Working moms: Remember the donut

I’ve been going through one of those frustrating working mom guilt phases again, where there just don’t seem to be enough hours in my life for…well, my life. Between work projects and holiday obligations, exciting things (hey, I was on the TODAY Show this week!) and less exciting things (hey, my insurance forms are due this week!) it’s been busy. And I’m not even the kind of mom who bakes.

How the heck do you working moms find time to bake? It’s a mystery I will one day uncover and turn into a Mom-101/Geraldo prime-time special.

Each weeknight, I feel like it’s all I can do to race out of work and through our front door, step over the piles of crap on the floor then fling my laptop and coat on the kitchen counter and rush to my kids, hoping to make the tail end of dinner. Or at best, squeak in as much cuddle time or reading time or back rub time as I can before lights out.

(Oh yes, back rub time. As in, mine. Did I mention that I am teaching my children to give me back rubs each night? As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of those essential first-grade skills along with homonyms and appropriate use of glitter glue.)

To compound the guilt–or feelings of parental unease and dissatisfaction at lack of balance, for those of you who bitchslap me every time I use the phrase “mom guilt”–I’m heading off on another week-long business trip on Friday. Sage makes her sad Beaker muppet face every time I mention it. (We share that skill.) She doesn’t want me to go, of course.  I know it’s been on her mind a lot lately because she keeps asking me to count the days until I’ll be back.

So when I paused outside Sage’s preschool class this week at dropoff to read the latest teacher/student q+a about families that was posted to the hallway bulletin board, I blanched.

Last year, when Sage has a similar project,  her teacher asked what Mommy’s hobbies are and Sage answered “be on the computer.” Seeing my pained expression, her teacher grasped my shoulder kindly and said, “oh..nearly every kid in the class had the same answer! Almost all of them!” Which was actually true.

But this year was different.

The third question on the printout, tacked up in the school hallway for all to read, said: What do your mommy and daddy do?

Sage’s answer:  Mommy hugs and kisses me every time she comes home.

Damn, people.


It’s just like you’re all always reminding me; it’s not what I’m doing when I’m not home, its what I’m doing when I am. Kids don’t remember the hole, they remember the donut.

Of course, when further prompted on the question about what we do, Sage answered: Daddy is a chef. Mommy just works.

Sound about right.


63 thoughts on “Working moms: Remember the donut”

      1. I’m going with difficult 🙂
        When asked to elaborate she said that I work with a computer and wear nice shoes to work, which is better than daddy because – and I quote- ‘he wears an ugly black dress’ (lawyers in Belgium wear a toga). Yup, that sums it up nicely….

  1. Love this! Although my children are older and I am working from home – I have major mom guilt, too. Thanks for the donut!

  2. My two year old likes to shut my laptop and yell “no!” While I’m trying to write. Thank god for 5 minute breaks ( and auto-save)

  3. I needed this, badly. I’ve been feeling it lately too, what with the work, the increased daycare costs that make me question it all, the holidays, the lack of sunlight except when I’m in the mother’s room, etc… Thanks.

  4. That’s my new slogan, motto, tagline, sign-off, philosophy and mantra: “Remember the donut!”

  5. Kudos to all working moms!
    That’s so sweet what your daughter said.
    I can’t imagine how I would be like have I continued to be a working mom — was running a small ad agency until my boy turned 2. But definitely no regrets. Now I’m a stay-at-home-mom for 6 yrs now.

  6. Thanks for this.

    I also need to remember my mom was the primary breadwinner, got a masters degree and had loads of community obligations when I was wee. My memories are of pride and warmth. I was always proud of her and loved the traditions she celebrated with all FIVE of us.

    Goodness. What was I complaining about again?

  7. Thank you for writing this today. I have been suffering from similar feelings of parental inferiority complex.

  8. Your posts are balm to all us moms in the same boat.
    My daughters bday is in December and just yesterday I found this recipe for cool, fancy cupcake-shaped cake pops for her big day. Now I can think of 50 things, including dusting my entire house, that I’d rather do before baking anything. I’m not the artsy, creative mom. I don’t bake. But my gril loves to help in the kitchen and I am determined. I even bookmarked the website and proudly declared to my hubby that I was making these. “Look”, I said, “I’ll be a ‘real’ mom!”
    I am making these with my daughter. This is our birthday donut.

