The Guilt of a Working Mom

With all the talk about balance, the reality for most parents any more is a constant series of trade-offs between child, self, and earning a living. While some will argue that the situation (especially for women) should be a certain way, the reality that most of us live with is a constant decision making process, often with tough compromises, and sometimes with complete misses, and almost always with a sense of not being or doing enough.

Today is one of those misses for me. Sitting in the SAS Copenhagen lounge on the way to Shanghai, I am on my way to important meetings with my customers and colleagues that will hopefully have a positive impact over months to come. While if I don’t travel, I know the world (or project) will not end or fail, but my attendance and help will probably make the outcome better.

The reality of working globally well means investing in relationships, and continuously strengthening those relationships by regular interactions. Particularly in the start of a new project, investigating in time together will always save time (often in several orders of magnitude) throughout the project execution.

Knowing the need still doesn’t make it any easier to miss your daughter’s first violin orchestra recital.

I have always loved traveling. Starting with childhood trips in the Chevy Vega, sitting on top of orange boxes, through the desert on the way home from visiting a great aunt in San Francisco, belting out the lyrics to Sesame Street favorites. Continuing through years of through the night drives to Florida for spring break, my first trans-Atlantic flight to London, and my first trip without my family for a summer study abroad in Brittany, France. There is an unmistakable adrenaline rush with the thrust of the jet engine, or a car loaded with family and friends for a new destination.

Until my daughter was born, I sought assignments with foreign customers, gladly taking two to three week trips to Brazil and Argentina, Germany, and even commuted for a year between Sweden and Germany.

While on parental leave, she became my traveling companion, earning her own EuroBonus Silver status by the time she was six months old, with trips to Geneva, Moscow, Chicago, and San Francisco. Even on several early business trips, she joined me, attending daycare in Braga Portugal and joining our late-night meetings, and later joining me on a trip to China when my husband and my travel collided.

But now she has school attendance requirements, and while Swedish schools are remarkably supportive of international travel as part of education, I now need to travel more and more without her. And it means I miss more of her life.

So while the thrust of the jet engine still makes my adrenaline flow, it also pulls my heartstrings.

Some would argue that I shouldn’t work, I shouldn’t travel, and that a mother’s role is to always be there for their child. Others argue that I am a role-model to her, showing that a woman is capable of both being a good mother and having a good career. But in the end, the reality is a Mom sitting in a lounge feeling guilty.

The Mom knows that she couldn’t be the former Mom, that it would be worse for both mother and daughter. And she wonders if she is really the latter Mom, having made so many sideways and downward steps in her career, that it isn’t really exemplary.

But in the end, This Mom knows that her daughter loves her and understands that she has a job to do she loves. And she was so glad to have had a private concert last night before she left. The lingering memory of violin put a smile on her face, as she gathers her things to leave for the flight.

With all the talk about balance, the reality for most parents any more is a constant series of trade-offs between child, self, and earning a living. While some will argue that the situation (especially for women) should be a certain way, the reality that most of us live with is a constant decision making process, often with tough compromises, and sometimes with complete misses.

Today is one of those misses for me. Sitting in the SAS Copenhagen lounge on the way to Shanghai, I am on my way to important meetings with my customers and colleagues that will hopefully have a positive impact over months to come. While if I don’t travel, I know the world (or project) will not end or fail, but my attendance and help will probably make the outcome better.

The reality of working globally well means investing in relationships, and continuously strengthening those relationships by regular interactions. Particularly in the start of a new project, investigating in time together will always save time (often in several orders of magnitude) throughout the project execution.

Knowing the need still doesn’t make it any easier to miss your daughter’s first violin orchestra recital.

I have always loved traveling. Starting with childhood trips in the Chevy Vega, sitting on top of orange boxes, through the desert on the way home from visiting a great aunt in San Francisco, belting out the lyrics to Sesame Street favorites. Continuing through years of through the night drives to Florida for spring break, my first trans-Atlantic flight to London, and my first trip without my family for a summer study abroad in Brittany, France. There is an unmistakable adrenaline rush with the thrust of the jet engine, or a car loaded with family and friends for a new destination.

Until my daughter was born, I sought assignments with foreign customers, gladly taking two to three week trips to Brazil and Argentina, Germany, and even commuted for a year between Sweden and Germany.

While on parental leave, she became my traveling companion, earning her own EuroBonus Silver status by the time she was six months old, with trips to Geneva, Moscow, Chicago, and San Francisco. Even on several early business trips, she joined me, attending daycare in Braga Portugal and joining our late-night meetings, and later joining me on a trip to China when my husband and my travel collided.

But now she has school attendance requirements, and while Swedish schools are remarkably supportive of international travel as part of education, I now need to travel more and more without her. And it means I miss more of her life.

So while the thrust of the jet engine still makes my adrenaline flow, it also pulls my heartstrings.

Some would argue that I shouldn’t work, I shouldn’t travel, and that a mother’s role is to always be there for their child. Others argue that I am a role-model to her, showing that a woman is capable of both being a good mother and having a good career. But in the end, the reality is a Mom sitting in a lounge feeling guilty.

The Mom knows that she couldn’t be the former Mom, that it would be worse for both mother and daughter. And she wonders if she is really the latter Mom, having made so many sideways and downward steps in her career, that it isn’t really exemplary.

But in the end, This Mom knows that her daughter loves her and understands that she has a job to do she loves. And she was so glad to have had a private concert last night before she left. The lingering memory of violin put a smile on her face, as she gathers her things to leave for the flight.

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