A Strange Case of Mom Guilt.

By: Jen Shoop

I took a morning off one of the days leading up to Christmas and, partly influenced by Omicron, resolved to do nothing at all. Normally, my “mornings off” wrap around self-care visits like manicures, salon days, lunches with friends, errands that feel vaguely therapeutic because I am alone and any alone time when not writing is rare. This time, I decided I wanted to sit down on the couch and binge “Emily in Paris” at 10 A.M. Our nanny was home, as were my children, and it felt —



Whenever my children came running through the living room, I’d feel the need to pause the show and shuffle around tidying up, fluffing the pillows, putting toys away. This was in part owing to adult content but mainly owing to the sensation of awkwardness that I was sitting in my own house but decidedly not looking after my own children, and so I felt compelled to mask my loafing. When they descended for lunch, I jumped up and immediately got to work making sandwiches and pouring milk. I waited until after they’d gone their separate ways to resume my position of leisure. I can’t quite tell whether this was because I felt badly I was doing something so lazy in plain view of our hardworking nanny, or because it felt wrong not to be caring for my children when I was not working or out of the house running an errand. After all, we employ her so we can work. It felt like I was in some way breaking a rule by employing her while not working. And yet — ! Of course she is here many times when I am getting my nails done or having coffee with a girlfriend or grabbing a drink with my husband. Still, it felt delinquent on some base level.

At the same time, during the stretches I was alone, I felt the most relaxed I’ve felt in months. Maybe years? I was entirely by myself, doing something purely for my own pleasure, with no productivity upside. I was consciously and deliberately wasting a morning in frivolity, and I cannot recall the last time I indulged in such idle pleasure. I did not even let myself write Christmas cards or arrange for groceries or respond to emails. I just reclined on the couch under a thick blanket and watched and thought and lost myself in the confection that is that show. It felt deliciously illicit.

Later that night, I shared my mixed emotions with Mr. Magpie. We mused over why I felt so badly about it — after all, I am “allowed” to take mornings off. Why must they all be spent out of the house or cloistered in my bedroom? Why can’t I avail myself of the living room TV and just sit in leisure for a spell?

I think the discomfort stems in some part from the nature of my business. I work for myself, and my work is free-form, and my hours are flexible. Therefore, I have the strange and delightful option to, for example, run to the dry cleaner or stop by my mother’s for lunch or get my eyebrows done whenever I want to. I do not need to take PTO to arrange these outings. And so I never do actually “schedule time off,” unless we are traveling or have family visiting or it is a holiday when the children will be home and our nanny will not–but then those days are not free time to watch a TV show or read a book by myself.

I am not complaining. I feel fulfilled and energized and enjoy my downtime in the evenings, usually alongside Mr. Magpie. I would not trade the free-form nature of my work for anything. I don’t think it could function any other way–the impulse to write (for me at least) comes in fits and starts and cannot be time-boxed. And so it is productive — healthful! — for me to be able to zip off and complete a chore or errand when I need processing time. Sometimes my best writing happens while running to the cobbler or picking up groceries. Beyond that, on principle, I am loathe to call this blog “work” in any capacity because I enjoy it so much. It feels like creative output, not “labor” in the sense I have traditionally known it.

In short: it all works. But I think it does explain why taking a morning “off” at home felt so alien. It did not sync with the setup of my work/life balance, which is much more syncopated and less scheduled than I would suspect of many others. (…I could be, and probably am, wrong? I’m thinking now that I am certain COVID has put pressure on many more traditional job arrangements such that lines are thoroughly blurred in similarly complicated ways. I am thinking specifically of my girlfriend who is a high-powered attorney but who, since COVID has her working remotely, now picks up her son from school every day at noon during her “lunch break.” I know she loves the way her WFH arrangement accommodates this brief interlude with her son, but I also know it must make things complicated — i.e., meetings running late, deadlines, and the age-old challenge of clipping in and out of work/mom modes. (It is not automatic!))

