The bad mother complex

From The Boston Globe:

Mom One night, my 6-year-old wandered into my room and found me buried in a stack of magazine proofs, scanning line after line of text and marking errors with a red pen. He asked what I was doing. When I explained that mama was “making the magazine” — fixing mistakes, moving words, and eventually entering the changes into computer files that would then go to a printing press in Vermont — Owen wondered out loud how grown-ups could be in charge when they had so little common sense. “Here’s what you do,” he started. “You take a giant piece of tape and tape all these pages together on one side. Then you flip it over and tape them on the other side. And see? Your magazine is all done. Now we can play Swampfire!” It was the kind of moment I had fantasized about as a newspaper reporter, when hourlong commutes to Boston defined my existence and visions of work-family balance were just that — visions. Now here I was, with pajamas and a laptop, working in the family-friendly universe of quarterly magazines. And here was my firstborn, peeking in to entertain me with his shiny curls and a seminar on print production.

But I didn’t feel entertained or balanced. I felt guilty and stressed. Stressed because, contrary to Owen’s critique, I was working at maximum efficiency, plowing through the many pages I knew I had left to go. And guilty because — say it with me, moms — I would not play Swampfire that night. On talk shows, in online support groups, and in our most private thoughts, it seems impossible to utter the word “mother” without uttering the words “bad mother.” These days, a mommy blogger can make an entire career (so to speak) trafficking in guilt, wearing her failures like badges of honor: “I let my infant watch five hours of TV!” “My toddler dunked his head in the toilet!” Whether you’re a blue-suit executive, a bank teller, or Dr. Phil, we all know — or think we know — about family, work, conflict, and guilt.

More here.