Recently, I felt guilt as a working mother for the first time, something I swore I’d never let touch me.
I was at my daughter’s ballet recital dress rehearsal on a Saturday morning with her and my husband. “Why don’t you ever take me or come to watch my ballet, mama?” she asked.
I shot a look at my husband, unsure of how to reply. All he could say was “Hmmph” and shrug.
I was speechless. Her classes are on Thursday afternoons, when I’m normally elbow deep in end-of-week work at my office. On those days, her father picks her up early from school, takes her there, and brings her home. I’ve never, ever seen or been to her ballet classes, but not for not wanting to.
Her ballet instructor approached me. “Oh, you must be L’s mother. Great! You can give him a break,” she said, motioning towards myhusband. “He’s always the one getting her dressed and ready. You’re finally here.”
I’ve never felt so small in my life. There were only a handful of fathers in a room filled with organised, peppy mothers. I felt inadequate and useless. I forgot to bring her makeup, I was told. Her hair? Don’t I just brush it aside with my fingers? Apparently, no. There’s something called ‘ballet hair’ which I had no idea about but seemed to come naturally to everyone else there.
L went to her father for comfort hugs before rehearsal began. Had I forfeited my opportunity (or right?) to be a present and active mother at this point?
The concept of working mother guilt isn’t new. The pressure to do enough, be enough and give enough is intense. There are so many people to please, so many things to do, so few hours in a day; a balancing act. But somewhere along the way, something has to give. I have no choice but to work (and I actually enjoy my work). This is the trade-off. Deep down, I know it won’t harm my daughter in the long run...it may just be that all mothers who work outside the home get used to the constant push and pull between responsibilities and commitments.
We were kicked out of the dance hall just before rehearsals began. At that point, I still had never seen my daughter dance in her ballet costume outside of my own living room. Tears began to well in my eyes.
With rehearsal complete, we headed home in the car, L chatting away, me stewing in silence. When we arrived back in Brooklyn, I got theaffirmation that I was longing for, that despite missing school drop-offs, pick-ups, and classes, I was doing the right thing by her.
“Mama, we’re best friends,” L said, running to me. “I could hug you forever and ever.”
For the record, the ballet recital the following weekend was a success. She loved performing, and I finally got to see her dance ... and it was wonderful.