Have You Had Your Guilt Today?

Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving.
—Erma Bombeck

How many people are you disappointing right now?

Caught up on laundry?

Meals made for the week?

Answered all your emails?

If you’re like me, the answers are: “too many to name,” “no,” “ha!” and “get real.”

We know writers write. Many writers also work day jobs that pay for mortgages and health insurance. A lot of us have kids and husbands. The result? Many of us don’t have much time for niceties like spa days, lunches with friends, date nights, exercising, showering….

Anyway, you get my point.

This is me around 6:00 pm each day.

This is me around 6:00 pm each day.

I was chatting with a group of moms the other day at my daughter’s elementary school, and I said, “I feel like I am failing at everything in my life right now.” I expected commiseration and I got…looks of pity. “Oh, you do?” Which made me think, Is it just me? Is it just me that is letting down everyone I know?

People are always telling me, “You have to watch ‘Hip New Show!’ It’s so great!” Know what I had to give up when I decided to seriously pursue writing? TV. Also a regular exercise routine. Volunteering at school. And sleep.

Do I regret it? No. Do I feel guilty about it? Yes.

With only so many hours in the day, decisions have to be made and we have to live with the consequences. In a recent RWR, Sylvia Day talked about her early struggle in her career and how much she gave up to pursue her career. She gave examples of (I’m paraphrasing here) missing out on events, hanging with friends and family, and even family vacations. She busted her butt for a lot of years, by no means an overnight success.

Of course, if any of us knew we would one day have Sylvia’s level of success, the hard work would seem like a fair trade. But no one knows what the future holds. No one has a crystal ball (or even a Magic 8-Ball) that can foresee what will happen. And it’s hard to push yourself when the reward is not what you hoped/expected/deserved.

This is not me.

This is not me.

Not just writers go through this. There are female executives, musicians, professionals, and countless others who struggle to keep their heads above water. Who come home from work and still get dinner on the table, shop for groceries, make sure the homework’s done, do laundry, and keep in touch with friends and family. It’s a lot to expect of ourselves.

So why do many of us feel GUILTY about falling behind? Or feel guilty taking time for ourselves, to write, recharge, or hang out with friends?

It needs to be said that feeling overwhelmed is certainly not gender-specific. But I don’t hear a lot of men expressing feelings of guilt over a less-than-spotless home or the fact that he isn’t on the PTA. Or that he took a Saturday afternoon to play X-Box when countless things need repair around the house. (This last one may or may not have actually happened in the Shupe household.)

Why can’t we let go of the guilt? We should.

omTE8P6 Being a writer makes me happier than almost anything I’ve ever undertaken. It’s one of the few things I’ve been passionate about in my life and I actually enjoy it, so much so that I drag myself out of bed at 5 AM each morning to get my word count in. Writing makes me a better mom, a better wife, and a saner, more well-rounded person.

Which, to me, is way better than the PTA—but I still feel like I should be able do it all.

So do you have guilt? What have you given up to follow your career path?

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34 Comments

  1. RoseAnn DeFranco

     /  March 24, 2014

    Do I have guilt? Ummm, yes, big time! Right now much of my guilt stems from spreading myself way to thin. Like you said, I feel like I’m failing at EVERYTHING! One of my main problems right now is that apparently I forget things like…I work a full time job and I’m a published author which has become a 2nd full time job, because like a fool I STILL go to the PTA meetings and raise my hand to volunteer. My goal for next year…NO MEETINGS, but I know it will be hard. I seem to have given up much of the same things you have in order to write. Believe me, there are days when I wonder if it’s worth it. I’ve recently taken steps to make some changes, and I hope eventually the overwhelming guilt I feel will lessen. Thanks for writing this post. Makes me realize I’m not alone in my sea of guilt.

    Reply
    • Glad we can commiserate together, RA! I definitely know that urge to volunteer. Don’t feel guilty for saying no — someone else will step up to fill the void.

      Reply
    • Jaye Marie Rome

       /  March 25, 2014

      Oh, RoseAnn…the year I learned to say “no” was the best year of my life! Do what you can, not what you feel you must! Your daughter knows you love her, what does it matter what the rest of the moms at school think if you stop helping so much?

      Reply
  2. My kids are grown now, but it wasn’t so long ago when they were young and in school. I gave up things to write–mostly TV, and socializing with friends. I continued to cook and do laundry and yes, I did SOME volunteer work (not every opportunity–but my husband and I were active in Marching Band Parents and I did stints as a room mother). The one thing that got pushed aside was housework. To this day, my house is clean (I have a cleaning woman every two weeks) but the clutter upstairs is bad. I’d rather cook than clean, so I manage creative meals and do a lot of writing. The house is not dirty but it’s certainly not neat.