But the other half of my discomfort equation, the half that I think most of you will relate to, is —

Why do I feel guilty doing nothing for a rare stretch of time at my own home when I am paying a caregiver to look after my children? One of my friends messaged me to say: “I’m glad you’re taking time to take care of yourself.” It was such a welcome grant of permission that I didn’t know I needed. I thought to myself: “I should not feel guilty about this! I am allowed to be lazy every now and then, and to carve out a way to accommodate that laziness.” And is it even fair to call it “laziness”? Why do I itch to categorize a morning of relaxation as lethargy? I know myself to be a busy, hard-working person. I can take breaks, and they needn’t always be breaks that tick something off a list somewhere. Thinking more deeply about it, I do on occasion take “breaks” of different kinds that feel more medicinal and do not trigger my mom guilt as heavily. For example, I would not feel the same guilt over going for a walk outside, reading on the porch, or even baking cookies — all pleasurable pastimes that involve a similar detachment from goals and to-dos but feel more wholesome in some sense. (Though, to be sure, I rarely do any of these things while our nanny is here.) Was it just the modality of TV that I was hung up on?

Now my thoughts are circling around my SAHM friends, who — like, when do they get to take a walk just sit on the couch and watch TV? Never? Imagining myself in their shoes, I think it would be difficult to hire a sitter so I could sit at home watching “Emily in Paris,” for reasons similar to those I mentioned above. At least with my current arrangement (i.e., a full-time nanny), I have the option at my disposal, setting aside my discomfort for a moment.

I guess what I’m getting at is —

Is this a mom guilt issue I need to just barrel through? Is it something about my underlying value judgment of TV as a frivolous pastime? Why was I so cagey about the entire thing?

What do you think? Have you experienced anything similar?


+On mom guilt.

+On the lopsided, beautiful dance of motherhood.

+On remaining interesting to your partner after giving birth.

+A woman contains multitudes.

+On shifting gears after a long day.

+Some good winter reading picks.

+The blame game.

Shopping Break.

+We had six inches of snow yesterday! It reminded me of Chicago snow. I know I’ve written about this before, but Polarn O Pyret makes the best snow bibs for children. They are pricey, but they last an eternity, are unisex, and are very warm and insulated. They run huge, which has actually worked out nicely. Mini has worn the same pair for THREE YEARS (a size 2-3T, and she is now almost always a size 5 or even 6). The straps are adjustable so they really do grow with the child but the legs are cut really long (I guess for all those tall Scandi children), and because they are snow pants, you can just kind of bunch them up using the elastic at the ankle until they fit properly. Anyway, micro has worn the size 1.5-2 years last year and this one, and he is currently a size 3T in everything else, and they still fit fine. Next year, I’ll put him in mini’s current pair and buy mini a pair 4-6. These are simply the best.

+I have to say, though, these cheerfully printed snow overalls from Hannah Andersson also turned my head, and are less expensive. Love the punchy floral for a little lady!

+We have some snow gear at home but this latest dump led me to order this highly-rated snow saucer for future white mornings.

+This popular top was just re-stocked! A great birthday top IMO.

+These under-$20 mittens have a handmade look to them. Love! More chic cold weather accessories here.

+Speaking of mittens and handmade, I have long lusted after one of the spectacular knit pieces from Mr. Mittens, like this gorgeous pink cardigan. I noticed that Net-A-Porter just moved a bunch of the pieces from this label to clearance, and how amazing is this green number and this knit dress (I immediately imagined it for an expecting mama)?

+Just love this winter dress from SEA.

+Just bought mini these silver Hunter boots as she outgrew her last pair seemingly overnight and we actually have had a ton of rainy days since moving here. Micro also absolutely lives in his pair, come rain or shine, and was also at the outer limits of wearing his pair in comfort, so bought him these in the military red.

+Similarly, mini outgrew her Uggs also overnight (we have had this issue since she was born — she seems to change sizes mid-season, which drives me mad!!! two sets of everything per season?!), and we get a lot of use out of those. They’re so easy to put on and nice and warm, too. I have bought her the Bailey style with the bows in the past but this time I got her these simple ones in the mauve/lavender color because they are under $80, go with her wardrobe, and will tide us over until she needs a new pair next fall.

+Still in love with this epic statement top.

+J’adore a pin-stripe button-down. While you’re there: cashmere, for under $100!

+Love the silhouette of this fitness jacket.

+This sheep storage basket for a nursery…!

+CUTE collared sweatshirt.

+Obsessed with the fit of these jeans.

+Sherpa sneaks!

+Chic layering necklace. (Heart ones here, if you’re in the market.)

+Love the inexpensive socks from this brand for my children. They have a nice weight to them — not too thick, not too thin; are really stretchy (easy to pull on), and have those grippies on the bottom, which are essential!

