Okay, so you don’t spend every waking minute with your kids. Have you made peace with that or are you trailing a black cloud of guilt behind you? Maybe you compare yourself to your neighbor who gleefully spends afternoons baking cookies or doing craft projects with her children—and you’re sure you’d tear your hair out if you did that more than once every six months. Then there’s the mom down the street who constantly has two kids in tow and a beatific smile on her face—and you have to wipe the grimace off your face and hold your patience in line when you haul your kids with you to do errands.
Or maybe you’re a working mom, and although you’d love to spend more time with your children, your office has an iron clad hold on your time. Spending days with your children just isn’t one of the options.
Whether you’re a working mom or a stay at home mom, you don’t need to feel guilty for not being with your children 24/7. It’s healthy and proper to let go of your guilt when you drop your kids off for daycare if you’re working, if you’re involved in volunteer work or other projects and even when you’re doing something for yourself.
When my oldest daughter Carol was a toddler, I loved her more than life itself. I also knew that if I didn’t take some time away from her, I’d go crazy. I still remember driving away from the babysitter’s house the first time I dropped her off for the day. My guilt weighed me down like a ton of bricks because my own mom never ever had a babysitter for me during the day. Years later when my two daughters were older and I was working, I simply couldn’t always rearrange my schedule to match every event in their lives. I felt sad, but at least I had grown out of my need to feel guilty. We shared our schedules and activities in advance, and they knew they were my top priority. They also understood when reality hit and I wasn’t able to make them first every single time.
Now, of course, no one can tell you how to feel. But if you change how you think about something, a change in feelings will usually follow. Let me explain. Envision your favorite picture. You often see the frame around the picture right along with the picture itself. Think of how different the picture would look if you replaced the current frame with a new one—one with a different color, a different size or a different contour.
The same is true of the situations in your life. Often you can’t change the situation itself (the picture), but if you change your thinking and your perspective about the situation (the frame), the whole situation looks and feels different.
Let’s take three examples:
1. The picture (the situation as it exists in reality): I’m working outside my home and don’t have the option of spending every day with my children. Old frame (the one that causes guilt): I’m not providing my children with the love and support, the nurture and caring they deserve from their mom. New frame (the one that frees you from guilt): During the day I’m providing opportunities for my children that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to have, and in the evenings and on weekends, I’m delighted to spend my time with my kids and I’m totally devoted to their well-being.
2. The picture: During the week I drop my kids off at childcare where they spend the whole day with other people. Old frame: I should reschedule my life so that my responsibilities and activities don’t collide with the needs of my kids. New frame: During the day my kids learn socialization skills and have fun learning new things with others. In the evenings they are even more excited to spend time with me and our time together has more quality and more meaning.
3. The picture: I want to do something on my own—just for me. I could take that time to be with my kids, but I don’t really want to. Old frame: I’m selfish and I am making my kids feel unimportant in my life as well as abandoned and uncared for. New frame: When I take time for just me, I am more refreshed, renewed and energetic to really be there for my kids. I actually have more time to offer them and they benefit in the long run.
There is no current research that indicates that you’re hurting your kids if you don’t spend all your time with them. But there’s plenty of research that shows the value of taking good care of yourself. You have more of yourself to give to your kids because you feel fulfilled in your own life. You are more enthusiastic about being with them. You’re a happier person—and every child wants a happy mom.