Mom guilt is a thing. Working mom guilt is also a thing. Take working mom guilt, then add extended travel to very cool domestic and international destinations to the mix. Now we have a special brand of perverse agony from guilt.
I feel guilty because I miss key moments with my family, especially during the summer, where I might be away from my babies for weeks at a time. However, that time away is often spent in awesome, bucket list places like Paris, London, Milan, New York, or San Francisco.
I end up with this weird mix of guilt and gratitude. I miss my kids and I love getting to see these cool places. But sometimes, I don’t enjoy the cool places because I miss my kids. Then, to top it off, I feel bad for not enjoying the cool places. Sheesh.
When I interviewed for the position, I remember the big boss (my boss’ boss) reiterated I should expect extensive travel and he even asked me if I had kids. Besides that major human resources faux pas, and possibly a violation of federal employment law, he was onto something. I never imaged I’d leave my very young children for weeks at a time.
Life is full of tradeoffs, and I feel extremely privileged to get such amazing opportunities with my job. However, there is that time my daughter forgot me.
In May was my longest trip to date – 17 days away from my babies. It was an amazing opportunity to lead a group of students on a study abroad trip to London and Paris. I cannot reiterate enough how special it is to get to do my job, yet being away from my kids for that long does pull at my heart.
I tried my best to FaceTime them every day, right when they woke up and were eating breakfast. Early on in the trip, I was successful at reaching them. However, as the days went on, the pressures of my job meant I was busy during the brief moments before they went to school.
There were several mornings I called and my husband answered only to tell me they were already at school. My heart sank and I felt a heavy sadness. Not getting to see their smiling (or even crying) faces made me feel so distant, like such a bad mom.
There was a stretch of three days that I was unable to reach them. Finally, the next day I got ahold of them. My three-year-old son, with a broad smile, in his little toddler voice, joyfully exclaimed “mommy!” when he saw me. My two-year-old daughter, on the other hand, burst into tears and was inconsolable.
I kept saying her name, hoping I could calm her. I even sang her special song, but nothing worked. After what felt like forever, my husband suggested we hang up so he could console her. Later, he texted me, “I think she forgot you”. In no way did he say this to make me feel bad, but only to explain her reaction.
My daughter forgot me. As I type this, my eyes are full of tears because I felt a heavy sense of guilt like I was doing everything wrong. It hurt so much to think about your own child forgetting about you.
I tried to remind myself that she is only two, but I was left with this horrible sense of asking whether what I am doing is selfish. Is putting my career before my kids wrong? Do I need to choose? Is there a higher purpose to what I’m doing?
My rational side says that I love my career and I am proud of my work. My intelligent side tells me my kids will know their mom cares about her career and herself — that she didn’t settle and strives for excellence in all that she does. Yet, my emotional side, my heart aches thinking about my children forgetting me or all of the moments I’m missing while I’m away.
When I got home from the 17-day trip, most of my worries vanished. As the taxi pulled up to our house, I saw both of my kids standing on the sofa that looks out the front window of the house. They were bounding up and down and the minute I opened the door, they both ran to me. We all hugged in a big ball on the ground for a long time.
As moms, we already worry about way too many things. Although it is easier said than done, I am going to try my best to remember that my kids are OK. They have two parents who love them, extended family that cherish them, and they happen to have a mom that travels for work.
When I am with them, I will try to make up for the moments I’ve missed. I am going to try to let go of the guilt. Instead, I need to remind myself that someday they will be proud of me. I cultivated a career I’m proud of, and they will be excited to hear about all of the places I’ve been. Hopefully, someday soon, I’ll even be able to take them with me. I can’t wait to show them all the special places in this world I am privileged enough to visit.