Working moms, here’s some parenting advice about how to deal with guilt that comes from juggling kids and a career.
Do you suffer from mom guilt because you work, especially because you like what you do and want to achieve high levels of success in your career?
And for some reason, you feel guilty for that.
Here’s some great news for you: mothering without guilt while excelling in your career is possible.
Yes, it’s true!
Instead of beating yourself up about all the things you’re supposedly missing or not doing right, learn how to deal with the guilt that comes so easily to parents.
It’s time to get to a place where you feel at peace with your decisions and feel good about yourself.
Because the truth is: you can be a good mother while also succeeding at work.
What’s behind this mom guilt? It’s actually quite complicated.
Part of the problem is that your guilt isn’t simple. It’s not just that you feel guilty because you work.
Your guilt arises from a lot of things.
- The fear that your son loves your nanny more than you, while simultaneously feeling you should be happy that you obviously found the right person.
- Regularly coming home too late to cook a decent dinner, which means take-out and frozen dinners most of the time.
- Hearing that you’re the only mom who didn’t make it to the 3rd-grade spelling bee, which was, of course, held at 2:00 in the afternoon during an important work meeting you couldn’t reschedule.
- Being proud of all you’ve accomplished in your career and not wanting to let go of any of your successes.
- Having a hard time focusing at work because of how exhausted you feel.
- Leaving work early to attend your daughter’s piano recital.
- The relief you feel Monday morning to get away from your sick (and often screaming) baby.
- The extra work and hours your team picked up on your behalf when out on maternity leave.
- The excitement of going back to work (and to adult conversation) after being out on maternity leave.
Guilt arises for a variety of reasons. It’s a giant, complicated combo platter of feelings that causes confusion and makes it difficult to figure out how to fix.
But if you look closely, there’s a common theme: you feel that you’re not measuring up.
Parenting isn’t perfect nor is there a better way to be a so-called perfect parent.
The premise of mom-guilt (whether it’s working mom guilt or general motherhood guilt) is that you’re doing something wrong.
That means that there’s some standard that you’re falling short of.
The problem is that parenting and motherhood isn’t one-size-fits-all.
Every person is different, which means that every mom and every child is too, as is each family unit.
With the bulk of parenting advice and the variety of parenting styles available out there, how can there be one perfect or right way?
Besides, there’s no such thing as “right” or “perfect”. You’re a human being (and I hate to break it to you, but humans are not perfect).
You’re going to mess up and make mistakes.
All you can do is your best, which means you need to accept that you’re human and will make mistakes, take responsibility for and strive to learn from your mistakes, and apologize with grace when necessary.
It’s time you treat yourself as you do your children.
You don’t expect your kids to never fall down, make mistakes, or fail at anything.
It’s part of learning and growing as a human being — and it doesn’t miraculously stop just because you’re an adult or have become a parent.
When I was pregnant with my first child, Zachary, I promised myself that I wouldn’t suffer from mom-guilt.
Unfortunately, this promise was quickly broken. I felt guilty for how much I worked — especially because I wanted to work.
I was proud of how hard I’d worked to put myself through law school and get to a place where I would soon make partner in a large firm.
But, that meant working long hours and sometimes being away from my son more than I wanted to be.
My guilt was made worse by the fact that so many women in my profession chose to leave the firm life behind or took themselves off partnership track so they could be home more often.
And then one day, while extremely sleep-deprived after spending the night at the ER with Zachary for croup, I lost it.
He had been whining all day, wouldn’t nap, and threw a tantrum because his favorite blanket was being washed.
I screamed bloody murder at him. At the top of my lungs. Two inches from his face.
Within seconds, I was guilt-ridden and crying. Funny enough, he wasn’t crying — he looked confused.
After I calmed down, I realized that I needed to take responsibility for my actions and apologize.
I sat him down and apologized for my actions fully. There was no excuse and I was wrong.
That was the moment I realized that I could choose not to feel guilty so long as I accept that I’m human, try my best, and take responsibility when I mess up.
So, now, you might be wondering how to make the choice not to feel guilty, even when you choose to work (and especially since excelling at work is important to you).
The trick is to adopt the right mentality.
You can cultivate the right mentality for mothering without guilt while also achieving high levels of success in your career.
Here are the 10 ways realistic ways you can learn how to deal with guilt when you’re a working mom with a successful career.
1. Let go of either/or
There’s this ridiculous belief most working moms have that they must “balance” work versus the rest of life.
But there’s no such thing. Your life is integrated and you chose your career for a reason — and there’s nothing wrong with that.
What’s worse is that this creates a struggle between one part of your life and another.
And it makes you feel like you’re doing something wrong whenever you choose one side over the other (which is pretty much happening all the time).
Here’s the thing: there’s no either/or. You can have success both as a mother and in your career.
But you can’t do that if you’re pitting the two sides against one another. Drop the either/or mentality.
2. Educate yourself about the benefits of working
There are pros and cons to working full time as a mom. And there are also pros and cons to staying at home with your kids and working part-time.
Unfortunately, you’ve been focusing on all the negatives of working.
It’s time to educate yourself and start focusing on the positives for a change.
Kids benefit from having a working mother. A Harvard research study has shown that:
- Women who grow up with working mothers are more likely to earn higher wages and hold higher positions within their fields than those that don’t.
- Men who grow up with working mothers spend more time caring for their kids and doing chores around the house than the men who had stay-at-home moms.
Moreover, your kids will have more opportunities to be independent, will learn from their caregivers, and will learn that they don’t have to put their dreams or ambitions off either.
You’ll be teaching them valuable lessons because you work. Start focusing on the benefits instead of only on the negatives.
