Today I had to get on an airplane to travel for my job. I’ll be gone three days. In the scheme of things, that’s a blink at best, but this morning as I held my daughter, still sleepy, to say goodbye, it felt like forever. For working moms, leaving, even for just the day, is part of the deal. So is the guilt, in varying levels, that can come along with it. I’ll be honest, I hate it and it’s tough. It tugs at your heart and while in your head you know your little one is ok, you still feel like crap. Of course, when you see them again, they’ll be happy and fine, totally forgetting how upset they may have been earlier. In fact, let’s face it, they probably forgot five minutes after you left. Meanwhile, you are racked with guilt, feeling like the worst person in the world, sobbing in your car and contemplating the comfort a donut may bring right about then. Or maybe that’s just me.
Many days, especially as my daughter gets older, the intensity of the difficulty of goodbye, is manageable. She may not always want to walk into her daycare class, but she doesn’t normally melt down to nuclear proportions, red-faced, screaming and reaching out for me with a gut wrenching “MAAAMMAAAA”. Ugh. Those mornings are simply brutal and still happen from time to time.
And then there are days like one last week. My daughter dawdled an unusually long time, even for, as we call her “The Stall Master”. She cried when I put her in her seat. I was late, stressed, and frustrated. We pulled up to the school parking lot and in an attempt to not bring her in an emotional wreck, I tried to calm her down. I asked her what was wrong. She said “No work, no school”. That’s what we say when the day is done or it’s a weekend. It’s kind of like our language for “our time”. I replied that it was a work and school day but that I’d see her soon. She says “No work. Let’s go to the pool. Now. Let’s go swim.”
It’s a small thing, but in that moment I would have given almost anything to say “ok, let’s go.” The reality was that I had a day packed with meetings and was already late. Work wasn’t a choice for me, but a necessity. Though when she said that, I was crushed. I had to tell her “I would love to leave right now and go to the pool, but I can’t. It isn’t that I don’t want to, but I can’t.” Silly as it may sound, it made my heart hurt to even say that. I tried not to cry, but too late. I felt like crap and my emotions were all over the place. The guilt, oh the guilt. All she wanted was to be with me and I couldn’t do it. Not that morning on that day. She cried, I cried. It was pretty pitiful, really.
I tried to pull it together and I unbuckled her seat. She reached out and just hugged me. There was nothing else in the entire world right then and there. I may have not had all day, but I did have that.
I don’t know if when my daughter grows up if she will choose to have a career of her own, or stay at home. I don’t know if she will raise a family or decide having children isn’t for her. I don’t know if she, like I, will have to face the guilt of goodbye. All I do know is that I try my best, and when I do have time with her, I try and make the most of it. I think as a working mother, or a mother period, even if you don’t get all the time you want, you do the best with the time you have. They probably won’t remember the tough goodbyes from their earlier years, but they’ll always know the love.
I don’t have some magic insight or solution for getting rid of the guilt of goodbye, but all I can tell you is that you just get through the bad days and be grateful for the good. You try not to be too hard on yourself, though I realize that isn’t always easy. Know in your heart, you are doing your best. Just eat your donut, wipe your tears, and know you are doing your best.