I'm A Part-Time Parent And Refuse To Feel Guilty About It

Photo: Courtesy Of Author
Author with her daughter and son

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I planned to work part-time while raising her and continue to do the work I loved while being a mom. But nothing could have prepared me for how much attention she needed or how much I loved her. Once she entered my life, it was like a switch went off, and I forgot everything I was working toward in my career and everything I cared about and dreamed of for myself.

Unaware of what was happening, I went into full-time mother mode. I had lost myself, and I didn’t even know it yet. I didn’t realize I had lost myself until I got divorced. I had spent almost every waking moment with my kids. Then, all of a sudden, the man who worked 12 hours a day wanted my kids half of the time.

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All of a sudden, the kids weren’t with me anymore. All of a sudden, I had no idea who I was. And with a blink of an eye… my identity was gone. To say I was sad would be an understatement. I was devastated. Eventually, after the dust settled, I started to hear this voice in my head telling me, "You’re a bad mom," and even more concerning, I believed that voice.

I revealed my little secret to friends, who told me I was ridiculous to think I was a terrible mother. They told me I was one of the best moms they knew. But how could it be true? My idea of a good mother was one who is physically present for her kids all the time — and I wasn’t.

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This one little but contradictorily huge fact made it blatantly obvious to me I was a bad mom. But I couldn’t live with the guilt anymore; something needed to change, and that something was my perspective. "Where did that thought come from?" I asked myself. "Where did I get this concept a good mom is with her kids all the time?" I realized that belief wasn’t even true! For instance, my kids weren’t with me when they went to school. Then it occurred to me where I developed the concept of "bad mom," my childhood pain had created that definition for me.

When I was a teenager, I was devastated when my mother found a boyfriend and began paying more attention to him than to me. I felt so abandoned and hurt at that time in my life I must've, somewhere deep inside, committed myself to never do the same to anyone I loved. And here I was, doing the same thing, creating the same pains. It had to stop. It had to stop for me, and I had to stop it for my kids. Because now it's clear to me: we can carry pains down from generation to generation when they're unresolved. And I did NOT want my kids to carry the same destructive patterns into their adult lives that I and their grandmother had. It was time to take action.

First, I forgave my mom. Although my mom's separation from my dad and my divorce were under a different situation, we were now in a similar position. She left my dad and got involved in a new relationship, just like I had. Carrying the pain of this separation and its result around from my childhood was only hurting one person: me. I wanted to end the pain and knew forgiveness was the first step. In the second step, I identified the feelings I felt. Guilt. Extreme amounts of guilt. And I needed to reconcile it.

Guilt is an emotion we experience when we perceive we have done something wrong. However, getting divorced wasn’t wrong; aside from the "bad mom" thoughts, I was really happy! On so many levels, the divorce was great! Great for me, but what about my kids? And that’s where the problem was. I felt guilty because I perceived my choice may hurt them, and worse, I was happy about it.

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How could I be happy and feel guilty at the same time? I got a sheet of paper to write down all the ways the divorce was bad for them. For instance, they needed to live in two houses and couldn’t be with me all the time. Then, I made a list of equal length with the positive benefits directly related to the negative list. I wrote down things like, "They get a break from me" and "They get to have fun with their dad without me nagging him," which are valid positive benefits to the divorce.

Then my mind expanded to the possibilities. For instance, now they get to get to know their dad. They get to do fun things he likes to do, but I don’t. They get to travel more because we both want to take them to fun places. I looked at my list and felt pretty amazed.

Maybe being divorced was good? Maybe my kids got to experience a different side of life than if we stayed together. Why would I continue to make myself feel guilty when there were all of these positive aspects?

Then, another thought occurred to me. I deserve to be happy. And so do my kids. But I can’t make them happy — no one can make another person happy. Happiness is an inside job. Permitting myself to be happy, allow myself to love, and live guilt-free provides my kids with a positive role model to show them how to live an empowered life. And that wasn't something my mother could do for me as a kid. Now, I can break the chains from these patterns and leave the guilt behind for good for myself and my family.

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Ani Anderson is a master coach, speaker, business mentor, and author of Find Your Soul's Agent.