The Caretaker’s Dilemma: Where am I needed most?

The world (particularly here in the USA)  is full of “working moms,” and yet we regard ourselves and others with emotion, anxiety and something bordering on distrust.

If you’re a working mom (or if you are married to one) you know what I mean. You’re chatting with another mom at the park, and while your kids (and her kids) climb up the slides, the conversation turns personal. She tells you that she’s watched her kids climb the slide for the last six hours and in turn, you tell her that you saw patients (or graded papers, or drove to a client, or filled orders) for the last six hours.

And though at this moment both sets of kids feel the same sense of security married to freedom, both of you feel like maybe the activities that comprise your everyday conflict with your children’s needs.

Which brings us back to why we work in the first place, really…Not to give our kids more stuff, but to give them more of what they need: experiences, education, food and shelter. And, when the time comes to buy stuff (which, for most of us with kids happens quite a bit, actually) we like to have the means to make a choice about what we bring into our home.

But here is where things get blurry. Some of us have enough to make ends meet without a job, while some moms can’t make ends meet even with a job (or more than one). In many cases, the choice to work isn’t a choice at all.

I Googled the phrase Working Moms to see what’s out there. Guess what popped up as the first related topics?

Working moms against guilt.

And next:

Working moms support group.

And, just slightly further down the list I found:

Working moms club followed by Working moms only.

As a society, we’re pulled into a strained dichotomy that tells us parents are on opposites sides here.

And the strange thing is that even if your daily round technically places you on one side, chances are your heart isn’t always there with you and you’re thirsty for the other side, at least sometimes. You know what you’ve heard about the grass on the other side. You know what the Google search told you about the other side. Heck, you just heard about the other side from the mom at the park and surely she gets it, after all she lives it.

I’m going to tell you what’s really on the other side. Kids. Your kids, at the moment, and on a jumbo scale the kids of the greater world and they all need the same thing. At this minute mine are asking for dry underwear, craft glue and an Indiana Jones-Lego-guy-head. Those are the little things they are calling for right now, but they are really asking for something more comprehensive: my attention. My love. That’s exactly what your kids want from you.

Loving our kids isn’t hard, but loving ourselves enough to be present with our choices isn’t at all easy.  But it’s important not to cloud this topic into an issue, a pro versus a con, a yin versus a yang. Wherever your day leads you, showing up with compassion for yourself and the tasks which are meant for you will guide your kids into an environment of awareness, calm and best of all: love.

You don’t need to fall onto a this-or-that mentality, for yourself or for your kids.  As adults, we have mounds of judgmental baggage that have gathered while trying to make our way in this world that even the most enlightened among us have failed to avoid expectations entirely.  It’s this unwanted hefty load that makes us wonder if our daily round is the “right choice”.  I’m not even going to get into the fact that most of us, with or without paying occupations, feel that perhaps we could be doing something more to align our tasks with our most meaningful purpose on this Earth.

Whew…all of this thinking can keep a parent up at night, will cause severe thought drift and can pull us away from the gold-plated moments: the moments we share with our kids.

Separation from this blur of doubt is essential. At its most harmless, this thinking causes stress and distraction; at its worst it harms family bonds and pollutes our blessings. It can also be a heavy, burdensome influence on our kids who look to us for guideposts as they form opinions about the world around them. This planet needs kids who believe that their ideas, choices and paths are worthwhile.

This planet needs kids that trust their strongest creative impulses and do more than utter their voice in a crowd. This planet needs kids that understand that their work – inside and outside of their home – makes a difference and that there is no right way to emerge.

This evening I did another Google search. I typed Kids’ Ideas into the search bar.  The first suggested topic was Kids’ ideas for mother’s day. Next was Kids’ ideas for inventions, followed by Kids’ ideas for Earth Day, trailed by Kids’ ideas for recycling. Next appeared Kids’ ideas about love and Kids’ ideas for love.

It was there but down at the bottom right where it should be: Kids’ ideas for making money.  We must be doing something right; when our kids are looking for answers about the world, at least they are asking the right questions, in the right order.

In addition to being a mother, do you work inside or outside of the home? Does doing so (or not doing so) cause anxiety and make you feel guilty sometimes? How do you deal with these feelings?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog from Jill Barth.

The photo is credited to the author.

Jill Barth

Jill Barth lives in Illinois with her husband and three kids. She reminds you to breathe. She is a freelance writer and consultant. Also, she is the green content Team Leader and columnist at and reads fiction for Delmarva Review. Jill's writing can be found on her blog, Small Things Honored.

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