    Reply
  3. Jenna Blue

     /  March 24, 2014

    Even when I wasn’t writing, but was working, I felt this same guilt and struggle, Joanna. Writing only amps it all up–because none of the other responsibilites go away–and I agree, while men do sometimes feel it, they are much more likely to do what they need for themselves day to day. Like you, I rarely (sadly) exercise. I limit my social stuff, and the volunteerism, almost never watch tv, and often don’t get nearly enough sleep, but a number of events have happened lately to remind me that a solitary life at the computer is not healthy either. We need friends, community, health, and balance. So far I have no answers–but I promise I will share them if I ever do. In the meanwhile–despite the pool of moms at school–you are not alone, my friend!!

    Reply
    • Thank you! Glad we can at least keep each other sane. And you’re right — a solitary life at the computer is not healthy. Is it wrong that I just don’t want to do anything else????

      Reply
  4. I have given up lunch with friends, laundry, folding laundry and, in general, a clean house. Oh, and my two sons play more Xbox than they should. I feel most guilty when one of them tries to talk to me but I don’t respond immediately because I have to get the sentence in my head written down before I forget it.

    When it comes to being involved at school, after an overwhelming couple of months, I’m finally ready to admit defeat and acknowledge that I have to cut back on my Team Mom activities as well.

    But, as with you, Joanna, writing is a passion and I’m so grateful to have found it. I have guilt but no regrets!

    Reply
  5. My son was grown and I had quit working outside the home when I decided to get serious about my dream of writing books. So, fortunately, the only thing I have to feel guilty about is burning hubby’s dinner when I just have to get those last words down, that last sentence written. He’s getting used to it though so I don’t even feel all that guilty about even that. 🙂

    Great post Joanna.

    Reply
    • LOL. Burning dinner is a serious risk for writers. Glad the hubby doesn’t mind! Thanks for stopping by, Sandra!

      Reply
  6. Great post! I think women really suffer from guilt much more then their male counterparts. I don’t know if it’s genetic or a result of society. What I have come to realize is that I’m a better person and happier when I take time out for myself, whether it’s to go to the gym or to write. I believe we are better role models for our children when we pursue what we love as well.

    Reply
    • That is so true, Tina, and I hope it’s the one thing my girls take away from all this craziness. They are always asking me why I’m on my computer all the time. But when those books come out….

      Reply
  7. Yup, I am guilty. I’m still pretty young in your ladies’ eyes and haven’t really started life yet, but I do have lots of guilt.
    One thing is of course my career choice. Choosing to major in Art now seem like a bad decision. But I had to give up on my first choice because of money issues and now I think I should have taken the road to writing instead. *sighs*

    And to make matters worse. I haven’t talked to my only and greatest friend in the world in over two months! Oh I’m such a bad friend when she’s going through a whole lot with her life.

    Plus, I haven’t been helping my mother out around the house. I do feel like a failure.

    Reply
    • Hi Ki! I’m starting the “I’m a Bad Friend” club, so feel free to sign up. 🙂 I have good friends I’ve been trying to see since October/November. And just believe that all your Art major was supposed to happen for a reason. Some day, you’ll figure out what. No guilt!

      Reply
      • LOL Count me in on the “I’m a Bad Friend” Club then. Thanks 🙂

  8. Oh yes. THIS. In fact, today I was looking forward to a great writing day because my hubby was working a rare day shift and I’d have a quiet house all to myself– then my youngest son woke up with a high fever and had to stay home from school. Of course I bagged the writing to take care of him, but what makes me feel guilty is secretly *resenting* the loss of precious writing time. And who are those crazy ladies at the bus stop who made you feel alone?? I know SO many moms who feel this way for various reasons. I know I’m lucky to work part-time instead of full and to have a spouse who doesn’t seem to notice the thick layer of dust coating our house, but I do feel guilty for letting ALOT slide. I guess not guilty enough, though, to change anything. For now, I tell myself that pursuing my writing goals and mothering my boys is good enough. When they no longer need me so much, maybe that dust will seem more worthwhile. Great post!

    Reply
    • Glad you could relate, Amy! I think it helps to know we’re not alone. And I totally get the resentment of losing precious writing time. When my kids get up early and cut into my few two hours of writing time, I get super cranky. And all they want is breakfast! So, I get it. And you’re right — there will come a day when the kids won’t need us so much (I hope!).

      Hope the youngest feels better quickly!

      Reply
      • Joanna, Amy – I can completely relate to the resentment. My son, who can’t get up at 7:45 for school will walk downstairs at 6:30 or 7 on a Saturday. Which is prime writing time for me. And next year BOTH kids will be up earlier for school, which means I won’t get much quiet time before the day starts. Sigh.

  9. Do I have guilt? Uh, yeah! The newsflash would be if I DIDN’T have guilt! But I do try to keep it under control, I go to my husband for help with managing everything (he hasn’t been able to figure out how to clone me, but he’s pretty damn good at figuring out what I can drop and what I NEED TO DO RIGHT NOW). And you know what? No one is perfect. And it’s good for my kids to see that I’m not perfect, that I have to sacrifice things to get what I want, that sometimes I make mistakes. So yeah, I have guilt. But it’s nice to know I’m not alone (and if you had come up to me at that elementary school, I would have totally commiserated!).

