Monday, November 12, 2018

Dear Ellen, "I'm jealous that I'm missing out on my baby's milestones."

I am a full-time working mum, 5-month-old baby is being taken care of by in-laws. My brain knows that it is good that I have people to trust (there are just so many horror stories), and that I really am grateful for their help. But my heart is so jealous that I am missing out on the milestones. Pictures from them of my baby make me so irrationally angry. I reach home at 7pm, baby sleeps at 8pm, which hardly gives me time to spend with him. Quitting my job is not an option. Talking to friends and family, including husband, does not help. They just tell me stop being silly, and be thankful. I would like to think i can compartmentalize, but unfortunately it is not looking so. Are there any coping mechanisms that you might suggest?

Sorry, I didn't see this as the form 'forgot' to email me. Hope you haven't waited too long.

Working mum guilt is incredibly common, so first off you need to know it's not just you, okay? And as loads of ladies have this, there's lots of good advice about.

First, you mention several emotions, and one in particular stood out to me: the irrational anger.

Baby feet

I think that that one merits being examined in-depth. You have only just given birth and so your body is still recovering from the pregnancy and birthing experience. As depression can sometimes manifest as anger, I think you need to have a talk with a mental health professional (me?) about your emotions generally, just in case you have post-natal depression.

If you do have post-natal depression, getting help for that will make a big difference. However, it may not fix the mummy guilt.  So, what else can you do?

You say your jealousy comes from fear, specifically, that you are missing out on milestones. That would be totally true if you didn't see your baby for days or weeks on end but actually, you see each other every day. And unless you work 7 days a week, there's weekends too.

My suggestion is that you re-evaluated your actual situation: do not focus on the hours you are away, focus on the hours you have.

Let's say you're away 12 hours a day, that leaves 12 to be with your baby. Plus two days over the weekend. That's 168 hours in a week and you are with your baby 108 hours. And we're not counting holidays.

For the 108 hours you have, make them count. Have special days where you sing together, play together. Lap it up. Also, that hour you have at night every day, devote it to special time. Dinner can wait while you're being happy, bonding.

Second, you need to address your belief that you're missing out on something.

There is nothing your baby will do only once and never again. Burping, laughing, crying, sleeping, eating - all those things happen throughout the day, the night, and the weekend. 

But there is no doubt that you will see less of all that because of the job. Also, later on there will be a first step, first word….  Hopefully you will see those first ones but you may see the second, third and so on. And that may bite.

You probably are way ahead of me in that but I should add in here that I think this fear comes from guilt.

If we were to dig a little, I'd bet you have some hidden belief that mums ought to be at home, not out, earning a crust.  That kind of thinking is pervasive but it's not really based on fact. 

Rationally, most mums have had to work (in the fields, in the house, in someone else's home) and childcare has been shared and outsourced forever, everywhere.

I think you have to accept it's a trade-off and a common one.

Tackle your fear and guilt head-on by formulating exactly why you go to work.
1.    Why are you a working mum?
2.    What does working do for you?
3.    What does working do for your baby?
Make an affirmation out of your answers and repeat it when the guilts hit you.

And finally,
#Stay away from people who get their kicks by laying guilt trips on mums. There are loads of them, laying their 'advice' on others and the last thing you need is their poison. 

#Network with fellow mummies so that you remember you're not alone. But avoid the ones who turn parenting into a competition, you don't need that kind of pressure.

#Talk to your husband, not to ask him for help but to ask him how he feels. 

Many men suffer from all kinds of awful fears when they become dads but they have few outlets because 'manly men don't worry; they act' rubbish. 

Reaching out to your partner may help both of you.  Also, he may really want in on the quality 'baby and me' time.

#Your son knows he's safe, loved all day long, and then loved all night long, too. That's an awesome gift to anyone, so breathe and enjoy that little miracle. 

Repeat: you are doing your best and your baby loves you.

Good luck and do write a note in the comments to share how you're doing.