Why you should let go of working mom guilt

Dear Working Mom,

You are not alone. That blow to the stomach when working mom guilt hits is more common than what you’d think. 

Working moms are constantly chasing the balance of working a job that they want and being the best mom for their children. You feel like time is flying by, your kids are growing up way too quickly, and you’re running out of time to achieve all your career goals. 

Whether you are working a job you love and doing it because you are passionate about it, or a job you don’t like but you are doing it because you need to provide for your children - the stress and anxiety creep in and no matter where you are, you feel like you should be elsewhere. 

You feel guilty when you miss a milestone in your child’s life; when they ask for attention but you are working; when you leave your little one crying at daycare; when you forget something for school because you were thinking about work… You don’t want to let your kids down. And then there’s your boss, your partner, your aging parents… All people you don’t want to disappoint. 

You can feel guilty for choosing to work, and you might judge yourself for needing something more than motherhood to feel fulfilled and challenged in life. Unfortunately, there’s this societal belief that working moms are failing by not being with their kids all day long. On the other hand, you don’t see any working dads being judged. Actually, they are judged. But, contrary to women, they are judged when they decide to take care of their children. There’s a study conducted by Kate Weisshaar of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that finds that dads who take paternity leave are stereotyped as being "flaky" by employers. 

A very interesting Pew Research survey analyzed the way that society views the bond between (working) mothers and their children. When people were asked what is best for young children, only 16% of adults said that having a mother who works full time is the “ideal situation”. When it comes to mothers working part-time, 42% said it was the ideal situation. Only 22% said that having a full-time working mother is ideal for young children. 

The fact is that women more than men are still adjusting their careers and making compromises when the needs of children collide with work. Adding to that, as Amy Westervelts, an environmental print and radio journalist, states in her book entitled Forget Having It All, “We expect women to work like they don’t have children, and raise children as if they don’t work.” This sentence sums up the working mom dilemma. It feels like a no-win situation, and then of course the working mom guilt kicks in. Working on letting go of this guilt should be at the top of your long to-do list. Think about it as a way of self-care and wellness. You’ll parent better when your own needs are fulfilled. Here are some strategies to start freeing yourself of guilt, starting today.

Stop Following Other People's Rules

Our moms and grandmas have instilled in us a (traditional and outdated) idea of what makes a good mom. Then, we scroll through social media and every other mom seems to be doing so well, from educational activities to granola bowls every day - they even look great while doing it all. 

Well, putting a social media filter on parenting does more harm than good. When you stray away from that “ideal” or feel like you could never in a thousand years achieve it, that’s when you start to feel guilty. 

The best you can do is to let go of all these rules and all these high standards. Set expectations based on your reality: your circumstances, your kids’ needs, your aspirations… And just give up any elusive quest to be a super-mother who does everything right. 


Set up reminders

Because working moms are so busy all the time, it’s easy for important things to slip their minds. Find a way to set up reminders. You can do it on your phone or find a planner. That will help you remember that the doctor's appointment or field trip is tomorrow. 

Scheduling the time can really help ease your working mom guilt because you’ll feel like you have control over things. Hopefully, you’ll not be forgetting anything important nor feeling all over the place all the time. Make a to-do list and you’ll see how satisfying it can be to check things off. 

Be happy, not perfect

Remember our “shoulds” are shaped by social expectations, our environment, family pressures, and those unspoken rules we buy into. Whenever you are wondering if you should do that, replace it with “could”. Do what’s best for yourself and for your family. 

There is a study published by the American Psychological Association, stating that perfectionism is increasing over time. People are internalizing a myth that life should be perfect but this mindset will only lead to more guilt, anxiety, and depression. 

Forget about being perfect and lower the bar to good enough - that’s how you’ll be happy, and that’s all your kids want and need. A happy mother. Rather than putting additional pressure on yourself, remember the basics: be emotionally present, show delight when you see your kids, and support them. Those are all things that you can do without sacrificing your personal needs, and according to attachment researcher John Bowlby, that’s all your kids need. 

Find a shortcut

Doing it all is hard and time-consuming. Why not find a way to save time and simplify our life? 

Grocery shopping is one of those things we are always delaying because of how much time it can take us. Nowadays, however, it’s easier to order groceries online. This way you will save time on food shopping and meal prep. 

Stuck in traffic? Use that time to listen to a podcast of your liking, or call your mom. You can tell her about your day and listen to her, moms love the attention - also take that opportunity to remind her you love her

Don’t just say you’ll take a 5-minute shower, set a timer. This will help you stay on track, especially if you are prone to daydreaming. Make it fun and try to beat your best time on each task but don’t forget to relax. Life doesn't have to be a race all the time. 

Your packed schedule will most likely make you feel overwhelmed and stressed. Take advantage of early mornings to meditate. It will set a tone of calm for the day, it will give you more energy, help you build focus, and give you a sense of well-being

Take care of the morning the night before. If you wait for the morning to do it all, you’ll be adding unnecessary stress to the start of your day. Pack lunches and pick your outfit, as well as the kids’ clothes the night before. 

Minimize the multitasking

By focusing on one task at a time you’ll be prone to make fewer mistakes, and it will take you less time overall. Plus, you can be with your kids all the time and yet never be fully present.  Minimizing multitasking will help create a calmer and less chaotic mindset. 

Research conducted at Stanford University shows that multitasking is detrimental to productivity, and can even damage the brain itself. You can also be damaging personal relationships. In an article published by the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, the authors state that a diverting influence such as a phone may inhibit the development of interpersonal closeness and trust.

Being more mindful of what you’re doing will add more value and less stress to certain tasks or activities with the kids. The more attention you devote to them, without touching the phone, for instance, the happier you’ll be and so will they. 

Embrace the joy and release the guilt

You don’t have to choose between working and being a good mom.

There’s no better life lesson than showing your kids that their mom is independent and takes care of her family by taking care of herself. It’s proven that far-reaching harmful effects on families and children can occur if the mother is not happy, which means your happiness is going to be transferred to your family. If you feel happy pursuing a career, do it without the judgment of others getting in your way - your happiness will come from your choice only. 

You are creating little girls who will grow up to follow their dreams and achieve their aspirations, and little boys who will see all women as their equals. 

So that you don’t just take our word for granted, please watch this inspiring TED Talk entitled “For women in pursuit of motherhood and a career”. What’s refreshing and all more ensuring for working moms about this one point of view is that it doesn’t come from the working mother -  it comes from the daughter of a career-driven woman. 

Remember to put your working mom guilt aside, do it all and do your best. You can do it.


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