3. Take impeccable care of yourself
This one is difficult for many of my clients who are mothers. They seem to think that they don’t have the time to take care of themselves.
The thing is: you’ve got to make the time (and yes, you can make it).
It’s time that you allow yourself to admit that you’re a better mother, wife, worker, and all-around person if you’re well.
And that’s all that self-care is. It’s about doing what’s necessary to be physically, mentally, and spiritually well. You’re worth devoting some time to!
4. Accept that there are trade-offs
Here’s something you must accept if you want to mother without guilt: life is about trade-offs.
Often, there isn’t a “perfect” choice available (otherwise, I’m not sure it would be a real choice). But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a best choice.
Figure out what trade-offs are acceptable to you and then make decisions accordingly.
And forget about trying to do or have “it all” because there’s no such thing.
This is something that I think men have right (you never hear them talking about wanting to have it all).
5. Use your values as your guide
Now the question becomes, how do you figure out which trade off’s you’re comfortable with? It’s actually simpler than you think.
Understand and define your core values so that you can use them as a guide when making decisions.
Your core values motivate and drive you forward. They are what make you uniquely yourself.
When you understand your values and align your life with them, life is easier and simpler.
The right decisions become more apparent so you stop agonizing over and second-guessing them).
Once you identify your values, the right trade-off’s will become obvious.
Aren’t sure what your core values are? Ask yourself what’s most important to you and why. And consider what you want people to remember you for.
That’s a good way to start identifying your personal values.
6. Focus on quality
Think back on your childhood memories with your family. What do you remember most fondly?
Do you remember a pre-planned, elaborate excursion or something that wasn’t planned (but is instead the exact opposite of an elaborate event)?
I’m willing to bet your best memories are of small, simple moments where someone gave you their full attention.
When you’re with your kids, focus on them. Be 100 percent present with them at that moment. That’s what it means to focus on quality over quantity.
It’s not that quantity doesn’t matter because you obviously need to spend time with your kids (no time or very little time won’t do).
But you don’t have to be with them all the time.
Play and have fun with your kids. Play hide and seek, ride your bike, play games, and just have fun.
And as they grow older, talk to them about whatever they want (follow their lead — they’re sure to surprise you).
7. Learn to be present
If you want to have great quality time with your children, you must be fully present. And the only way to do that is to work on it consistently.
Presence is a skill that must be developed.
There are many ways to develop presence, but one simple way is to practice mindful breathing, which is a form of meditation.
Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and focus on your breath. Close your eyes and pay attention to how the breath feels going in and out of your body.
Try breathing slowly through your nose. If, at any time, you find that your mind has wandered, bring your attention slowly back to your breath.
You can also practice mindful observation. Go for a walk and mindfully observe all that you see, hear, smell, and touch.
Again, whenever your mind wanders, bring it back to your surroundings and what can be observed.
Being more mindful will help to train your mind to be more present.
And you’ll also become more aware of when you’re not being present so that you can do something about it.
8. Create blocks of time for family only
If you want quality time, you must make it happen. Sometimes, you can get some quality moments in the car or when eating together.
However, it’s important to set aside time for one another and block it out in your calendar.
This isn’t the same as taking vacations. It’s about having time for true connection and to be present with your kids on a regular basis.
- Have 30 minutes of dinner time each evening.
- Dedicate 2 hours to family time every Sunday evening (where you play games, ride bikes, play mini golf, etc.).
To be clear: this isn’t the only time you’ll be together. However, this is devoted family time that should be absent of any electronics — no phones or television.
9. Enforce strong boundaries
The only way to ensure that you’re guilt-free is to create and enforce boundaries.
Before you start arguing with me: I know that boundaries cause many people guilt. In my experience, it’s often related to fear.
Fear of what others will think, fear of hurting someone’s feelings, and so on.
But boundaries aren’t just about saying “no”. In fact, most of the time they don’t involve saying “no”.
A boundary is merely a rule for how you need to be treated to feel respected and whole as a person.
Boundaries are created to support your own well-being (physically, mentally, and spiritually), honor your core values, and keep you free of obligations that you don’t really want (which is where saying “no” often comes into play).
Determine where you need stronger boundaries, create them, and then enforce them.
Note: when you create boundaries you must tell people about them.
For example, if your mother-in-law often comes over unannounced (and you need that to stop), then you must tell her your new rule. That’s your boundary.
You’d enforce it by telling her she can’t stay if she drops by unannounced.
10. Keep yourself on track, internally
It’s important that you allow yourself room for mistakes and growth. After all, you’re human.
I’ve found it helpful to talk to myself with some simple affirmations whenever I mess up.
It’s part of my internal ritual for acknowledging that I’ve messed up, identifying how to take responsibility, and then having the courage to move forward (because trust me, it’s not easy to apologize to your kids).
Put together your own affirmation for when you mess up that reminds you that you’re human (and that’s okay) and helps you better identify what you’ve learned and what you can do better the next time.
Becoming a mother doesn’t mean that you must give up your career or else suffer from guilt.
Mothering without guilt while excelling at your career is possible so long as you adopt the right mentality.
Use the tips above to help you do that so that you too can adopt an “I don’t do guilt” mantra.
Heather Moulder is an executive coach, attorney, and founder of Course Correction Coaching who works with successful-on-paper-yet-unfulfilled-in-life professionals and mothers who want to find balance in parenting. Connect with Heather for weekly tips and strategies on how to get clear, be confident, and achieve personal and professional success that’s fulfilling and fun again.
This article was originally published at Course Correction Coaching. Reprinted with permission from the author.