Barbara Siemen, Contributors, Featured, Parenting

Motherhood: A Career in Guilt

My career path has changed a lot since I was a young punk. Eons ago I wanted to be a cop. I had no plans of having children or a husband. Then Mr. Big Muscles waved his flirty long eyelashes at me and all of it changed in an instant. So, I became a teacher, which I thought was a much safer occupation for a mother and wife. However, it turns out that I hated teaching. Loving literature and teaching it are waaaaaay different. Now, I am a stay at home mom (and blogger!) yet I find myself more hectic than ever. Instead of wearing one hat, I feel that I am wearing at least 20 different hats every day. The hats change from day to day too.

There is a great little fable about a professor that fills a glass jar with big rocks and asks his class if it is full. They agree that yes, the jar is full. He proceeds to fill it with smaller rocks and asks again, eliciting the same response. He fills it with sand then, and the students conclude yet again the jar is full.

The big rocks are the most important things in life: family, health, and relationships. The small rocks are other important things such as work or school. The sand is material possessions. The moral of the fable is that if you fill your jar with small stuff first, you will have no room in your life for the big rocks.

I have learned to triage the sand and small rocks and prioritize the big rocks, especially when it comes to the kids. But I still struggle with doing the things I love and want to do, with doing the things I know I should and have to do. Sometimes I feel like I forget to make myself a big rock.

Yep, I should have been cleaning, but instead I went for a truck ride with my favorite farmer. He's a big rock.

Yep, I should have been cleaning, but instead I went for a truck ride with my favorite farmer. He’s a big rock.

Today, I needed to finish a blog, wash laundry, workout, bake goodies, and address Christmas cards among the other tedious tasks I do every day. I figured I would have all day while the kids are at school to get these things done. However, umpteen things popped up throughout the day that prevented me from working without interruption. I finally settled into my task list and I threw in some laundry while I mixed up the first batch of cookies. While that was in the oven, I sat at the computer and typed up my piece. I continued this rotation several times.

Here’s the problem though: at 3:30pm the kids come home from school and need my attention, but, my tasks will still be in process. There will be fights to break up, homework to help complete, dinner to be made, and chores in the barn to be done. And, the laundry will need to be folded and put away. And, there will still be a steady stream of cookies going on. And I’ll really, really, really need to get my blog piece wrapped up. And, I haven’t even started on the Christmas cards yet. And now there’s a mountain of dishes and bake ware to clean. Typically, I would have to take dinner to Darrin, in a field somewhere, and possibly even do a few chauffer-gopher tasks before the night is through. And, and, and!!! There’s always something getting in the way. Something will always have to give. It’s usually me.

Here’s a recent example of a real eye-opener: Our daughter is not a fan of riding the school bus and said, “Mom since you don’t do anything I think you are fully capable of driving us to school.” Whooooooaaaaa Nelly…. Back up the anything taxi here for a minute.

I’ve heard this before from our oldest in the form of, “Yes Mrs. Smith, my mom doesn’t do anything so she can bake cookies for the class party.” Gulp. That was tough…but hearing my daughter say it had a different effect on me.  My daughter thinks I don’t do anything. This is a big problem for me, since I hope someday she will be a mother too, and I sincerely hope she does not look back upon her childhood and think her mother did nothing. I feel like motherhood is the greatest gift I’ve ever been given, it is also the hardest job I’ve ever had. It certainly isn’t nothing. But obviously she sees it as nothing, since I value myself last, always.

All my big rocks, gathered in one place!

All my big rocks, gathered in one place!

So when it comes time for something to give, as in the laundry/cookies/blogging/Christmas cards writing I find that I am always giving up other things to tend to the kids or Darrin. The laundry will not get folded. It will stay in laundry baskets and get wrinkled. The next batch of cookies will wait till tomorrow. The blog might get done, after I put the kids to bed later tonight. The Christmas cards may or may not even get started. Maybe tomorrow, I will get to all of that, maybe not. I will have another list of things to do plus finish up the things I didn’t get done yesterday. But for today, I will drop it all, to help with the homework, the fights, and the kid chaos. That is my job, after all. But it always makes me wonder…

I wonder if other stay at home mothers feel the same way as me. I wonder if working moms feel the same way as me. I wonder if fathers would prioritize themselves, tasks, and children the same way as me. I wonder why I always feel so guilty about it all.