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26 thoughts on “A Strange Case of Mom Guilt.

  1. These themes have been stuck in my head lately too – specifically after listening to The Lazy Genius podcast about taking a personal retreat. I was expecting prompts of how to reflect on the year, set goals, etc. Instead she said, fill your time with activities that make you feel most like yourself, without thought of productivity. I’m still searching thinking about what I would do with a day like this. I, like many other commenters, had no childcare after Christmas and before New Years. Taking a day off during this week would have been a great fit for a personal retreat day like this, but felt so indulgent when I was paying extra for childcare.

    Thanks for a great, thought provoking post.

    Link to podcast:

    1. Thank you for sharing this! I have been reflecting so much on the themes and nuances we’ve been discussing. I have no wisdom, just to say that I think a piece of what we’re getting at is the friction between the “self-care/you-do-you/take care of yourself/wellness” messaging we all consume and the “do all the things / be all the things / delight in your children / be grateful for what you have” messaging we consume alongside it. It doesn’t resolve easily/comfortably as a mother. It feels like we’re meant to do both? Like, we’re “successful” people if we do both? (I’m specifically thinking of an earlier comment by a Magpie that resonated — she noted that she envies women who carve out time for themselves. I would guess this is not only because time to oneself is delicious but also because it feels vaguely like it’s something healthful that we should be doing, like exercising and drinking liters of water and meditating.) But it’s not possible to both simultaneously!

      So complex! Thanks for sharing.


  2. Oh goodness — yes yes yes to so many of these feelings. We’ve been in a similar stretch of back to back to back quarantines through the holiday and the lead up (like another commenter, I’d been given two full weeks “off,” and boy was I resentful when the first quarantine began on the 21st! “But I was going to do so much writing,” I whined, though truthfully, I’d likely have done far less than in my rosy imaginings). Spending SO MUCH time with my three tiny dictators sometimes makes the rare solo pockets more efficient; lately, it’s more likely to scramble their purpose. I think natural introversion comes into play for me here — running and swimming are my solo outlets and I’m a terror without them.. All of which to say: I hear you on the guilt and happy that on balance, the idyll gave you what you needed from it. And to the full time moms — you SO deserve this time too (it’s not like we never have downtime at the office). I’m tempted to rage at the notion of securing childcare in a pandemic for $100 a week, but … I’ll leave it there.

    1. Sitting here nodding along to all of this, and so sorry that your quarantines overlapped with your “breaks.” I can’t tell you how many of my friends (and how many readers!) were in the same boat over the holidays, and I think all of us feel uber-drained heading into the new year, which is kind of the worst timing because there is also all of this social pressure to be starting new resolutions and returning to work with vigor and vim!

      I have one friend who did a similar back to back quarantine (children caught COVID in staggered fashion), but on top of it all, her youngest had an ear infection and both caught HAND-FOOT-MOUTH. OMG. I mean. Merry, merry Christmas.

      It has been a SEASON!

      All to say — you are in good company. Thanks for the solidarity here!


  3. Thank you for acknowledging SAHMs. This post really gets at how I feel…anytime anyone who isn’t my husband helps with my kids.

    Even putting the pandemic exposure risks aside (ugh), societal pressures makes it SO hard to justify childcare when you aren’t either a.) earning money (which I don’t do) or b.) going on a date with your partner or to an event (wedding, etc.).

    Even with option B, there seems a slight “productivity” angle. It’s socially agreed upon that couples spending time together is “good for the marriage” and “strengthens the relationship,” etc. The question I have is: Why isn’t it universally understood that time alone, resting, is good for our individual health and, therefore, the health of our families? IT IS.

    I think one of the hardest parts of being a SAHM is that I have no infrastructure in place to leave my children….ever. Now granted, I acknowledge this is my fault and I need to work on getting childcare options in place this year (that’s a huge goal for me, my kids are 26 months and 7 months, and I know it’s unsustainable for it to always be me or my husband.)

    Still, I am in a women’s group led by a life coach, and one thing we are supposed to do in January is “take a day off” — and I find the concept completely triggering. A day off? Of what? Meals? Nursing? Naps? Baths? Bedtime? It’s not like I can submit a PTO form and then stay in bed all day. Ha! I am actually considering telling the leader of the group that this triggers me— she has two older children, but she’s never been a full time SAHM mom, but then I can’t really come down with why this idea bothers me so much.

