Sam Wilson

Working mother guilt

2005-11-24 10:25

Last week, in our women24 newsletter, I got huffy about an incident at my son's art class, where his teacher - who was meeting me for the first time - made me feel like an inferior mother, as I am not the one who does the day-to-day child stuff in my relationship. Basically, I had your basic working mother whine.

And I hit a nerve. Wow.

I was gobsmacked by the number of responses I received from our readers. They literally poured into my inbox all week: mothers sharing similar stories, women expressing support, whether they have children or not, other women dissing the teacher and still others getting seriously miffed about life overload, as experienced by the working mother. Almost all of them were emphatically defending the right to be a working mother without guilt.

And then I got one e-mail, just one, asking me, very tactfully, if I thought I had perhaps over-reacted to the incident. And you know what? I think I had.

After all, the teacher had never met me before. Sure, she could have been more tactful about that, but what did she actually do other than praise my husband's parenting skills? Not much.

So why did I - and then so many readers - get so enraged by the incident? Because, with this issue, I think we working mothers live close to breaking point, and it doesn't take much to send us over the edge.

Being mothers is the closest thing to our hearts. In fact, many would say being a mother IS one's heart. And it is this dichotomy, the fact that our hearts are pulling us home as we carry on with our jobs, whether we enjoy them or not, that makes us so skinless when it comes to criticism. Or even... perceived criticism.

That's not to say there isn't a huge amount of very real prejudice against working mothers out there. Some of your mails made my toes curl - stories of mothers working from dusk to dawn only to get home at night to dismissive mother-in-laws, of jobbing moms unable to find Moms and Tots groups that operate on the weekend because: 'my dear, real mothers make time during the week', of single mothers desperate for some support or a break or both... the list goes on and on. And these people we should take head on.

But, I do think that we should pick our fights. I think if we start separating out the real hurt from the perceived stuff (which still hurts, but that's personal), we could go a long way towards slashing our guilt loads. Because nobody, but NOBODY, should have to live with the amount of guilt we shared last week.

So. In support of this new, lighter 'lose-the-guilt' me... I am going to share a story.

On swearing

About 18 months ago, I wrote a column for News24 on how I swear in front of my children.

The issue was not the swearing so much, as how I thought swearing was a non-factor compared to hitting a child. At least that was my intention. But I got a lot of flak for the swearing part - so much that I was invited to defend myself on the radio, where the talk show host gave me even more flak.

It was not a maternal guilt-reducing time for me. And then last week, the most fantastic thing happened.

I was standing in a busy toy shop with my sons, perusing the merchandise.

"Mom?" asked my eldest, Joe, tugging lightly on my jacket. "Do you think we could buy Cluedo? Or... is it too expensive?"

The women standing next to Joe suddenly twirled around to give him her full attention.

"You are concerned about the cost?" she exclaimed, squatting down to his level and beaming at him. "I have never heard a child worrying about cost before. What a well-brought up child you are!"

She then pulled herself back up to her full height, and met my eye for the first time. Then... she recognised me. And I her. It was The Talk Show Host.

Readers, it is a moment I will savour for a long time.

  • Sam Wilson is the Editor-in-Chief of women24, and an absolutely spectacular mother.

  • Click here to subscribe to Sam's weekly women24 newsletter.

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