I have young children and this puts me in the minority at work, not the having of children but the 'being at work' part. My position is one of low-middle management/professional so there are attending responsibilities that go along with it and I'm acutely aware of how I present to the rest of the organization when I'm away. My peers are older with grown children or slightly younger with none so when I miss time, I feel like there is a blinding searchlight on the emptiness at my desk, judging, berating, silently mocking my absence. Given our circumstances, I can't come in early as Dylan needs to be at work by a certain time and I'm not bound by shift constraints leaving me to do the daily school drop-off and I can't stay late as he works on the other side of the county and would be fighting rush hour traffic all the way to pick them up plus their school is close to my plant so it just makes sense. So I work my eight-hour day and leave at five to get them.
But wait, you might say. You've worked your eight hours, what's the shame in leaving then? Why would you be judged. Because, I would respond, the others at my position level are still here. They are in by 7 and some don't leave until after five. If I'm not here then I'm not visible. If I'm not visible, I can't get the experiences and skills needed to make leaving this job a viable option. And if I can't secure a new job, I'm very afraid that the vast gulf of depression will swell and overtake me, pulling me under to a dark place I've only visited briefly. So I compensate by logging in at night after the children are in bed, making the decision to leave the dishes as I have to demonstrate my worth. Or I might rise early to log in again and run reports to increase my efficiency during the day. I frequently come in on weekends to catch up, to get ahead, to show that I am part of the team, I'm doing my part look at me. LOOK AT ME.
But every time I leave early for a sick child, disappear for a doctor's appointment, arrive close the end of window of acceptability, I feel the eyes, heavy with disapproval, silently judging me as I slink in or out trying to draw as little notice to myself as possible. I imagine lashing out at phantom critiques, 'You had a wife to deal with these things; I AM the wife, the mother, the primary earner!', bravura fading each step closer to the safety of the office, a closed door where equilibrium can be restored.
Or maybe it's me, maybe I'm judging myself harshly as a preemptive move so no one will question my dedication, my loyalty. Perhaps it's all in my head and not a soul cares as long as the work get done. But the seed has been planted and like kudzu, slowly entangles and entraps my mind, never ceasing in it's grasp for more until nothing remains.
There must be a way out but I cannot see it for the guilt, it runs deep.