    Anyway, I loved this post and reading all the comments. Thanks, as ever, for cultivating a space where we can wrestle with the complicated emotions of motherhood.

    1. I agree Joyce. And yes, I appreciate Jen acknowledging this complicated and layer topic. I consider myself to be an overachiever and almost get itchy thinking about anyone perceiving me as “lazy”. I envy women who can schedule self-care into their day and own it. I do believe societal pressures and judgement of SAHMs have been extremely harsh, especially throughout the pandemic. I have overheard women commenting on another mom’s choice to leave her child in daycare or with a sitter and risking Covid exposure when it’s not even essential. I am certain working moms receive similar criticism. I suppose it’s possible, but I have never heard anyone judging men in the same tone — not for working, not for spending less time with the children, not for engaging in leisure activities. Obviously this is encroaching on a larger topic, but maybe we all need to be more like men in this regard? Ha!

      1. I so relate to the sensation of getting “itchy thinking about anyone perceiving me as lazy.” I think this relates to some of the earlier comments on “productivity culture” and “our deep conditioning around work,” and also to the notion another commenter brought up about the emphasis on always being present and delighting in our children. It’s like, if we’re not hard at work on something, we should be sitting back enjoying our children — but how then can we find time to be our own people, to recharge, to unwind.

        There is so much at foot here!


    2. Amy – I think there is absolutely a level of sexism at play here! Good point. Even the “internalized sexism” we put on ourselves.

      Yours and Jen’s thoughts on “laziness” are so thought provoking, and I wanted to mention that a book came out in 2021 by a psychologist called “Laziness Does Not Exist”. I have not read it, but I think about the title a lot (haha!) but seriously, the premise seems so countercultural.

    3. Hi Joyce! I was wondering how you’d respond to this post as I writing it, as you always have such reflective, honest input on topics pertaining to motherhood. Thank you for chiming in. I’m so sorry you feel this way — ALWAYS. I have a close friend in similar shoes who refused to find a sitter for so long and for so many (understandable and legitimate) reasons — her children were too young, there was a pandemic, she didn’t contribute to the household income, it was an ordeal to find reliable care. I think she came to some moment where she just really needed someone for a wedding and it was like ripping off a bandaid. It made it so much easier once she had someone “on call” that had been “trained” before. I have found a similar reluctance (on a lesser level) with sitters besides our nanny. It is so onerous for me to bring someone in — I worry about the acclimation period, and all the details I need to confer, and whether the children will take to her. One small practical thing that has helped me is having “shadow days” where I have the sitter come to meet the children on a random day and just hang out with us. I test the waters by working on a household project or making dinner while she’s with the children in a separate room. It helps me feel like I’m supervising, observing, acclimating, without committing too much up front. I don’t know if that’s part of the challenge for you or not, and maybe that’s all obvious anyway!

      I would be nettled by that prompt, too. This is completely different, but perhaps can help us unpack why the concept bothers us. One time, I mentioned over dinner that I’d volunteered to spearhead something for an extracurricular one of my children was involved in, and one of my friends said: “I wish I could do those things, but I have a job!” I didn’t say anything. A few seconds later, my other friend said: “Jen has a job, too.” My friend scrambled to apologize and clarify: “I mean, like, a real job – like, a job I have to be at during normal hours.” I haven’t stopped thinking about that exchange, for so many reasons. First, I honestly didn’t take offense because I knew what she meant — that I have much more flexibility and am not beholden to a boss. On a logistical level, it would be difficult for her to volunteer as I did. But the exchange led me to recognize a pattern in which I started to feel as though what I do for living “didn’t count” in various ways. I try not to take this personally and to approach the subject rationally but sometimes a stray arrow glides over the embattlement and I sit there, stunned at my own sensitivity. After a lot of soul searching I think it comes down to my impression (which, quite likely, is more a projection than anything else) that she does not consider what I do “on par with” what she does, and so some of her conversations about work matters and work/life balance seem to preclude me from participating. I think something similar is going on in the prompt from your life coach. Because you have chosen a different career path, you don’t fit neatly into the prompts. This would make me feel uncounted, or unseen, or “not on par with” the rest of the group.

      Let me know if you do end up saying something and how it goes! Maybe there are other SAHMs who feels the same way that are in the group!