  9. I hear you Liz… it’s been craziness here and Laurel keeps saying things like, “Mom, I think you need to stop working so hard” or “Mom, just sit down and stop trying to get things done.”

    As for the baking, the key is having kids who are old enough to actually help. It turns into fun project time for us, particularly since I’m not great at sitting around on the floor playing Playmobil all day. 🙂

  10. Thank you for this. I’m a part-time in-the-office mom and a part-time work-at-home mom, but an all-the-time single mom. (Follow that?) I spend a lot of time thinking about what I could be doing better – and then I forget that my 8-year old just wants me to sit on the couch with her sometimes and watch Power Rangers Samurai. The three-year old just wants to see me pretend to eat things that aren’t food and then make yucky faces.
    I hope that the donut part applies to divorce as well — that they remember the great times they have with each parent, rather than focusing on the time when that other parent isn’t there. I’m going to believe it applies to that, too.

  11. But Liz, what if that’s not how Sage meant it? Her frame of reference includes that you leave, yes. Lots of moms do. But for her the most significant part of it is that you come back and immediately rush to her and shower her in love. She doesn’t even care *what* you do. She cares and bothers to note that you are demonstrative with your love for her just as soon as she’s in your sight. That sounds like a great set of priorities to me.

  12. Thank you for the the donut! I will never forget it. My almost 6-year-old still tells people that I write on the computer. Also, “Mommy takes the train to the City so she can’t take me to school.” It hurts my heart.

  13. Baking happens when the monkey is napping and I’m not tired and I don’t have work to do and the house is clean and I just plain feel like it. Which is about once a year.

    Oh, and teaching the kids how to do back rubs – genius. Pure genius.

  14. Attagirl, Sagey.

    I’m a little scared to ask my kids the same question about what I do. It’s probably, “Yell at me to pick up my toys.” Ugh

  15. This is so great. It’s hard not to be selfish with your time when you finally get everyone in bed and realize you could have an hour of peace and quiet all to yourself before your husband gets home, but I try to remind myself that laying down with my daughter and watching a movie with her while she falls asleep is going to count for more in ten years than whatever TV show I watch. This is a good reminder as well.

  16. I get it. I completely get it. I went from a “working part-time while my kids were in school” mom, to now a working full-time single mom. It’s taken some adjustment

  17. Seriously, my primary parenting goal – besides getting them out of the house and fully able to live on their own as responsible adults – is to give them plenty of good stuff to remember. I’m not talking about trips to Disneyland or the IT toy each year, but stuff like hugs and kisses and feeling genuinely loved and appreciated.

    You are doing it right, in my estimation anyway.

    1. Thanks Julie. I think I just got confirmation of that from the one person I needed it from. 4 year olds can be awesome, huh.

  18. Such a great post. I suffer from so much mom guilt. My husband stays home now, and it somehow only makes the mom guilt worse than it was when he was working because now that he’s home, my kids seem to feel even more like I’m ALWAYS working. Um, because I have to work. It’s so hard to find the right balance. I like to think I do a good job most of the time, but sometimes my kids will say something, good or bad, that really makes me question it.

    It sounds like your girl knows what’s important. Thanks for sharing.

  19. I’m beginning to think this isn’t a working parent/stay home parent conundrum. The guilt is there and its attention span is getting shorter. I’m more distracted now trying to piece together what’s left of my professional personhood than I was before. All this “digital” stuff takes so much more time and attention than I was ever willing to admit. I know it’s true that they don’t remember the hole, but I’m really worried that I’ll only be a few sprinkles on the donut they do remember.

  20. Wow. Donut. We have a lot of traveling for work coming up in our family. This’ll be a good one to keep in the back of our heads.

    My mother made elaborate dishes for holidays and birthdays (everyone’s but her own). I don’t know fully how she did it, as I can’t replicate it yet. But I do have fond memories of sitting at the table with my brother squirting the white insides of boiled almonds out of their skin into a bowl every Thanksgiving. I don’t know if we were given the task to be useful or to be out of her hair so she could cook.

