Dear Me: How do I get over the feeling of guilt that washes over me when taking time away from my children?
Dear You: It’s easy to see that you’re distraught. First, because you’re asking yourself and then answering your own questions on your blog. But also, because you have a toddler and a newborn and you’re still trying to maintain a balance in your life, which of course ushers in guilty feelings. But you can’t live your life frantically trying to spread yourself thin and foregoing time for yourself, because you’ll cover all bases for a short while, but then eventually vanish into nothing and become miserable, and then everything will fall apart and no one will be happy and the guilt will have officially owned you and swallowed you whole.
<<Deep breath.>> That would suck.
While it may be an uncomfortable feeling, we have to experience the guilt and figure out how to move past it so we can take care of ourselves from time to time and do things that make us feel rounded and whole. Among these things might be writing, reading, working out, or staring out the window of a coffee shop with a nice warm cup of chai tea for twenty minutes without someone hanging on you or trying to steal it from you or asking why it smells that way or telling you they just peed their pants. (I mean, if they can tell you they did it, couldn’t they have told you that they had the urge to pee before they did it? Just saying.)
So you figure out a way to take a small amount of time for yourself. On your way out the door you look at your husband, and you feel that twinge of guilt yet again as you catch the flicker of panic in his eyes. But then you realize that you had it once too, and that it’s actually better if you do leave, because then he’ll be forced to figure it out how to juggle these two creatures by himself. (See? You’re doing him a favor, really.) You know that he’s competent, an awesome dad, and he’ll be totally fine! These things are true of course, but you should say these things to him out loud and pump up his ego as you put your shoes on and grab your keys. If you can do it, he can do it! The only difference between the two of you is that he can’t lactate, right? Which brings me to my next point. ..
You’ve had to plan this outing. You had to first feed your littlest one, which can take up to 45 minutes. Then you have to keep him and a toddler occupied while you pump, hoping your girls can muster up enough excess milk to provide a bottle-full for his next feeding. This takes another 30-45 minutes. Since you’re still on limited time, you made a schedule of everything you want to accomplish while you are working so you stay on track. If you have any errands to run, you build in a cushion of time at the end. You’re lucky if you get one block of time like this in a week, so efficiency is key.
Remember that an outing alone is productive, even when it’s not. You might get your laptop open, take a deep breath, and…nothing. You might see that book sales were a little low this month because you haven’t been able to promote as much, or you are having writer’s block when trying to complete those unfinished posts, or you can’t find inspiration even if the bitch sits right on top of your computer and slaps you in the face with your almond croissant. But really, who cares if you sit there staring at the screen for two hours? Look how much planning it took to get here!
Take a deep breath, and give yourself a break. It still matters that you have a nice little chunk of time to be here; that even though you can’t really “turn off” from parenting little ones, you are still out on your own. It’s a miracle that you placed your order uninterrupted, without having to yell “STOP THAT” forty-two times, and it’s no secret that the dude behind you saw you bouncing and swaying your wallet out of sheer muscle memory, but none of it matters, because you are HERE. And you need to be here, because being here just for a little bit makes you better at being there.
This whole parenting thing is, for lack of a better expression, a game of “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. You are spending your time, energy, and mental capacity on so many different things that it’s no wonder by the end of the day you are spent, which is why you have to choose carefully what you do with said time, energy, and mental capacity. Sometimes it’s going to be used to parent well, create epic shit, and live fully. Other times, its going to be filled with screaming toddlers, writer’s block, and self-deprecation. Remind yourself that “this too shall pass”, and that it applies to both the good and the bad; then shake it off.
Lastly, accept the feeling of guilt. My guess is that it’s never going to go away. So you might as well make friends with the bitch, learn how to spot her coming, then abruptly face-palm her as you move right on by her and out the door. You have to do things for YOU, even if it takes extra thought and planning, because if you don’t you will start to go insane and do crazy things like talk to yourself in blog posts. The end.