With my trip only one day away, I am feeling a lot of emotions. Nerves, anxiety, excitement…but also a good dose of mom guilt.
As I finish packing, I am having a serious attack of mom guilt. As this author defines it, mom guilt is the “pervasive feeling of not doing enough as a parent, not doing things right, or making decisions that may ‘mess up’ your kids in the long run.” Yup, sounds familiar.
Mom guilt related to work has you questioning your professional choices, wondering what impact your absence will have on your kids. It can greatly affect a woman's career choices (dads too...dad guilt is a thing as well, even if mentioned less). That’s why I am talking about it to my students. Like homesickness, these feelings are powerful. They can cause us to make decisions we otherwise might not make (like...not participating in great international projects). I hope by sharing this reality, It may help those in this situation in the future. For those with ambitious career plans and a desire to build a family...the work to balance the two can come with a lot of emotions.
For weeks now I have looked at my sons and wondered....how will they take my absence for over two weeks? My oldest (4) seems to understand. He has even shared in the excitement of where I am going and the cool things I get to do. No small part of this excitement is from my promise to find him a volcanic rock in Iceland (Airport Kiosk...pleaseeeee have volcanic rocks for sale). My youngest (2) does not get it. He is also the one who struggles most when I am away even briefly. Consequently, I have been dreading the goodbye and the thought of how he will feel when I don’t come home Thursday night. Or Friday. Or Saturday. Or another two weeks of missed bedtime rocking and morning kisses after that. I wonder if it's a mistake to leave him so young. Should I have waited a few more years before returning to international research? Should I have leaned into the toddler mom years and put any ambitious career moves on the back burner for just a bit? While I have no doubt they will be well cared for (my husband is experienced as a stay-at-home dad), the mom guilt pervades. All of these doubts swirl through my brain as I try to remember what I still need to do before I leave. So, yea, there is a lot of mom guilt clouding any excitement I have to travel at the moment.
I knew this would be tough emotionally. I’ve never been away from my kids more than three nights (only one night since the pandemic started). When we finalized the plan for this trip, when I booked the flight, I knew these emotions would come. I can foresee the guilty feelings that will rush in when I walk away at the airport. With this foresight, I could have chosen not to do this. I could have given into the guilty thoughts that being gone for over two weeks would damage my children and make my youngest feel abandoned. But I decided not to back when we were planning, and I am deciding not to now. In pursuit of an amazing professional experience, I am checking these emotions and examining what they really are - normal feelings that are part of parenting. For those pursuing ambitious careers, if you also tackle parenting these emotions will come. And sometimes you MAY choose to turn down the big work trip or the promotion that increases your time away. But what I think is important is that these decisions be made carefully, weighed thoughtfully... not jumped on in the heat of a bout of mom guilt. Back when I decided to do this, I calmly considered the possible effects two weeks without me could have on my sons. Let’s be honest...they may not mind my absence all that much. I compared those possible effects to this opportunity and the choice was clear (to both me and my husband who pushed me to YES). Now I just need to work through these feelings and do what I set out to do. And hopefully, in the process, my choice will be a great example to my kids of working hard to pursue something great.
Photo: apple picking and other fun fall activities kept me distracted this past weekend.
I am an anthropology professor, writer, researcher and global traveler. This fall, I will be recording a research trip to Greenland as a virtual field trip for my students (and anyone else interested). Join us as we travel to the Arctic and learn about life in the far north.