The Guilt: One Mama’s Thoughts From the Field.

– written by Nucleus –

I’ve been in the field for two weeks now and I miss my kid. She’s only one and a half years old, and yet I’ve abandoned her to go romp around in the wild, collecting data for a study that may be of interest to only a handful of fellow scientists. And for what? Another paper? Another line on my CV? Another personal intrigue?

Ok, stop. I have to tell myself to STOP thinking this way every day, sometimes every hour. I have not abandoned my daughter – she is being well loved and cared for by my incredibly supportive hubby, and she is surrounded by other wonderful family and friends. She and I skype every night before bath-time and have a ball doing it.

But why am I doing this? Because I love working in the field. I love studying nature where nature lives. This makes me so very happy. And this happiness stays with me when I go home to my family. Sure, I’m making discoveries (well, hopefully…knock on wood) and will publish accordingly to share the knowledge I acquire, yada yada yada… but what I think I’m really teaching my daughter is that if you work hard, you can do what you love. And of course, mommy always comes home, happy and excited. And best of all, she brings presents… 😉

This is what I remind myself as I tromp through the field, dirty, sweaty, hungry, sans data that day because the animals decided to take an extra-long siesta.

Being a career-loving mom is hard, especially when the career seems rather odd to most society. Because I choose to have such a career doesn’t mean I love my kid or my family any less. However, this field expedition would not have happened without the 150% support I get from my husband. As tough as I try to be, and as good as a role model I want to be for my daughter, the guilt of leaving her would eat me alive if it were not for the constant cheerleading from him.

Speaking with my colleagues, I find it interesting that all of us parents, moms and dads alike, have these similar feelings I’ve mentioned. But the guilt – the Guilt – it seems to be a much more powerful choice-manipulator in my fellow mamas-in-science. Why is that?  I mean, I get the biological component/necessities of breast feeding, but once your kiddo is off breast milk, shouldn’t moms and dads who share the same love and investment in caring for their children feel similarly? And maybe we do, but then how and why do these feelings manifest so differently?

Is the Guilt we mothers feel psychological, from years of societal pressure dictating what a mother should be, or is it biological? Does my uterus somehow enact an alarm mechanism when I’m too far away from my kid and secrete Guilt hormone? Both? Well, either way, I tromp on through the field, my strong Yes-We-Can career-loving role model mama persona on my right shoulder, and my 1950’s Mad-Men-get-home-to-make-dinner-for-the-kids on my left. Great women before me have made my life so much easier than theirs. But the battle continues, as subtle as it may seem at times. I just hope that my actions now impact my daughter in such a way that when she has amazing experiences later on in life, they aren’t tainted with such Guilt.

 

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3 Responses to The Guilt: One Mama’s Thoughts From the Field.

  1. but once your kiddo is off breast milk, shouldn’t moms and dads who share the same love and investment in caring for their children feel similarly? And maybe we do, but then how and why do these feelings manifest so differently?

    I’m not sure they necessarily manifest differently. If a dad chooses to be less connected — and many do even though few would admit to doing so or perhaps even recognize it — then perhaps that same love and investment manifests less robustly.

    It was incredibly brutal when I went to the field, away from my kid, for a few weeks, just before he was turning 1. That was before videochatting from the field was possible for me. Not that it helps much.

    This field season, I’m away for well more than a month, longer than ever before. I fixed that by bringing my kid along for a couple weeks. We’re only 24 hours into the experience, but it’s clear I’ll be getting a lot less science done with him around, but it is an extended biology wonder-fest and great time to share with him, in a part of my life in which he previously wasn’t involved.

  2. Fieldmommma says:

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts. As a field scientist mom, I feel the exact same way. I think it’s partly that society has conditioned women to feel like they are abandoning kids when they works but men to feel like they are bread-winning when they work. Mad Men mentality is stubbornly sticky in our society.

  3. I arrive VERY late to this post, but I sooooo appreciate it! Thanks for sharing your experience! I did fieldwork+a stay of research for two months away from home when my daughter was 13-14 months. If only I had came across this back then!

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