One Working Mom’s Story of Juggling Feeling Guilty and Proud

Dear Reader, I’m Sarah.

You might remember that time I wrote about growing up playing with dolls almost exclusively, and then wondered (fairly frequently) why I’ve never felt truly compelled to have kids as an adult.

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It just seems like an odd juxtaposition, doesn’t it?

I mention this by way of introducing my very best and oldest friend, the one who played “house” with me incessantly, the one whose life did turn into a real life version of our childhood game: my sister, Shelby.

Why am I introducing you to Shelby in this interview?

Well, I want to open up a conversation about working moms. My own mother was/is a working mom, and so many women around me are working mothers, and I admire them all so much. As someone without a lot of perspective on this issue, I thought it would be productive to interview one of my favorite working mothers: my sister.

From this interview, I want to better understand what it’s been like to be a working mom for the past ten years. I ask her about the highs and lows, the guilt and the pride.

Our fearless leader of a blogging mama, Katy, has plans to follow up with some of these issues in a future next post.

But for now, back to Shelby.

Shelby is two years younger than me, married to her college sweetheart, and has three beautiful girls. My nieces Laynie (9), Addie (8), and Caroline (3) are some of the amazing humans who make me what we here at Undefining Motherhood call bonus moms.

That is, people who mother in so many ways beyond having biological or legal children.

In my eyes, Shelby does it all, but I’ve known for a long time that she struggles to balance it all (although to those of us on the outside looking in, she definitely looks like she has her sh*t together!). Follow along as I interview my sister, working mama extraordinaire…

On top of being a stellar wife and mom, Shelby is also a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) charge and transport nurse. In my eyes, she does it all. Today I want to introduce you to her by way of opening up a discussion about working moms, about guilt, about balance.

In what follows, I (a childless academic) interview my beautiful sister about her life, her goals, her career, and her children. Buckle up, it’s gonna be a fun (and emotional) ride!

Background Story

Me: Tell me a little bit about what you do and whether or not you love it. How long have you done this, and when did you know you wanted to do it?

Shelby: I’m a NICU charge and transport nurse. I transport neonatal babies from a Montgomery, Alabama area hospital to other, more specialized NICUS. I first knew I wanted to do this when I was thirteen years old.

Me: Really? Tell me more!

Shelby: I knew I wanted to work with preemies when our cousins, the triplets, were born. I always knew I wanted to be a mom, but when I saw those tiny babies lying in the NICU bassinet together, I knew I wanted to be a nurse. Fast forward ten years, and I fulfilled that dream of getting a nursing degree and passing the licensing test. Then, I got married, and five months later, I was pregnant with my first daughter. When we got married, I didn’t plan to work as a mom. I love what I do so much now that I can’t imagine NOT doing that, too.=

Me: Tell me a little bit about your first few years working as a NICU nurse and being pregnant with the girls.

Shelby: *laughs* Well, I worked in the NICU while I was pregnant with all three of my girls. When I was pregnant with my first, a patient’s mom looked at me and asked ‘When are you due?’ I laughed and said, ‘Tomorrow.’ So, my children have literally never known me to not be a nurse and their mama. For each of the girls, I took twelve weeks off. I was working the night shift (common practice for new nurses) with Laynie and Addie (the first two). I went back to the night shift, which was easier in a way because I knew they were just sleeping when I was at work.

Me: What are the best parts of your job?

Shelby: *is quiet for a minute.* Just helping other moms really—they are going through the toughest time of their lives, and it’s so rewarding to see their faces when they realize that their babies are going to make it out of the NICU alive. Also, there are the day-to-day rewards: the babies are SO helpless, and they need me. I like to be needed—I think this is a very maternal thing, needing to be needed.”

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How Being a Working Mom Impacts Shelby and Her Daughters

Me: What are the worst parts of your job? Is it hard to work and have children?

Shelby: Now that I’m on the day shift, the fact that I leave the house before my babies are awake and come home when they go to bed is definitely the hardest thing. With a 2-3 day a week 7am-7pm shift, there are 2-3 days a week when I’m not the one who helps with their homework, or washes their hair, or kisses them goodnight. Stuart (Shelby’s husband) is super dad. I have non-traditional work hours, so he’s had to step into this roll, and he does it really well. I’m lucky that he’s good at it; some women don’t have this reassurance and have to rely on their mothers or babysitters.

Me: Do you feel like your job affects your children positively; i.e. is it good for them to see you working?

Shelby: Oh yeah, definitely! They are always interested in the babies and what their names are, and they ask to pray for them. Laynie (the oldest) already says with a lot of conviction that she wants to be a NICU nurse when she grows up. In fact, she was a nurse for career day at school!

I’m proud of this, but I wonder if being a nurse would be my choice if I had to do it all again because it’s physically and emotionally more exhausting than a lot of other jobs, which would mean that I could have more emotional energy when I get home.

Me: Anything else you want to say about the ways in which you feel like you working is good for your girls?

Shelby: (enthusiastically) Oh yeah! Raising three girls, it’s important that they see a female who can contribute to our family. They see me as an equal to their father in this way, and I think that makes me seem strong in their eyes.

Side Note: I fist pumped over the phone.

Me: Are there any ways in which you feel like being a working mom affects your children negatively?

Shelby: I think they miss me a lot during the day, but honestly it was harder when they were smaller. Now they (well, at least the big girls) can get up and make their own breakfast and get ready for school. I can also make my own schedule now, so I try my best not to miss things, but sometimes I do have to choose between their various activities at school when two or more of them have things going on at the same time. But honestly, I think this benefits them, too. They realize that I can’t be there for every single moment (which is normal), and it also teaches them to prioritize because I will ask them what they would rather me be there for, and they have to make a decision about it.

Working Mom Guilt, and How Others Cause It

Me: This conversation really makes me think about our own mom (who went back to school to get a degree in special education when Shelby, our brother, and I were in middle school). Do you feel like you have more of a perspective on mom’s struggles and life now that you are a working mom, too?

Shelby: Oh, for sure. I’m glad that she was a working mom, though, because I feel like she understands me as a mom now. I have friends who don’t have this kind of understanding.

Me: Obviously, I’m not a working mom now, but I have so much respect for her. Not only did she go back to school, but she also started working as soon as she got a degree, and she hasn’t stopped since. She’s also obviously so passionate about students and their disabilities, which inspires me. Okay, let’s talk about guilt. Do you feel guilty? How do you handle it?

Shelby: *sighs* “I think about this Every. Single. Day. I do feel guilty, but I remind myself that the work I’m doing (whether it’s saving lives at work or folding socks at home) is important. The job also give me a ton of perspective because I have three healthy and happy children.

*a beat passes*

“You know what? We’re females in the 21st century. We’ve got to feel guilty about something!”

Me: Shelby, this has been really fun. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you in this way. Even though I’ve known you since you were born, I feel like I have a new perspective on your life, your career, your day-to-day choices about your children and your job. One last question for you: what do you want for your girls to know about you and your work when they get older?

Shelby: (I can tell she’s choked up) “Just that this job means the world to me, but that they do too. I want them to know that I’m proud of myself, and I hope that they are, too.”

Me: I love you, and I’m so proud of you.

Well, reader, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this interview! As I type this, I’m choked up over how much of her life my sister has dedicated to both her own children AND the tiny babies of the neonatal intensive care unit.

Her struggles relate to all women as we balance our careers and our home lives.

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Can you relate to her conflicted emotions about being a working mom?

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