Work, Guilt and Motherhood

This morning I called in sick to work for the 3rd time this week. The first 2 days I was held hostage at home due to my toddlers sickness, and after sharing his love (or germs), today I called in sick with my own. The Aussie winter is here! And with the winter comes the much dreaded childcare and school spreading sickness. With the drastic change in Melbourne whether the past few weeks, it seems like every child I know is sick at the moment, including mine. And when he’s sick, he can’t go to childcare, which means his primary caregiver (myself), can’t go to work.

On Monday night he woke around 10pm crying from coughing so much and being unable to breathe through his nose and spent the night in our bed, wanting mummy, spreading his (what’s feels like) several arms and legs out so that my husband and I were pushed to the edges. Being woken too many times and giving up on sleep, at 4am I lay there tossing up whether he’d be well enough to go to childcare or whether I was kidding myself (yes, the latter was the truth). In my sleep deprived state I worried about the people I’d be letting down at work and the guilt I would feel. I also sussed out whether my husband could stay home instead. He had the keys for the work site and a lot of tradies relying on him that day so the answer was a firm NO.

“You will never look back on your life and think, “I spent too much time with my kids.”

The truth is though, I WANT it to be me staying home when my boy is not well. Not because I like cleaning up vomit and snot but because of that maternal drive in me that wants to nurture, comfort and make him feel better. Plus, it seems that sickness likes to rear it’s ugly head at some unGodly hour of the night and keeps me awake even when he is sleeping, therefore I’m missing out! (My husband likes to think that he is also awake and dealing with the issue at hand. His snoring tells a very different story). So if there is any chance to catch up on rest the next day, it is an added bonus. By Tuesday afternoon I wondered if I’d done the right thing by keeping my 2.5 year old home as he was beaming with energy and bouncing off the walls like Spider-Man. I informed work I’d be returning the next day. But then 10pm came again and he had a fever of 39.5 degrees. It was back to being 3 in the bed to monitor his temperature and give comfort cuddles while trying my best not to pull a muscle in my shoulder from the awkward position I was forced to lie in. Another day of calling in sick, texting colleagues and calling childcare, booking and visiting the doctors and feeling unreliable, with reliability being a trait I value highly.

I can handle my son being sick. Yes it can be hard work, but for a kid who is not usually affectionate, is super high energy and who I usually bribe to stop running and give mummy a cuddle, he now becomes super cuddly and mellow. I don’t mind this short lived interim break at all! But the dreaded action of calling in sick to work is the biggest issue. What is it about this act that causes such guilt? Have I done something so incredibly wrong that I should be ashamed? No. Could I be having a day where life is a bit much and I need a to take a load off mentally rather than being physically sick? (If that’s the case, maybe it’s best I take a mental health day for everyone’s sake!) Or is it the fact that I might think my boss will call me bluff? (This is possible, but completely out of my control) Or is it actually that I’m being a responsible parent and have made the judgment call that my son is too unwell to go to childcare, spread his germs with the other kids and also make himself worse? Yes. That’s it, as clear and as simple as that. Why is it the mind is so much stronger when we’re lacking sleep and not functioning at our optimum?

The reality is, as mums, we will feel guilty if we stay and we will feel guilty if we go. We need to make the decision of what action is going to be taken and let go of that guilt. So what is guilt and what purpose is it serving in this situation? According to the dictionary, the definition of guilt is ‘a feeling of worry or unhappiness that you have because you have done something wrong, such as causing harm to another.’ Feeling worried? Check. Unhappiness? Guilt can certainly lead me to this. Done something wrong? Absolutely not. I have learnt that the guilt of an individual does vary depending on how sensitive you are to the feelings of others and how much you reflect on things. I for one am a sensitive being who is constantly reflecting. But this can be magnified when it’s your 4th day in a row of being stuck indoors without adult conversation and surrounded by sickness. Did you know that guilt is actually an emotion that evolved in human beings to help us care for others in a group and the feeling is fundamental to maintaining good relationships? So guilt is not all bad after all!

“Hold my hand, mummy”

If I truly listen to myself and my sane mind, I know 100% where my priorities lie. Work may be important but not nearly as important as raising my little human and caring for him when he or I am sick. The reality is that if you ‘re a working mum, be prepared to let go of expectations and realize that you will let others down at times, you may appear unreliable, but it’s out of your control- AND it’s short lived while your kids are young. Everything is a phase when it comes to children. You can and will be replaced at work. Jobs come and go. Sure, you may let people down and create a greater work load for someone else (which is where the guilt rears its ugly head). Sure, you may use too many of your sick days at once (if you’re lucky enough to have them). But isn’t that what they’re for? To use them when you’re sick or even just need a day off?

I think about you super mums who have 2,3,4 or more children and having to battle sickness and work. 4 children means 4 times the load and 4 times the chance of having to take a carer’s day off work!! You women are legends!

Next week when sickness has left us I’ll be back to busting my arse at work and as a mum and in every other area of my life. I would happily pick up someone else’s slack who is either going through a hard time or having a sick day. Maybe today I can simply allow myself to be sick, accept that it’s out of my control and do what my body is asking for- rest. Rest without guilt, without worry, without overthinking. Work will still be there when I’m well again. One thing I know for certain is, I will NEVER look back on my life and wish I worked more, but I will regret the times I wanted and needed to be there for my son. Family first. Work second. Guilt doesn’t have a place here.

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POSTS BY JANINE

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Janine Graham is a Mum, a Primary School Teacher and a Wellness and Mindfulness Coach. Janine works with women to refocus their energy on what aligns with their values and supports and challenges them to create a greater overall life satisfaction. Janine is skilled and passionate in empowering women in issues such as body confidence, relationships, fertility, parenting, life balance and unconditional self-love. Make contact with Janine today for your free, no obligation clarity call. 
Follow more of Janine’s story on Free To Be Me – Wellness Coaching’s Facebook Page and Website.

2 thoughts on “Work, Guilt and Motherhood”

  1. Oh the guilt word drives me bananas too and reading this, makes me realise that I need to learn not to feel guilty, especially when I’ve done nothing wrong.
    Great read once again Janine ☺
    I hope everyone is getting stronger in the household.

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