  21. I know you know this about me already, but I will lay it out, anyway: I work from home. I also pack lunches, buy the groceries, do laundry, cook dinner, and 90% of the time, I’m the one driving the kids to doctor’s appointments and rehearsals and whatever else. I work too much BUT I also show up for EVERYTHING.

    I tell you that so I can tell you this: They still wish I worked less. They still say I’m “always” working.

    It’s wonderful to be loved and needed. And sometimes work feels like an endless slog designed to take you away from what you love. But at the end of the day our children—our beautiful, wonderful, intelligent children—are still bottomless pits of need who will miss us just for stepping into the next room.

    I’m not saying it doesn’t suck, because it does. Just saying that there is never a balance here. We will always wish for more time, all of us.

  22. I was just talking about this last night. Most days, working from home is great. But when work is busy, it seems like typing on a computer is all they see me do. And having to tell them that I can’t read to them at bedtime because I have to get back to work? That sucks. I just hope they remember the time spent helping with homework and free throws and not the missed chapter of Harry Potter. And I’m working even harder today so that we won’t miss another chapter tonight.

  23. I actually got a little choked up when I read Sage’s answer. Oh, the sweetness.

    And you’re brilliant. Do you think 18 months is too young to educate a child on the fine art of maternal backrubs? I’m thinking no.

  24. I tread carefullly through the double whammy of working mom minefields: Joint Custody and The Full Time Job. After six years of careful and magical mauverings and accepting the fact that pre-made and overly packaged (bunny grahms, real fruit roll ups, apple sauce cups…i’m looking at you) lunch foods are designed for the single working mother and I just have to GO WITH IT, and navigated the emotional wasteland that Kindergarten unexpectadly became this year after finallly getting all of our footing under control, tonight I’m telling my (only) daughter that I’m pregnant, that “we” (my boyfriend, his 12 year old daughter and my daughter, almost 6) are moving in together and having a baby when school gets out. The sheer terror of having this conversation with my kid has been pinning me to the ground for the past 14 weeks. After six years of her being the ONLY priority and Mommy’s One True Love and all that stuff you say to your little girl when it is so obviously only going to be the two of you forever. I have never felt so much guilt as a parent as I do about becoming a parent again and all the changes that will pose for my kid. I fully expect her to be postivily devastated by the news and I still don’t know how to tell her or help ease her into the whole thing. Miserable. Ugh.

    1. Wow Susanna you sure do have a lot going on! Sounds like exciting times are in store. Change can be wonderful–I have a good feeling. Lots of luck to you.

  25. One of the things I learned from my mother was make the little things count. Enjoy the extra cuddle in bed one morning. Read an extra book one night. Make pizza and movie night happen when you can. Make the smaller stuff count. My mother was (is) wise. I never thought I’d end up where I am now. Divorced. Half time with my kids. Working full time. It means I don’t get to do what some moms do. I can’t go to the school. I rarely do playdates. When I do have a day, or hours, for just them, I squeeze as much fun into it as possible.

    I can only do what I can do. It never feels like enough. Maybe, just maybe we all feel like this?

  26. Hey, Sage is right. Daddy is a chef. Therefore I presume Daddy knows how to bake. Why is the baking, then, even on your already overloaded agenda? Cross it off your list, I say, and hand that particular parcel of parental guilt off to the household culinary expert. (When your kids need help devising a social media campaign to promote their mobile urban organic lemonade stand, of course, that will totally be on you. )

    The answer to how I personally find time to bake is: I work much less than I’d like to, especially, unfortunately, on the some of the writing projects I’d most like to (because the projects I like best tend to be the riskiest ones that pay least). (I also sleep, watch television, exercise, and spend time with friends much less than I’d like to. )

    But I CAN’T just buy my kid cupcakes at the grocery store. If I could I totally would. As it happens, I’ve discovered that kids don’t care so much who baked a cupcake as long as they get to eat one.