    Reply
    • Thanks, Jennifer! Glad to know you’ve got my back. 🙂

      And if you figure out that cloning thing, please share!

      Reply
  10. I totally endorse not spending a lot of time cleaning the house. I’m pretty sure your kids would rather have you with them at their track meets/school plays/etc. And I’d bet anything those mothers who acted like they didn’t understand… were faking it.

    Reply
    • Hi Gail! Yes, you are likely right. They were totally lying just to BE COOL. Or whatever. Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  11. Oh guilt, ye are my middle name! Guilt about not eating dinner with kids 1 or 2 nights a week so I can exercise. Guilt because I haven’t exercised in over 2 weeks because the day job is kicking my ass. Guilt about missing softball games to attend a conference or a writer’s meeting. Oh and guilt because the number of shows on the DVR keeps growing because I don’t have time to watch TV (but continue to record shows). The list goes on and on. I got the clutter, messy house right along with the rest of you. It’s definitely nice to know I”m not alone!

    The guilt will always be there. I can’t change it, so I need to learn to deal with it. I reassure my kids whenever I can. I snuggled with my son last night on the couch while watching Dancing with the Stars for about 15 min before I had to pick up my daughter from a friend’s house. Good thing I did as by the time I got home, he was in bed. For me, small moments matter. It may be a 10 minute ride home from picking up my daughter from softball practice or while she’s getting her lunch ready and wants to talk but it’s better than nothing. So keep telling yourself, SMALL MOMENTS MATTER 🙂

    Reply
    • Jaye Marie Rome

       /  March 25, 2014

      Oh, boy…you touched on a perpetual sore spot in my household, for sure, Joanna! I have total guilt about just about everything…and may I say…it doesn’t help that the expectations from the other half are feeding into it, lol!

      I think it really adds up for me when I’m not bringing in any real money to speak of. Somehow, despite the words of encouragement and support, the jumping through hoops to keep the kids focused and get them to their activities while hubby works very loooong days and has a huge commute to boot, shopping and cooking meals and cleaning…there just aren’t enough hours in the day. I hit the ground running when I get out of bed in the morning, and I don’t stop until I go to bed at night.

      I’ve learned to take a little time for myself, and now, doctor’s orders, I need to take even more. You get a serious wake-up call when your health is effected.

      We women need to stop being so hard on ourselves. We deserve to be happy. If writing makes you happiest, then that’s what you should be doing. Friends, real friends, will be there when you have the time, or they’ll make the time. Families need to pitch in (harder to expect, I know, when you have little ones, but in a few years, they’ll be teenagers. Who says they can’t do chores to help out?) Delegate, order out (yes, it’s okay to do that!), or plop a bowl of cereal on the table for dinner when you have a deadline. Nobody’s going to starve!

      (This from the woman who spent five years competing with Martha Stewart, lol!)

      Don’t worry about those ladies at school…the Femmes have your back!

      Hugs,
      Jaye

      Reply
      • Jaye, you crack me up! Competing with Martha Stewart? I must hear these stories.

        And yes–take more time for YOU. Femmes orders!! xo

    • Yes! Guilt on the DVR shows. Ours is always near capacity because we can never both sit down and watch something together. I so get that.

      And that’s a very good point: small moments matter! We should try and grab as many as we can, kids or not.

      Reply
  12. Such a timely and awesome post, Joanna! Yes. There are times I’ve turned guilt into an art form…in fact, I was the Gauguin of Guilt. 🙂 Really, I think the key for me has been setting goals that are ATTAINABLE based on my life demands. Then I can feel all happy and contented, leaving guilt to suck my accomplished dust. 😉

    Reply
  13. As women, we always feel stretched a hundred ways. We must show our kids, particularly our daughters, that we can achieve our dreams, and to hell with the house. Teaching them to expect to share tasks equally with their spouses is important, too, because women’s place in society is still not equal.
    I’ve got two kids in college, one still at home. What I can say is, the stress does subside a bit as the kids get older. Then you realize the time with them was finite and precious. Enjoy it, despite the craziness, because before you blink an eye, they’ll be gone!

    Reply
    • HI Miranda! You are so right about what we show our kids, especially young girls. They are like sponges and the best way to teach them is by example.

      It is getting easier as they get older, though some days time seems to CREEP. 🙂

      Reply
  14. Hi Joanna, Guilt as in being so crazy busy I missed some VF posts? Ugh. Women, especially moms, are expected to do it all, and with grace and without complaint. I give you SO much credit for that balancing act. You are a genuine role model (as are all moms, working and working at home!) Best, Michele

    Reply
    • And I give YOU credit for balancing a full-time, stressful job with a full-time writing career.

      And no worries on missing posts. We all are trying to keep our head above water! xo

      Reply

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