Guilt and Mindfulness

I’ve been feeling guilty lately. Kind of an occupational hazard of being a Jewish mother I guess, especially a Jewish mother who works. Hard. So guilt in and of itself probably isn’t that interesting.

But this recent guilt has felt kind of different, more nuanced than the never-ending “did-I-do-the-best-I-possibly-could-for-my-child-at-any-given-moment” shit that I think all mothers feel. All parents, probably. For that particular flavor of guilt I’ve had decent success with the “good enough mother” theory, which holds that children actually benefit from having a mother who fails them from time to time.

My recent batch of guilt is more like this: I work a lot – both at the office and at home. I get home after my kids are already asleep three days a week. I left them with my husband for a few days recently for a conference, and I’ve got a few more coming up next year. But all of that I can deal with; I know we’re setting a good model for them of an egalitarian household. I feel guilty because since starting this new job I’m having a fucking blast doing it. The content is inspiring and interesting and important. I work with amazing people. The energy is flowing – I feel like I could work basically non-stop and not get tired of it.

And it feels like it’s not meant to be like that. Like if I’m going to be away from my family for so many hours, to put the kids to sleep and then keep working, to find patches of time on the weekend to catch up from the week gone by and set up the week ahead – I’ve gotta at least resent it. And I don’t. Not at the moment.

A couple of days ago I booked a flight to join some colleagues on a short trip to Amsterdam in a couple of months. Half work half play. I’d been umming and ahhing for a few days and I just decided fuck it, you only live once, right? But something was still niggling. I decided to check in with my husband, to try to work out what wasn’t sitting right. Keep in mind, my husband is somehow more of a feminist than me – he’s not fussed at all by our down-the-middle split parenting arrangement.

Am I pushing it? I asked. Spending too much time at the office, traveling too much?

He told me he doesn’t care about that, said I should do what I’ve gotta do. “But when you’re here with us, be here with us. We need you too.”

Bam, straight to the heart. Straight to my supposedly-mindful-mother heart.

I took a deep breath, quelled the defensive response welling up inside of me.

Because he’s right. That’s what I’m feeling guilty about. I text and check my emails during the limited time I have with the kids far too often. I send work emails at 7am in between breakfast and brushing teeth and smoothies. What’s the point of getting up at 5am to meditate every day if I check my emails the second the bell goes off, and leave that mindfulness on the cushion?

I felt totally ashamed, for my husband to have to tell me this. I mean, I’m meant to be the mindful one. And yet so grateful that he did. Because it’s spot on, and so easy to implement, once I’m paying attention.

It’s been two days, a full weekend, and I feel so much better. That’s not to say that I didn’t work over the weekend – I did. But I was less attached to my phone, less lost in work in my head, and more importantly – more present. More patient and creative with the kids. More appreciative of how fucking awesome they are, and how lucky we all are to have each other, and what a crucial part of my life they are.

Even if they’re not the only driving force in my life, or the only thing I think about.

We’ll see if this flows through the week, and the month, and with me to Amsterdam.

But for now – I already feel less guilty.

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