  4. I relate to this so much! The other evening, my husband went to pick up the kids from their grandparents (they had offered to take them for the day, as our childcare was closed, and we both had to work). I had asked him if he minded going on his own, because I had some tidying up to do, but I also just kind of wanted some alone time after all the holiday activity. I put on a podcast and did some tidying up, unloaded the dishwasher, started dinner for the kids… and then I didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt restless, and ended up sitting by the window to wait for them to get home. I find I often feel this way when I have the rare unexpected moment alone.

    On another note – something new that has been cropping up for me lately is how women in the workforce who don’t have children feel. One of my friends brought it up after a women in finance call she attended. She said that so much conversation was about balancing work with motherhood, and that while she thinks that’s a worthy conversation, it made her feel left out since it doesn’t apply to her. She also talked about how when men at work have to leave early or take time off for their children, everyone thinks they’re so great, where with women there tends to be an attitude that they’re failing at balancing work with motherhood. I mentioned this conversation to another friend of mine, who also does not have children, and it was clear she immediately understood what I was talking about because she too often feels that same way at work. Now I’m kind of starting to notice little references to this topic on shows I’m watching and books I’m reading.

    Anyway, I’ve gone off on a tangent here but was just curious if this is something you’ve had conversations about with anyone. Now that it’s suddenly cropping up for me, I’m feeling a bit ashamed that I’ve never thought about it from that perspective until it was pointed out to me by a close friend.

    Xx Rachel

    1. Hi Rachel,

      Thank you for bringing up women who don’t have children. In 2020, my company gave employees with children $100 a week to coordinate childcare while we worked from home. In the beginning, proof of actual childcare wasn’t required and it felt like our company was rewarding employees just because they had children. I can’t tell you how many calls I was on where it was very obvious the child/children were either in the room or on the employees lap despite the extra money they were being given to hire help. When I think about it, there are a lot of “perks” that I don’t receive from my company just because I don’t have a child. Employees who are childless tend to get left out of the work/life balance conversation because it’s as if our personal lives aren’t as significant as those who have families.

      This also expands beyond work settings. Oh how I love comments such as “You can’t be tired, you don’t have kids”, “Doing XYZ (insert any activity here) is easy for you, you don’t have kids” or my favorite “Must be nice to get up and go and not have to worry about kids.” Someone else’s life isn’t harder, better, more fulfilling, etc because they have children and I don’t.

      1. Hi Lauren — Thank you for jumping into the conversation here! I know what you mean — I remember feeling frustrated and put-off by comments along the lines of “just you wait until you have kids” and — my least favorite — when I was pregnant, being told to “enjoy this time alone with your husband.” Ahh! It made me feel as though my current state was being dismissed as a precursor or as though I was in some way not yet part of the initiated. I hated it! I’m sorry you have to go through that. I wish it weren’t this way and I apologize if any of my posts or commentary have implied these sentiments or triggered those bad emotions. You are a complete, whole person, and you are living your life NOW!

        Having lived on both sides, I do think that often the comments you cited come from a place of wanting to be seen for efforts that are typically not rewarded or applauded as a parent. There is a kind of displacement of frustration going on. It’s not fair to put that bad energy on you, to be clear. But maybe it explains the impulse a bit and can help you distance yourself from the comment.


    2. Lauren –

      Yes, it’s so easy for people to try and compare their own situation against others’, and I think the pandemic (specifically the first few months when we were in total lockdown) brought a lot of those resentments that were being internalized to the surface. I know I was guilty of looking at friends and thinking they had it easy compared to me, when I didn’t actually know the true nature of their own challenges.

      I think its a shame that it’s become sort of a “rivalry” (for lack of a better word) between women – working moms vs SAHMs vs women who don’t have children, etc etc. I don’t know what the solution is, but it’s good to talk about it and listen to different perspectives.

      Thanks for chiming in with yours. I’m sure I’ve made comments that were insensitive or tone deaf in the past, and I’m trying to be more aware!

      1. I agree, Rachel — will be thinking more proactively about including women who do not have children in these conversations!


    3. Hi Rachel! I so know what you mean with your story about waiting for your children to come home – I feel we are conditioned in some way to be “busy” and “productive” and when we aren’t doing that…well? It can leave us feeling guilty or uncomfortable, or simply as if we are frittering away time. But not every minute needs to be accounted for! Strangely, my children often remind me of this truth, i.e., sometimes being a mom is just sitting quietly and watching/scaffolding/encouraging and I find myself itching to “do.”

