? And is that really supposed to be enough — that they eat, play and watch more than the usual share of TV and iPad shows?
I know it’s not fair to compare and to expect that anyone will give them the kind of care and stimulation that I normally give, but it’s frustrating to think that the girls (who are used to my level of daily play and learning) could be taking on something new each day that will benefit them more in the long run. There was a time I came home and found that Jamie had watched the same 40-min show three consecutive times, and I just felt that was a complete waste of 80 minutes of her day. Another time, when all they had for their meals were hotdog and rice over and over again, even if I’d left specific instructions to feed them something else. As my husband says, “no one else can do what you can do for your kids,” implying that I should be with them as much as I can. He’s not wrong, but… well, it’s not that simple. As a fellow mom, you’d probably understand.
Sam was giving me the guilt verbally. Even if she knew I had meetings, in all of the 50 calls I made to the house that day, she told me she missed me. “Where are you? When are you coming home? I miss you mom.” What could I say? Of course I missed her too but I knew I had to show her it was going to be okay. Jamie shed some tears looking for me, but Sam was quick to distract her (and Jamie loves being with Sam) but when she did get the phone there was always a crack in her voice. It is an adjustment for all of us, and it’s one we probably need to work through if I am going to take on more work. But it’s not easy, and I still get very very guilty about it. I just try to swallow it down with coffee or dessert (so much for my slimming down plan!).
The other kind of Mom-Guilt I have to deal with is when I’m “forced” to choose between my two girls. I always said I’d never do it and I’d avoid it as much as possible. In Chapel Hill, because it was always the three of us all of the time, there was really no choice but for us to move as a unit. And it was possible to work our weekly schedule around their activities.
Here I find it quite impossible for us to always be together. For one, the girls are in two different schools, and some of their activities conflict with each other. Like a parent-accompanied field trip on the same day the other has their parent-led mini-olympics (and my husband has work that he can’t miss). How do I split myself into two? Or very often, Sam’s activities such as Ballet and Kumon run into Jamie’s nap time. So the routine we’ve established is that I’d put Jamie down for her nap, and leave our trusted helper in charge while I went with Sam. My reasoning for choosing Sam is that she’s out in the world (I have this paranoia about my kids traveling without me), whereas Jamie I know is safe at home. With the traffic, we never make it back in time before Jamie wakes up. I can just imagine Jamie’s thought process; she goes to sleep confident I’m by her side and yet when she wakes up I’m nowhere to be found. No wonder she’s has separation anxiety and trust issues. There was also the weekend that Jamie was confined in the hospital and I had to sleep away from Sam. That was difficult too because I wanted to spend time with Sam, and yet it was hard for me to leave Jamie.
It’s been a frustrating process and admittedly I still struggle with finding the right balance. On one hand, I understand it’s healthy for the girls to be away from me, to learn to be with other adults and to see me work (there was an episode on Grey’s Anatomy recently where Meredith left her daughter Zola with Callie and she had the guilty look on her face, which totally resonated with me!). Logically it makes sense. Emotionally? Not so much. Also, it is the norm here in Manila where moms have other things that require their attention (work and other social commitments), and thus the huge demand for yayas.
Yet on the other hand, I know that they’re also still young and eventually they’ll have enough of that time without me when they’re bigger. Plus, these are the most influential years, and who better to be of greatest influence on them than their mother? Coming from what we’re used to, it’s taking some time for us to all come to terms with it, but for all our sakes, I hope we find the right balance sooner than later.
How do you deal with your mom-guilt situations?