Care and Feeding

My Daughter Is Guilting Me for Finally Having It All

She doesn’t treat my husband like this.

Young girl hugging a woman's leg.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

At the height of the pandemic, I had to quit my job and stay home to take care of our daughter. She was in her first year of kindergarten when schools shut down so she doesn’t remember much of the school routine and me working outside the home.

I love being a mom more than anything, but my career field is very challenging and rewarding, and I love my work. I struggled during the years of being a stay-at-home mom without the creative and intellectual stimulation from my work. Finally, we have found the right balance of school, child care, and market demand for me to go back to work in a position that pays enough to justify the expenses of not having me at home. It is my dream job: a company that values the same things in our work that I do, a supportive and diverse team from co-workers to management, and most of all interesting and rewarding work.

I feel that I am in a better place mentally and emotionally when I am working. However, my transition back to work has been harder on my daughter than I expected. I knew it would affect her, but it’s been months and she still hasn’t settled into the new status quo. She drags out morning routines every single school day because she’s upset I will go to work after she gets on the school bus. She writes me notes with drawings of crying faces saying it makes her sad when she thinks that I’m not at home when she’s at school. She has admitted to faking being sick so that I will come pick her up from school. Even though she’s only in the after-school program for an hour a day, she acts like she never sees me anymore.

I have told her that I love her above everything and she is the most important part of my life even with this new job, both in the moment she talks about it and in times we can sit down and talk. I have explained that I love my job and am doing important work in an age-appropriate way. I have even tried to explain that adults need jobs for financial and emotional reasons, and it is not me pulling away from her. She doesn’t treat my husband like this, but he has always worked long hours, so I suspect it must have to do with the change and her thinking I choose this job over her. I escaped my isolating, draining mom guilt, but now have this new guilt. What is a better way to handle this transition for her?

—Happy Mom, Sad Daughter

Dear Happy Mom,

I know this has gone on for a few months, but your daughter had you at home for much longer, so it’s not shocking that it’s taking her a while to adjust. I don’t think there is a “better” way to handle this; you’re doing everything right. You’ve let her know why you had to return to work, and that you didn’t choose work over her, which is important for her to hear. Keep reminding her of that. Unfortunately, though, that doesn’t change how much she misses her mom and her desire for things to go back to the way they were before.

Continue having those honest talks with your daughter about why you’re working, and allow her to express how she feels without judgment. Do your best to protect the quality of the time you do have together. Keep doing special activities as mother and daughter, and tell her how much that time means to you.

You have to give your daughter more time to get used to you not being around as much. If you find that in a few more months, she’s still just as upset about it as she is now, then you may want to talk to her school’s guidance counselor, or a professional outside of her school, about the possibility that she’s experiencing separation anxiety, which may require some additional support. I hope you see some improvement soon.

—Jamilah

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