“I’d be at work, thinking about the babies. I’d be with the babies, thinking about work.”
Story by Sammi Johnson
Ino longer pine away the days and nights riddled with the dreaded mom guilt.
With our first child, I was consumed with analyzing “the time” with her. Was it quality? Was it enough quantity? Was it good enough? Did she know how much I love her? I was obsessed with this: carefully timing the time we were together. Weekends were precious as I gamed the minutes to a maximum.
My anxiety about this whole concept was crippling. At times I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breathe while at work, couldn’t breathe when I was with her, couldn’t even speak when it was just my husband Ty and me.
It took my second baby to become more comfortable with the ebb and flow of time. Some days, weeks or months, the “balance” tipped into the babies’ favor, when work wasn’t as demanding: long weekends, more time at home, uninterrupted time. Other times, work took us away, other family commitments separated us for weeks, and it felt like our caregivers were closer to our kids than we were. A pendulum of emotions, ebbing and flowing between what I labeled good and bad.
I still felt the pang. That old pang of guilt. This time, though, that guilt squeaked into other areas: work, friendships, relationships. Everything.
I’d be at work, thinking about the babies. I’d be with the babies, thinking about work. It seemed backwards, and it was. I remember saying, “I’m doing all these things … and none of them well.”
Now with our third kid, we’re working just as much, with bigger responsibilities and new projects added to the hats we’re wearing. I repeat, our third kid.
How am I not quivering in the corner? Well, there have been days. But this time I’m fine with lowered expectations, along with a renewed focused attention.
When I’m working, I’m laser focused. When I’m with the kids, I’m present. When conversing with Ty, I’m listening.
I go for the run first thing, and then I’m mentally set for the day — able to breathe through most of it.
I’m aiming not to be distracted by my phone or the list of to-dos. I go to bed earlier, get up earlier and feel better.
Those are my goals, at least. There are still many days when this plan fails, and I’m anxious. I’m distracted. I’m zoning out on Instagram, fueling the guilt that the time scrolling could’ve — should’ve — been time spent breathing in baby breaths or reading with the big kids.
I’m exercising my nimbleness. I’m getting better and shifting gears and making a clear cut-off point.
I get to think about work for an additional 20 minutes on the drive home, but that’s it. When I’m home, I’m all in. If I’m up at night, tossing and turning about whatever “it” is, I get up and write it all down, dumping my thoughts and then going back to sleep.
I ask for help. I ask Ty to remind me when I’m not present. I ask him to gently remind me or recognize when the stiffness creeps in, when my expectations aren’t in line with reality and need a shift-change.
It was surprising how good it felt just to admit that I really wasn’t 100 percent present anywhere with anyone, giving me ample room to improve. Those crippling over-analytical expectations are waning. The thing is, those babies don’t have those expectations. They just love eye contact, hugs, laughing and conversing. They just love when we’re there.
I’m working on replacing the guilt with being nimble. Shake off a bad attitude or stress with nimble ease. Lighten the load on my face and truly give to whomever I’m looking at. Being present allows true listening to occur, provides grace and levels my emotions to a space that is safe and sound. The kids love to talk, say anything, and know that we’re truly hearing it. The guilt isn’t gone completely, but it’s becoming more of a distant stranger than a recognized foe.
Sammi is a mother, wife and businesswoman. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.