I asked my hubby if he ever feels guilty in regards to working and spending time with the children. He replied No. He feels bad if he is working and cannot go to a fun event with us. Or, he feels bad if he is working and late to something important. But, he said he never feels guilty when he’s working because everything he does is for the family. That makes sense to me, except in further contemplation I realized that everything I do is for the family too. So why do I carry so much guilt every day yet he doesn’t? Is it an innate female trait?

I also asked our agronomist, whom happened to be at our house going over fields for next year with Darrin. He is a father of three, about our age as well. I asked him if he ever feels guilty about working and not spending more time with his kids. His response was No, he doesn’t feel guilty about working but he feels guilty that his wife has to work. He feels bad that the kids go to daycare after school, until the two of them leave work at 5. The entire family doesn’t get home until 5:30, which only leaves 2 ½ hours of homework, dinner, and family time before bed. After he left, Darrin and I discussed his point of view. In this scenario, the guilt is felt by the father, though it is concerning the mother and we wondered if her answer would be the same or not.

I’ve come to the conclusion (and by conclusion I mean that I know in my heart it’s true yet I still struggle with it every day) that motherhood is a career in guilt. I know it is okay to leave laundry and dishes till tomorrow, yet I’m absolutely mortified when someone unexpectedly stops in and sees it. No matter how much I accomplish in a day, it will never be enough to satisfy me because some facet of my life has had to give, in order for something else to go.

Blogging is a huge part of my identity now, yet I find myself putting off writing because I deem something else more important. It’s a constant battle within myself. I want to exercise, work on my blog, have a spotless house, prepare freshly baked goodies and healthy homemade meals, help the kiddos with homework, and still be fabulously dressed and well-rested when the occasional and random drop-in occurs. I know that is a dream, though. The reality is that I will continue putting my big rocks in the jar first every day, and one of these days I will learn to be one of the rocks.

Blogging is another big rock for me.

Blogging is another big rock for me.

Barbara Siemen

About Barbara Siemen

Barbara grew up in a typical 9-5 family in Mid-Michigan, but had family roots in the countryside. Though her initial college plans involved a big-city future, she fell in love first semester with a charismatic farm boy with flirty green eyes. Dorm dates turned into weekend trips back home to his centennial family farm, where she spent hours in a tractor, the milking parlor, or alongside his extended family at their frequent gatherings. After they graduated college, they married and moved “back home” to live where generations of Siemens’ had lived. Barbara, and her husband Darrin, have 3 adorable children and a future full of promise. While Darrin manages the daily operations of the dairy, beef, and cropping systems, Barbara takes care of the homestead, children, and office operations.

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  • Marilyn Buchholz December 13, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    I was a stay-at-home mom after marrying my farmer/husband. I truly enjoyed sub-teaching sometimes which gave me some time for myself and away from the kids and farm life. Finally, when the youngest of our five kids was in fifth grade, I returned to full-time teaching until I retired.
    I still value those years spent at home as the best years of my life! Sure there’s little time for yourself, but who’s the most important then anyway? They are and they’re worth every minute I could give to them.
    I hope you’ll feel the same one day!

  • Angela Jones January 5, 2015 at 7:17 am

    Great post. I think most women struggle with this no matter what occupation they (or their husbands) do. We have moved from a time when women were considered bad Moms if they worked out of the home, to a time where we are considered lazy Moms if we don’t (if only in our own minds). I read a good post once about how being a stay at home wife is actually all for the working spouse. If both parents work full time then all home time is spent doing odd jobs like cleaning and paying bills. If someone can do those things while the other goes to work then the whole family will benefit and be stronger by having more down time. I pray that someday our kids will understand this and see how hard we work and how lucky they really are!!