Getting a Grip on Chronic Working Mom Guilt

July 1, 2013
Woman watching TV

Getting a Grip on Chronic Working Mom Guilt

If you’re a working mother, chances are you suffer from Working Mom Guilt (WMG). This disorder appears the minute you even think about going back to work after having a baby and doesn’t really abate until your child goes off to college, if ever.

I suffer from chronic WMG. The main symptom is a persistent nagging feeling that I’m never doing anything really well. When I’m at work and the kids are home, I feel bad that I’m not there to do more with them. When I’m at home with them instead of the office, I feel bad that I’m not being a good employee. These feelings escalate during the summer months when they’re home for prolonged periods of time.

Not working isn’t an option. In addition to needing to pay the bills and loving what I do, I am not stay-at-home mother material. No offense to the SAHMs out there (I’m actually in awe of the women who do this full time), but I can honestly say that if I were at home with my kids all the time I would be on the fast track to an inpatient mental hospital. I did the SAHM thing for a few years when the girls were little. Even then I worked part-time from home because I needed the intellectual stimulation raising a toddler and an infant did not provide. I did go back to work eventually full time, and yes, I agonized over that decision, too.

I’m fortunate to work for a company that allows for flexible scheduling and telecommuting. Many of the working parents here have had to find creative ways to get their jobs done while navigating around their children’s schedules. And yes, many of them suffer from WMG, and there are also a few Dads who suffer from its counterpart, WDG.

I don’t think there’s a cure for WMG. It’s just always kind of there in the background, lurking. But there are a few things you can do to lessen its effects. My boss, for example, is very good at employing an “Always be present in the moment” type of mentality. He actively works at training his brain to focus on the task at hand, whether it’s at his job or when he’s with his kids. If feelings of guilt or distraction about either one start to sneak into his brain, he consciously redirects himself to focus on what he’s doing. It’s no magic pill, but apparently it’s highly effective.

Another thing you can do is simply cut yourself some slack. I know, easier said than done. After all, women have been fed a “you can have it all” message since we entered the work force. But we’ve been sold a bill of goods. Can you really have it all? More importantly, can you really do it all? You can’t give 100 percent to your job and 100 percent to your kids 100 percent of the time. You will either die from exhaustion or want to rip your hair out from the stress it takes to do it. Your kids don’t want a stressed out Mom. Your employer doesn’t want that, either.

I’ve learned that most of the time I’m OK with being “good enough.” I’m getting more comfortable with the phrase “I’m doing the best that I can.” I’m also getting more comfortable taking up offers of help from friends and family. Another big help? Don’t compare yourself to other parents and realize that the parents you see out in public are not necessarily the same way they are in the privacy of their own homes. No one gets it perfect all the time. But each day is a new opportunity to try and get it right. So if today was really bad, tomorrow will be much easier in comparison. You get my drift.

Finally, rest assured that having to be “good enough” at home and work is only temporary. Once your kids have left the nest you are perfectly welcome to resume your regularly scheduled programming of the “I can have it all” kind.

Let me know how that works out for you.

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