I had a commitment this week that took me away from home for a couple of days in a row – gone from mid-morning until dinnertime – leaving Bob at home with the kids. I’ll be gone in a similar fashion this coming weekend when I head south to visit friends in our old town. Neither obligation takes me away from home for a substantive amount of time by any means so you’d think I’d feel less guilty about being gone. I don’t. I still feel terrible about leaving for an entire weekend. Like, I’m somehow skipping out on my duties.
I consistently surprise and frustrate myself at the amount of guilt I can muster up over having outside responsibilities and interests that leave Bob bearing the brunt of the childcare and household chores in my absence. I inevitably find myself fighting this deep-seated mom guilt every time I head out the door to do something that’s just for me. Whether it’s antiquing in town or dinner with friends or even just daily exercise, I feel bad that I’ve left Bob to manage the kids and all of their needs.
I have no idea why I feel this way and have no idea how to stop feeling this way.
Every time I’m getting ready to leave the house, I grill Bob on whether or not he’s alright with my absence. Over and over, I repeat my questions, “Are you sure you’re okay taking care of the kids while I’m gone? Maybe running to the grocery store since we’re out of milk and kid carbs? Think you could handle that? Maybe? Is it asking too much?” I mean, I’m ridiculous. The whole dialogue is ridiculous!
Also, ultimately, a double standard.
Bob doesn’t nudge me awake every morning at 5:15 when he leaves for work to ask, “Hey, you sure you’re alright to watch the kids today? It won’t be too much on you to care for three small children for the next twelve hours, will it? To make three square meals and two half-hearted snacks? To wipe faces and hands clean of crumbs and peanut butter? To empty and reload the dishwasher of the same cereal bowls, IKEA plastic plates and juice glasses? Can you handle sweeping the floor in a Sisyphean cycle of despair? To finally deal with that crumpled load of sheets in the dryer that you’ve been ignoring because folding fitted sheets is still the absolute worst? And, don’t forget about homework, okay? Everyone will cry but you just have to persevere, alright? Are you sure you can take three kids to that eye appointment where you’ll all be crammed into a tiny room for way too long while everyone complains that they’re hungry? And, you haven’t forgotten that you’ll have to take them to soccer practice after that have you? Expect that one of them will have to use the suspicious porta-potty next to the parking lot, okay?”
Bob certainly doesn’t ask, “You sure you can handle all of that plus a hundred other things that will arise throughout the course of the day?”
So, why do I ask those questions of him? Why do I fret so much about what he can and cannot deal with? Why do I handle his lone wolf parenting with the most gentle of expectations? I have literally walked out the door before, looked at Bob and said, “Just keep them alive, okay?” Like, somehow, I’m the only one that can do what I do. Which is true, but also, not, you know? Bob is an extremely capable parent that deserves to be categorized a few notches above “babysitter” when I’m not around.
One of the side effects of all of this is that I’ll curb my time away if I feel like I’ve been gone too long or if I think he might be getting exhausted at home or if it’s close to dinner time and I know he could use my help. I abort my time off in deference to what he may or may not be going through with the kids in my absence. Which is kind of sweet in that marriage-y way but also totally sucks for me at the same time.
It’s all just so complicated.
I suspect all of this is a result of being a stay-at-home mom. It’s because mommying is my “job.” I’m the default parent. All day, every day. But, Bob has a job and even he gets guilt-free paid vacation days. Why should I feel any different about my vacation days? Why do they have to come with so many qualifiers and concerns and military-style logistics to ease his burden?
I have so many questions and not nearly enough answers. I think, ultimately, I need to learn how to walk out the door without so much guilt. Without any guilt. Without worry about what Bob can handle and how the kids will behave and will the house still be standing upon my return.
Instead of asking earnestly, “Are you sure you’ll be okay, Bob,” I need to learn to say, “Listen, let’s acknowledge that there’s a slight risk I won’t come home tonight. And, you’ll be just fine.”