      Anyhow, thanks for chiming in here and for including women who do not have children in the conversation, too. I can recall feeling guilty about not being productive enough / not doing enough pre-children, too, so I do know that this impulse to “always be ticking a box” is not specific to motherhood.


  5. This is so complicated. I think pushing aside work to rest can be liberating, but knowing another person is taking care of your children while you rest feels weirdly indulgent? I believe to my core that this is because the toxic positivity messaging that mothers should be constantly delighting in their children. They’re only young once! Time flies! You’ll miss this one day! I mean, sure, but also, nonstop parenting in a pandemic is a lot. Good for you for choosing how to spend a little time on your own.

    I also think Covid has exacerbated the obstacles to a mother finding time for herself. In the law biz, we usually have some down time the week between Christmas and New Years. But this year, daycare closed, so any intersection of childcare on a day that my email was quiet just didn’t happen. And to be honest, I’m now back to the bustling email and deadlines and pressure, and thankfully daycare is back open, but I feel almost cheated. I’m exhausted and not my best self. Reading your post suggests to me that you know better, that you have likely already made the mistake I did this week – trying to do everything and leaving no energy to take care of yourself. So, if it makes you feel better, I see this musing as aspirational.

    1. Such interesting points here. Thank you so much for sharing. You and the other commenters are making me realize that there are so many layers to this conversation: permission-based culture, conditioning around work/work ethic, the positivity messaging around motherhood you cite, dynamics between employer/employee (especially caregiver/parent in this case, which is complicated in its own ways), modeling for our children, mom guilt, even gender role considerations. It is a lot. I’m sitting here saying “Um, yeah – no wonder I was feeling so conflicted on so many levels, but mainly just felt “wrong” and “delinquent.”” I will have to chew on this for awhile and probably have many long conversations with my friends and you here, too, to come to any solid insights. For now, I think simply realizing all the different inputs is valuable so I can begin to work through/think about them.

      I so feel for you over the holiday, having no down time to yourself. You need time to recharge the batteries! My husband was just saying that maybe next year we need to schedule a getaway just the two of us after the holidays because it is A LOT. And this month, like you, we had so much on our plates between an 18-day-childcare-less quarantine, followed by lots of holidays with no childcare, followed by a snow day and then a sick day our caregiver had to take — and all while we were trying our hardest to make the holidays magical! I mean, how my husband or I got any work or any relaxation done is a miracle.

      Anyway, I do hope there is some way you can get a little bit of time to yourself in the coming weeks. I really needed that morning and the handful of other evenings we had to ourselves over the last few weeks. I don’t know if this is ever a possibility but sometimes I schedule for a sitter or a caregiver to come in the evening, after work, from 5 pm until bedtime, and Mr. Magpie and I go out to get a drink or even just hide in his study having a cocktail by ourselves. On rare rare occasion I have done the same, retreated to my bedroom, and took a shower/done a mask/read a book alone. It is sometimes so very necessary and at least when it’s in private it doesn’t feel quite as subject to awkwardness/discomfort/the sensation I am being inconsiderate, though the mom guilt still comes in heavy and hard of course for me. Anyway! Hoping you find some time for yourself!!!


  6. Yes! I’ve experienced something similar two times recently, including just yesterday. Mid-afternoon I decided to sit in front of the fire and watch an episode of Sweet Magnolias on Netflix. When my husband texted me asking what I was up to, I said I had turned on the fire to “rest.” I couldn’t bring myself to say sit in front of the fire to watch Sweet Magnolias. Somehow rest was OK, but watching a delicious show was frivolous? (insert shoulder shrug emoji here)

    The other time was a couple weeks ago when my husband asked me what I was up to. This time I was honest and said that I was laying in bed enjoying the sunlight come in the window.

    For me, I think the guilt comes from two places: 1) why should I be leisurely and lazy when my husband is at work? If he’s at work, I should be working too, especially during the peak hours of the day. I feel bad doing something that he doesn’t get to do. 2) Still having deep conditioning around “work” days. That the hours of 9am and 5pm Monday – Friday are for work. For productivity. For making things happen. I feel less guilty about running errands or doing laundry. But simply choosing not to work or be productive in some way feels wrong. Like I’m breaking the rules or being irresponsible. Yes, I chose the work that I have and like you, my work comes in fits and starts…like the other night at midnight when I woke up and jotted a bunch of things down, or Sunday morning when I outlined a whole new framework I’d been waiting to come through for a while.