  27. I work PT and I still volunteer and go on field trips and my son still complains when I can’t do something. I’m not sure what the answer is, unless the answer is be there for EVERYTHING and then they would complain we are there too much.

  28. It salves my pain when I think of all my friends rushing through their own doors and flinging their own laptops when I do the same thing. Earlier this year I actually had to call my parents to come bail me out when G had to go to Denver and I had to go to SF on the same damn day. Like we literally abandoned her on two separate business trips — while she had lice. But it’s what we do, it’s how we survive, and as one friend keeps reminding me — if we painted life as perfect or ourselves as flawless, we’d be setting our girls up to fail. Solidarity!

  29. Awesome. I just became a new fan.

    I read this at my computer taking a break from the tedious work that is often known as graduate school while my 8-year-old daughter is lying on the couch with the tummy bug. I got home from school very late last night, just in time for me to hold her hair while she threw up in a bucket. Fortunately, I missed the delousing that happened earlier in the evening. I’ve been feeling very guilty for either being gone or having my nose in the computer. This post made me feel a teensy bit better. That and the fact that my fabulous husband washed three kids hair and combed the lice out. 😀

  30. as a woman who worked then stayed home and now works — I think that chaos feels good to me….this reality comes at an interesting time for me and has found its way into my current blog post thought process – we will see what happens…..

    the only thing that keeps me sane these days is when my 11 year old sends me a text saying hello – it really means I love you from an 11 year old boy.

  31. Funny how you posted this on the day my mom (so graciously!) took my son to his yearly check-up because I took off so much time last week that I didn’t want to take more off this week, if I didn’t have to. So not only do I feel like an asshat for missing my son’s check-up, I also hate the guilt I feel that comes along with “I want to be a good employee but I want to go to my son’s physical god dammit.”

    I’m not sure where I’m going with this other than to say, I get it. And you’re so right, it’s the things we do that matter, not the things we don’t.

  32. we all have mom guilt, we are moms and we work, we are doing actually 2 different jobs/shifts all-life-long, we have to be a mother, a wife, a teacher, a chef, a psychologist, an economist etc. it’s a hard but beautiful way:)

  33. I’m off to a conference tomorrow and am feeling the same guilt. But it’s that guilt that’s mixed with the exciting anticipation of being alone for a full two days. And by alone I mean with 3000 strangers…but I have my very own hotel room! Sometimes I need a vacation from this crazy working mom juggling shtick. Even if it is a vacation in the form of a destination work thing. I’m exhausted. From the juggling AND the guilt. (She says as she glances over at her beautiful little boys eating pizza and drawing pictures of Mr. Sun…)

  34. When my kids were born, I quit a full-time job I loved deeply. I wish I could say that I have always been happy with my decision but I have regretted it ever since. I went back to work part-time almost immediately, but that has its drawbacks, too: not being taken seriously at work is one, finding p/t childcare is another, giving up all my earnings for that childcare as I make far less than I ever did, working from home and having a zillion things to do that interfere with my work like laundry and picking up the kids.

    This week my own mother told me I have to give something up. I work part-time, I’m starting a business, I have a few freelance writing assignments that are regular, I volunteer way too much and I’m happily associate producing my first play. What do I give up and why should I have to give something up? Why can’t I be happy, too?

    The bottom line is that there’s no easy answer. On the train into the city this morning for meetings, my heart ached with jealousy towards the other commuters for getting to go in everyday. When I left my full time job, that was what I couldn’t wait to leave behind.

    I’m no chef either. Ask my kids. Even though I’m home more than you.

    There’s no easy answer. Be proud of yourself, I’m sure your children are deep down. You’re a terrific role model, Liz.

  35. Yesterday someone told me he couldn’t understand how I, as a mother, spent 9 hours a day working away from my child. I felt like I had been slapped. My husband reminded me that I never miss a daycare event (like the Halloween parade or Thanksgiving lunch), and that when I am with my daughter, I make her my focus. You’re right–what we do when we are there matters much more than what we do when we are gone.

    1. You were slapped. In a way.

      That’s about one of the douchiest things anyone can say to a parent. And yet – it’s never to a father, is it?

