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When going to work feels like a holiday

As I was scrolling through facebook updates last night, I noticed one of my friends admit that she was looking forward to her kids going back to school and then added “is that really wrong?” I reached out immediately and made my own admission that I suspected that going back to work today is going to feel like a holiday.

This friend and I never see each other. We’re facebook friends in the pure sense. But I find this kind of supportive and honest chit-chat comforting. We’re two women in entirely different circumstances — she is a stay-at-home mother of three children in a small town, while I’m a work-outside-the-home mother of two children just outside of Canada’s capital city — and yet we both still harbour something similar: “mother guilt.”

There are all sorts of theories, both mainstream and academic, on the notion of “mommy wars.” But I think a lot of it boils down to both sides (working and stay-at-home) of motherhood reacting to their own niggling, nagging feelings of guilt.

I’ve tried both now: stay-at-home and working. And the thing is, the guilt never left. I just felt guilty about different things.

Intellectually, I know that this kind of guilt makes no sense. I mean, take my friend for example … she’s a super-dedicated mother of three, including one child with special needs, and she was feeling guilty because of the frustration of constantly cleaning up after the kids during the holidays. I think we can all agree that she has absolutely no reason to feel guilty for anything. Frustration is a natural emotion and it’s not like she feels or expresses frustration all the time. 

XUP did a post recently that was titled, quite simply, “Guilt.” In it, she argued that guilt was not an authentic emotion. I had a hard time swallowing that because if guilt’s not authentic, man, I sure spend a hell of a lot of time in the inauthentic. But the more I think about it, the more I think she’s on to something. She explains it like this:

Guilt, I think,  is all about external judgments, not internal. It’s not you who thinks what you’re doing is wrong, or you wouldn’t be doing it. It’s what you believe other people will think of you doing this thing that makes you feel “guilty”. So you are going outside of yourself to define how to behave rather relying on your internal mechanisms of decision-making.

One of the most interesting aspects to guilt, at least for me, is that women are far more afflicted than men. I just can’t imagine a man ever feeling guilty for going to work in the morning, or for feeling frustrated with his children for making the house a mess, or for not enjoying every single moment of parenthood. Maybe men do feel these things, but just never say it out loud. Who knows. But I suspect not.

Which leads me to Penelope Trunk. Here is a woman who does not feel “mother guilt.” But not only that, she’ll take you down for suggesting that she should. Or for trying to “guilt” her. For example, one day she twittered the following:

“No school today and the nanny’s on vacation. A whole day with the kids gets so boring: all intergalactic battles and no intellectual banter.”

One response she got back was this:

“@penelopetrunk sorry your kids are a burden, send them to OH, we’ll enjoy them for who they are”

Clearly this man had no idea who he was messing with because you know what she did? She tracked his phone number down and called him at work. When she didn’t get an answer from him there, she did this:

Then I called David Dellifield’s house. I thought maybe his wife would answer and I could ask her if she knows that her husband is emailing other women to encourage them to send more kids to his wife to take care of. All day.

And she also wrote about the whole thing in a post called I hate David Dellified. The one from Ada, Ohio in which she de-bunks the whole notion that a parent should be loving every minute of parenting. Of course, she backs it all up with research and her quick wit. Oh, I get such a kick out of this woman!

While Penelope Trunk’s income and IQ are certainly worth envying, what I really envy is her guts and certainty. She’s certain that you can love your children without loving the day-to-day act of parenting them. And that it’s okay to say it out loud — without any guilt-laden language.

 So, you know what? Going to work today didn’t feel so bad.


  1. I certainly would agree with Penelope’s parenthood philosophy, but not her means on getting her point across. A little OCD to track down someone who commented on her public twitter account no? Why twitter if you’re going to go haywire as soon as someone posts something that upsets you?

    I think XUP has an interesting point about guilt, but I find I don’t completely agree with her. As you suggested perhaps my being a male means I don’t feel guilt the same way, but my personal experience is that guilt is composed of both internal and external judgements of varying degrees depending on the situation. From what I gather, XUP neatly delineates these two cases into remorse and guilt respectively. I don’t think it’s so clear-cut.

    In addition, I would say that certain judgements are largely external – for example stigmas associated with breaking social norms. However, does that mean that the associated guilt is inauthentic? Most of us have an inate need to be an accepted participant in society – I believe that’s an authentic part of human nature and it is also the source of this ‘external’ guilt. It is also a sometimes unfortunate characteristic of humankind.

    • @Ads – You make such a good point about the inate need to feel accepted as part of society — I do think that’s authentic (and very primal — thus, the whole notion of tribes). Thanks for adding your thoughts.

  2. I don’t disagree! When working my part time hours in the week, I often joke with the customers that today is my day off!

    I adore my kids to bits and do love being a mom, but there are times! Keep up the good posts, I love them!

  3. I applaud Penelope for allowing herself to feel what she actually feels instead of feeling bad for what she actually feels. I responded to you again on my blog on the whoel “guilt” thing too, but I’ll copy here what I said in order to clarify what I mean by authentic/inauthentic feelings:

    I just believe that we are not created to have negative, life-defeating emotions. Every living creature is designed for growth and reproduction of some sort. In order to accomplish optimum growth the vital life force/energy needs to be strong. Positive energy (emotions) feeds that growth and development. Negative energy drains the vital life force and is contrary to nature. Ergo, negative emotions do not serve us and are therefore not authentic to us as living beings — they are imposed on us from outside forces. Does that make any more sense to you?

  4. kelly – Yes, a part-time gig can be perfect solution for a mom! And thanks so much for your support re the blog. :)

    XUP – I think I understand where you’re coming from more. So, for instance, the emotion of fear — although it is a negative emotion, it serves our design for growth and reproduction (since it helps you save your own butt if you’re running away from a fire or something) so it is in fact an authentic feeling. Am I on the right path?

  5. If it’s a fear/survival response. Not if it’s a general phobia/fear/timidity/anxiety thing. Sadness is considered a positive emotion though it may seem negative on the surface, too. Because it apparantly helps to strengthen you. Within reason I would think though — not clinical depression. So ya, whatever you feel is making you stronger, more vital, more productive is authentic and whatever holds you back, makes you nervous, worried, fretful, anxious is not authentic because it doesn’t serve you as a thriving living creature

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