The guilt. It’s something every mum is well aware of. Whether it’s the guilt of letting our children eat sweets, the guilt of shouting at them through lack of our own patience, or the guilt of not being there when they need us. It seems to be unavoidable.
I think there’s one guilt that particularly weighs on me. And it’s a weird one. Because actually, the guilt doesn’t really lie in my parenting. It lies in what I could be doing otherwise.
Let me explain…
When I was at school, I was a straight A student. I won my school’s student of the year. Academically, I was what every parent would hope their child to be. I went on to study Psychology, and then did a Masters in Business Psychology. I won an award for achieving the highest grade in my Masters class. Big things were expected of me. I remember not really knowing what I wanted to do. My Masters tutor told me that I should pursue a career in statistics, as I grasped it so well. I couldn’t think of anything more mind-numbingly boring (apologies any statisticians out there, it’s just not for me!). Sean and I took ourselves off to Canada for a while, and it was there the idea of running a business started to emerge.
At the age of 24 years, back from Canada and newly married, that’s what I did. I started Personnel Surveys. But it was tough. Really tough. When an opportunity to learn about social media came up, I took it. I took it and ran with it, and started Sam Flynn Social Media. I’ve been speaking about, and training businesses, in social media for about 6 years now. I really enjoy it, especially the speaking bit. I’ve applied my psychology knowledge to give myself a bit of a relationships focused niche approach.
Then children came along. They were always in the plan. In fact, they were kind of part of the plan. I thought that running my own business would give me more flexibility to allow me to spend time with them. And it has! I work 2 days most weeks, 3 days the odd week. And the rest of the time, I spend with them.
When I was on maternity leave with Ella, running a business at the same time was pretty easy. I’d work while she napped. When she started nursery, I had business lined up already and it was all systems go. In fact, I started to make more money working those two days a week than I had been when I worked five before having Ella. Things were going good!
Then I got pregnant again. Having two children and running your own business is sooo much harder! Ella doesn’t nap any more, so I have little opportunity to fit in any work on the days I have ‘off’ with them. And come the evening, having had little sleep, and then a full on day with the girls, I’m as much use as a chocolate teapot. I’m back from maternity leave now, but feel like I’m starting again. I really took time off after having Sienna, particularly as I was so sleep deprived and there was little time in the day to do anything other than look after both children. So, the business isn’t looking as flush, and I’m trying to remember what it is I do to get business flowing!
It’s led me to feel career guilt. Have I sacrificed a career that could have blazed, for the sake of being a mum? I’m not saying I would ever have chosen not to have children to further my career. Definitely not. In fact, the one thing I was certain of in my future when I was younger, was that it would include children. Several of them! I’ve had wobbles where I think I should pack in the business. It is unreliable income. I can’t guarantee how much I’ll make one month to the next. It gives me a lot of anxiety. And it can get pretty lonely without workmates to chat to every day. But I couldn’t earn what I have been working the hours I have been, if I worked for someone else.
Could I have been something ‘greater’? But why do I have in my mind that an amazing career is ‘greater’ than rearing my children?
I know I want to spend as much time with my children as I can when they’re young. I know I don’t want to look back and wish I’d worked less, and spent more time with them. I think I’ve got that bit right. But I can’t help feeling a guilt that my career could have been so much more than it is.
Just this week, I have been to Dublin to speak at a two day social media conference. All the other speakers arrived the night before, and stayed for three nights, socialised together, built relationships and opportunities for collaboration. Me? I flew there and back in the day, and missed the second day of the conference. My children had to come first, and it would have become too complicated to organise them, with Sean having to leave so early in the morning for work. The guilt is there again. The kids came before my career. Why should that make me feel guilty? And if I look at the speaker line up, I was one of the youngest there. I should be proud of that. Proud that I was asked to speak at it. Proud that a mum of two young children was able to take such an opportunity.
I’ve read posts from stay at home mums guilty about the career they feel they’re missing out on. I’ve read posts from career mums, guilty about the lack of time they spend with their children. From the outside, it would look like I have the perfect balance. So, why do I still have the guilt?! Why can’t we ever just be happy with our choice?
I think as modern women, it’s such a confusing one. Our hearts and hormones shout ‘nurture, nurture, nurture’. Our brains and bank balances shout ‘work, work, work’. It may well be an issue for some dads too. I don’t want to be gender discriminatory. But there’s no denying that men and women aren’t biologically and hormonally built the same. I think there’s never been so much opportunity for the ‘modern woman’ (though unfortunately, in many cases, still not the deserved equality) . But with that comes the pressure too, that we may never achieve everything we want to, whether that be family or career.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you get the guilt regardless of your choice?