How to Let Go of Working-Mom Guilt
Working moms are chasing the balance of working a job that they want and being the mom that they envisioned. They feel bad about letting their kids, team, or boss down, and also feel guilt about practicing self-care, remorse for not helping aging parents enough, or embarrassment about admitting their stress. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has left working parents — and in particular mothers, who still disproportionately take care of the housework and children — having to find solutions for education and childcare.
If you’re a working mother, you must let go of this guilt. Consider these five tips. First, forgive yourself for your choices and circumstances. Second, revisit your values and make them your top priorities. Third, ask for help from those around you. Fourth, remember the basics of being a good parent and let yourself be “good enough.” Finally, unfollow those on social media that bring you down.
You wonder if every other mom feels the elusive work-life balance stress the same way you do. You feel time running out to achieve your career aspirations while your kids are growing up so quickly. No matter where you are, at home or work, you feel like you should be elsewhere, getting something productive done. Secretly, you dream of a weekend away but come up with excuses as to why you can’t do it.
In her book Forget Having It All, author and journalist Amy Westervelt sums up the working mom dilemma: “We expect women to work like they don’t have children, and raise children as if they don’t work.” Because of this, women feel guilty — guilty for working and guilty for not. Blurred boundaries of work time spill into family time, and half listening to your children’s stories from their day or missing out on meaningful time with them can lead moms to feel like they are failing. The obstacles to being a volunteer at your kid’s school or attending the science fair has you plotting how to sneak away from work unnoticed, so that you might be able to make it just in time for your kid to look up and see you there (all while still checking your inbox for any urgent emails). It feels like a no-win situation, and it fuels feelings of overwhelm, exhaustion, and defeat that can lead to burnout.
Working moms are chasing the balance of working a job that they want or need and being the mom that they envisioned. You don’t just feel bad about letting your kids, team, or boss down; you also feel guilt about practicing self-care, remorse for not helping aging parents enough, or embarrassment about telling a friend how stressed out you are— as if you don’t have a right to feel this way.
What’s more, the Covid-19 pandemic has left working parents, and in particular mothers, having to find solutions for education and child care. The windows into their world have been opened for all to see as women still disproportionately take care of the housework and children while working. As a result, guilt is permeating everywhere as kids spend more time on screens and moms spend more time on Zoom.
Working on letting go of this guilt should be at the top of your long to-do list. It eats away at you, disrupts your sleep, affects your mood, and gets in the way of being present. My experience counseling working mothers has shown me that, while they do still feel stressors, they also experience significant relief when they are mindful and intentional about their mindset and behaviors. Here are some strategies to start freeing yourself of guilt, starting today.
Letting go of guilt has to start with a commitment to stop beating yourself up over your choices and circumstances. Guilt gone awry turns into shame, and it is emotionally painful to constantly feel like you are a bad mom, a bad employee, or a bad friend. Instead, remember the reasons behind your choices. Every time you think to yourself, “I feel bad about __” replace that with, “I made that decision because ___” and then move forward.
Revisit your values.
For years now, I have worked with parents who experience guilt over their parenting decisions or their hours at the office (or now, the hours plugged into work at home). One of the most grounding exercises people can engage in is getting clear about what their values and priorities are in life and then living life in accordance to them. So often people say one thing matters to them most, but they don’t live into those values.
For instance, if family time is at the top of your list but you don’t feel like you get enough of it, rid yourself of guilt by consciously finding ways to spend more time with your family. Practice saying “no” to unnecessary commitments, like volunteering at every school fund-raiser, going to a regular happy hour with coworkers (even virtually), or sitting on your neighborhood HOA board. Involve your children in tasks you already do, like completing chores, making meals, or taking the dog for a walk. Or use your weekends intentionally, dedicating blocks of time for family, rather than errands. This will likely entail setting clear boundaries in other areas of your life and constantly revisiting (and updating) your family values statement so that you are in integrity with what you want.
Ask for help.
One of the hardest things for many women to do is to ask for help. Instead of asking for help, a working mom may just be fueling her stress by trying to do it all herself — then realizing that it is just impossible. Asking for help takes practice, but once you take a vulnerable step in doing so, others around you will start doing the same. Reach out to neighbors, personal friends, parents of your kids’ friends, your own parents, your in-laws, the aftercare program at school, or carpool parents. Before you know it, no one has to feel bad for asking, and it becomes a reciprocal relationship in which everyone benefits.
Be “good enough” at home.
The idea of the “good enough parent” goes back decades. Attachment researchers, such as John Bowlby, discovered that parents need to be emotionally present, to comfort their child, attune to their child’s feelings, show delight when seeing their child, and support their child in order to have a healthy and secure parent-child attachment. In other words, they are caring for and connected with their child, without sacrificing their personal needs and health. We need to follow this example and lower the bar from the perfect mom who can do it all, who does everything she “should” be doing, and is praised for her selflessness to the mother who reclaims her own life and takes care of herself. Rather than putting additional pressure on yourself, remember the basics. Realize the connection you can still have with your children by simply being “good enough.”
Unfollow those that bring you down.
Watching other people vacation, share their family photos, or publicize their latest promotion on social platforms like Facebook and Instagram is enough to drive a working mom to tears. The time you take to scroll on social media for connection is a time that needs to lift you up. If you find that a person or group’s posts consistently bring you down, unfollow them.
Last, remember that guilt is inherently tied to empathy. Feeling guilty means you have compassion, care, and concern for those around you. Getting rid of your guilt does not mean that you are not a loving or kind mother. It means that the empathy behind the guilt will be realized. Instead of feeling stuck, the power of compassion can motivate you to connect with your work as well as find the joy in being a mom.