      Glad it wasn’t me in your shoes because…well, yeah.

  36. My Mom stayed home with us until we were in school, then went back to work part time. But I don’t remember any of that time. What has really stuck with me is when she would wake me up for school in the morning and make my stuffed animals sing little songs to me. It wasn’t how much she was home, or whether or not she was baking, cleaning, etc. It was her attitude. It was making those little moments fun. That is made her, and still makes her, awesome as a Mom. And you bring your own special, uniqueness that your kids will remember when they are raising their own kids.
    At the time, I was probably complaining that she was waking me up too early, or she was too cheerful, or whatever kids complain about. But now, I remember it as special.

  37. You have some awesome kids.

    And now I have the Burl Ives donut song (“Watch the Donut, Not the Hole”) stuck in my head.

    Also, I’m truly sorry if my musings on guilt felt like a bitchslap to you. It was not how I intended that comment or that post. All the same, I think I’ll keep my mouth shut- or my fingers still, I guess- on your future posts on the topic.

    1. Never stop saying what’s on your mind Cloud. Trust me, lots of people hate that expression. But sometimes I feel like, if the shoe (or guilt) fits…

      you always give me great things to think about.

  38. I so needed this post today, Liz. As the kids say on the Interwebz: Like, woah.

    Thanks. I’m doing my best to make sure the donut is covered with chocolate icing and sprinkles.

  39. Oh Liz, you’re so brilliant, and Sage clearly gets her savviness from you! I loved reading your post this morning as I wrapped up my fifteenth hour of work in about as many hours, with more than a little guilt that my first thought when ED woke up this morning wasn’t “Yay! She’s awake!” but rather “Oh, I still have so much more to do.” Note to self: Donuts, donuts, donuts.

  40. I think a small, sick part of me has come to thrive on working mom guilt. The whole struggle fascinates me – there is so much to figure out.

    Being the mom you want to be is tough whether you work or not. While I over-index on cuddling and affection, sometimes its hard to find the time, energy, and well, interest, to get down on the floor and play. Pushing cars around the floor isn’t fun. But last night at bedtime I got feedback on the hole, not the donut. “When you are home you just wash the dishes and drink coffee and do what you want to do.” Crap!!

  41. Perfect! Thank you Sage, and thank you Liz for reminding us that it’s the donut that matters.

    And I used to bake all. the. time. Love it. Used to make homeade donuts! Then I went back to work. When I found myself screeching into Honey Ham at 6:57 pm the night before my son’s Thanksgiving feast to buy a sweet potato casserole, the Kelley from 2005 was totally judging me.

  42. Sage has more than earned her name. What a wise little girl. Isn’t it amazing that just when you think you are screwing it up, your child lets you know you don’t suck? About that working mom guilt thing, it’s unavoidable sometimes, as I remind myself constantly. I like to think of it as an early warning sign that nudges me to at least attempt to get my balance back. You are a fabulous (though busy – who the hell isn’t BTW) mother, like the rest of us. Critics be damned and bless our children who beyond all comprehension, get it.

  43. Don’t stress yourself to much from work! You deserve that mom-guilt habit to give yourself a break. I know you’re a good mother and your child loves you. Yea, thanks for reminding us to see the entirety of the donut. Cheers! 🙂

  44. SO cute that Sage thinks only of the hugs and kisses… definitely means you’re doing what counts the most, whenever you spend time together.

    I have a nagging thought on this post, one that puzzles me from time to time. I so often hear mother’s express that they feel inadequate when they’ve chosen to work outside of the home (or work from home and can’t do it all), yet rarely do they admit that they’ve chosen this path.

    Of course there are people who have no choice (Amen to the single parents!) but it’s more often that people feel as though they HAVE to work, simply so they can afford to live a certain way, or in a certain place, instead of changing their life to live another way. Isn’t it more honest to say we WANT to live/work this way and that the result isn’t always what we expected?

    I don’t know, maybe it’s just typical of mother’s to focus on our shortcomings, no matter what?

    I sincerely don’t mean for this to sound judgmental. I’m just forever curious why people aren’t able or willing to change things, when they’re not happy?

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