    I truly believe that rest fuels the work and work fuels the rest. I believe that joy and ease and pleasure are valuable and worthy endeavors whenever we choose to pursue or experience them. And yet…the conditioning of our hustle and permission-based culture and my propensity to want to be “good” and “right” and follow the rules still weighs heavy.

    1. Hi Joanna – Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts. I appreciate the questions you raise here around our “deep conditioning around work days” and “permission-based culture” in particular. You’ve really made me think, because I agree that I need downtime / processing time in order to be productive and “fueled.” I don’t have any answers here, but will be thinking a lot about this.


  7. Hi Jen!

    First, I’m a huge fan of the blog and look forward to your posts every day. Thank you for all you contribute!

    This post has really made me think. Perhaps I have a lot of unhealthy inherited Protestant work ethic/privilege guilt to work through, but I would certainly feel uneasy watching tv in the living room while our childcare was present. I don’t think it has to do with being a mom…I would feel uncomfortable sitting on the couch watching tv during the day if our cleaning service was busy mopping around me or if a dog walker came to take our dog out.

    I agree that taking time off is essential and the idol of productivity shouldn’t be worshipped always, but I think I’d feel disrespectful to those workers and their time. Even though they are paid, I would still feel rude.

    In regards to Christine’s example above– I certainly pay for childcare to take my toddler elsewhere so that I can have me-time at home (or I hole up in our bedroom), but for whatever reason, I haven’t evolved enough to feel okay partaking in pure leisure activities in front of the people I’m employing as they are hard at work.

    Not intending to lay a guilt trip on you…truly curious to hear how you think through that!

    1. Hi Clare! I think this is certainly a big piece of what I was experiencing that day and explains my impulse to jump up/pitch in whenever my children and caregiver were around. Maybe part of the answer here is taking this “me time” separately, in private, per the note from Christine below about her former employer sending her out with the children when she needed some time to decompress.

      It’s interesting that some of the other commenters feel the same way about their husbands seeing them relax at home, too. I know Mr. Magpie encourages me to take time for myself but I still feel like I’d need to explain myself if he walked in on me watching TV, too. I’m also not sure I’d want my children to see me watching TV idly, if — for example — they came downstairs on a weekend and I happened to be enjoying a few minutes of TV time (can’t imagine in what world this would happen, but just for the sake of making a point). I’m not sure what this says or if I’m propagating something malicious — like, don’t I want to model work/life/relaxation balance for my children? I love when my children see me reading, not that that happens very often, either, but watching TV?? I don’t know. And yet it’s (for me at least) a big piece of escapism and decompression. I love watching TV! What is it about being seen while relaxing?


  8. In my 20s, just out of college I was a part time nanny. Occasionally, I was tasked with taking the children OUT for a few hours. After several months, the (lovely, lovely) woman I worked for confessed that she sometimes didn’t “do” anything on those afternoons—that she often made herself a pot of tea and a plate of snacks and crashed on the sofa in front of a favorite show or movie.
    At the time, (ah, youth) I didn’t know I was being shown what actual self care looks like. Now, years later and the mother of two young children, I realize she was claiming a bit of HERSELF back. That being alone and relaxed in your own home is refreshing and soul satisfying. I was being shown that (particularly as a SAHM) one shouldn’t have to leave ones house to “accomplish” something. That downtime for downtime’s sake is valid and valuable.
    I also know now she felt terribly guilty for those afternoons but understood that they were necessary. And so was yours.

    1. Christine, I love your comment! So kind and thoughtful and affirming for all of us moms.
      “That downtime for downtime’s sake is valid and valuable.” Thank you for the reminder.

    2. Hi Christine — Wow! Thank you so much for this note and perspective. I love the way you presented this. What a great lesson to have learned before having children. I think some of the other comments on this post get at this, but sometimes I feel I need “permission” from other moms to take these moments for myself. As in — my friend texting me to say I was doing something good for myself, and this woman essentially letting you know “it’s OK to take this self-care” years before you even had children. I don’t know what that means or where to take that, but it feels like an important principle to flag. I wonder how many other moms I know need me to text them and remind them to carve out time for themselves.

      Thank you for this!!


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