By Zirconia Alleyne
Carrie McGinnis, 41, remembers the first time she experienced mommy guilt. She had only been a mother for a few weeks, and the time for her to head back to the office was approaching.
“The moment you start thinking about having to go back to work from maternity leave, you look down at that little face in your arms and you think, ‘How am I going to hand you to somebody else,’” cried McGinnis, whose son, Sam, is now 13. “It’s really hard — of course, it’s like anything else, if you do it enough times you get used to it, you get better at it, but …”
It never truly goes away. For McGinnis, that moment was the beginning of the difficult balancing act between work, motherhood and feeling guilty for choosing one over the other.
Making difficult decisions
Every mother experiences mommy guilt at some point between giving birth and moving their children out of the nest. In a BabyCenter survey, nearly 94 percent of moms confessed to feeling guilty over a number of issues: not breastfeeding (5 percent), not wanting to stay at home (21 percent), not wanting to go to work (2 percent), not being able to provide everything that other parents can (5 percent), and the list goes on.
Nurse practitioner Bailey Leavell hears about it all the time from the parents of her patients. Leavell, who works in Pediatric Associates at Jennie Stuart Medical Center, said mothers talk about the special moments they missed because they were at work or how they feel bad for taking their little ones to day care.
“I tell them that I share those same concerns because I’m a mom too,” said Leavell, who had her first child in March. “You drop the baby off at 6 in the morning and you pick them up at 5 p.m., and you do feel guilty. Do they miss you when you’re away? What are you missing out on?”
Leavell said with more moms working full time, it’s important not to look at day care as a bad thing.
“You’re giving the kids a break too and it’s good for them,” she said. “Just cherish the moments that you do have with them.”
Leavell was getting her master’s degree and working at Vanderbilt when she had her daughter, Eliza. She was a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital.
“I was driving back and forth to Nashville, and I would stay a couple of days at a time,” she said. “I would cry every time I would go to work because I felt bad leaving her.”
For Leavell, the only way to cope was knowing she would be done with her degree in August and having professors who empathized.
“They told me to focus on my time with her,” she said. “I was breastfeeding, so that was really important to me.”
Her husband, Foster, also made sure she could see the baby during her shifts.
“He would send me Snapchats or picture messages of her sleeping, and that helped me get through,” she said.
Social media & motherhood
Although technology, like Snapchat, can help some parents feel close to their children when they’re away, social media can add a level of peer pressure for mothers to make their family appear picture-perfect.
McGinnis, who also has a 10-year-old daughter named Sadie, said it’s a blessing that Facebook wasn’t as popular when her children were babies.
The site has become an abyss of family photos, parental anecdotes and a place to share baby milestones. It’s also a platform where some moms wonder: How do they afford all those cute outfits? When did she have time to make all those cupcakes? Why are her kids so adorable?
“It’s really easy to compare yourself to moms who seem to have it altogether,” McGinnis said, “but we really don’t know if they do.”
Now the coordinator for continuing education and community services at Hopkinsville Community College, McGinnis said she finds support from her colleagues and church friends when she drops the ball — like the time she found out it was picture day via Facebook.
“What mom forgets picture day?” she asked in a status on her page. To her surprise, she wasn’t alone.
“You put it on social media and realize you’re not the only one who forgot,” she laughed. “You just hope the toothpaste stain on their shirt doesn’t show up in the picture.”
McGinnis said social media has become a place to commiserate with other mothers, and she wishes more women would post their “mommy fails” every now and then.
“I try to put things on my page that are relatable to other mothers, so they can see I don’t have it altogether,” she said.
Ask for help generously
When McGinnis first became a wife and mother, she was determined to keep a smile on her face while trying to do it all. Today, she’s more comfortable distributing the load, asking for help when she needs it and rearranging her life to be closer to her children.
Two years ago, McGinnis left a 10-year stint at WKDZ/WHVO radio in Cadiz, where she had worked as an on-air personality, associate news director and account executive. Although broadcasting was her dream career, she wanted to have more time for her family.
Though still busy with her job at HCC, she leans on her husband, Tim, for support and help with the daily tasks. The couple married seven years ago and have a blended family of four children and three grandchildren.
“I’m blessed because I have awesome kids and grandkids and a super supportive husband,” she said. “He does the laundry, he cooks, and sometimes I still feel guilty for letting him do that.”
McGinnis said she thinks the superwoman ideology stems from her childhood.
“For my generation, we saw our moms work and be great moms, and we think we’re supposed to do that, but the world is so busy now compared to back then,” she said.
Between school, work, extracurricular activities and social lives, McGinnis said everyone in her family is juggling a million things. What’s most important, she said, is that they find time for one another amid their hectic schedules.
“Every mom is different, every marriage is different, and you have to do what’s best for you and your kids and your life,” she said. “If you love your kids with all your heart and love your spouse with all your heart, everything else is going to fall into place.”
Unpack Your Bags
A few tips from the moms
- Make the time together matter
It’s about quality not quantity: Some jobs require a lot of time away from home or in the office, but make the most of the time you have with your children.
- Be fully present
When you’re away from work and in the presence of your family, be sure to be all-in. Turn off the screens and focus on the activity you’re doing together.
- Take a break from stress
Visibly showing your children that you are stressed puts a strain on the time you have together. Remove any stressors you have while hanging out with your children.
- Focus on what’s going right
Take a second to give yourself a pat on the back when everything is OK and a pep talk when things are going awry.
- Create peace and release
For Carrie McGinnis, friends and church family are safe places to express her feelings and let go of anything she is holding onto.