A mom recently shared this with me in my Facebook moms group:
“I think there's so much work guilt in going to the ball games/school events. There's a lot of pressure to excel at your job, but how can you excel and go on a class field trip? Because of this, the school events get missed. I also think part of that guilt is which identity do you want to please? the ME part or the MOM part.”
I would bet 100% of working moms have felt this way. The struggle is real and for some reason, it’s a struggle seldom talked about before you have kids. Before you have kids, you talk about how you are going to juggle the schedules, caregiving and all the things that you have to do. You seldom talk about the emotional tug-o-war that occurs between your career and your role as mother. The result is that no matter what side “wins”, you are left with a feeling of guilt for not doing enough for the “losing” side.
As mothers, whether we have a career or not, we all feel guilty at some point about the job we’re doing. It’s a major topic, Google “mom guilt” and you’ll get thousands of results. Look at the New York Times Bestseller list and you’re bound to see the topic there too. In her book, The Year of Yes, Shonda Rimes decided that if her young daughters asked her to play with them, she would stop whatever she is doing and play. One night this involved getting down on the floor in a designer dress and playing with her girls before heading out to a fancy event. In times past, Shonda would have rushed out the door, afraid she would be “late”. But the practice of saying yes allowed her to value the time with her daughters, knowing they would soon grow out of this type of play time. It also showed her that stopping to play only took a few minutes before her daughter would move onto the next thing. Her perception of the time impact of stopping to play was a lot longer than the actual time she spent on the floor. Julie Lythcott-Haimes takes a different approach with her older children in her book How to Raise an Adult. She sits down with her kids at the beginning of every season/school year. She explains she will not be able to be at every practice, game or performance and together they decide which events are most important. Those go on her calendar and she schedules all meetings and travel around them to make sure she is at those events.
We could sit here and read suggestion after suggestion on how to get rid of mom guilt, but it would still be with us. Why is it so hard to get rid of? It doesn’t just magically go away, you don’t just wake up one morning guilt-free. You need to take some time to reflect, dig deep as to what is important to you and possibly make some hard decisions. If you’re ready to break down your guilt, I’ve created 5 G.U.I.L.T. steps to get you started. Pull out your journal and write down your answers/thoughts on the following:
G stands for Get Clear. What am I doing that is making me feel guilty? Why am I doing (or not doing) this right now?
U stands for Understand the Trade-offs. When you decide to do one thing, you are also choosing to not do another. What is the consequence of this decision in terms of career? In terms of family? Is it a long term or short-term consequence? If you are struggling to decide between the two, ask yourself why do you think you need both?
I stands for I matter. Chances are when you were answering the first two questions, you were very concerned about how the answers impacted everyone else. In this step, accept that what I want matters and just because I consider my feelings, does not make me a “bad mom”. Ask yourself “what do I see as the ideal solution to this decision?” Write out as many details as possible, then within the details pick out one or two things you can implement.
L stands for Let it Go. What is one thing you can let go of that causes you guilt? Do you really need to do it? For example, making the beds – maybe you were raised that you have to make your bed every day, but if it’s one more thing you don’t have time for before you walk out the door, then don’t worry about it. No guilt. Let it go also applies to all the guilt you are still holding onto for something that happened yesterday, or last week or last month. There’s nothing you can do to change it now, so stop beating yourself up. Focus on what can you do today to be the best mom/career person you can be.
T stands for being Thankful. We live in a time of great abundance yet spend a lot of time focused on what we don’t have. Appreciate the quiet times of getting to tuck your child into bed (one day they will be too old for you to do that). Or see the joy in the small moments like when they are singing a song on the radio after you pick them up from school or when you are watching the same TV show for the 100th time. Our guilt comes when we want more, we lose sight that we already have what we need.
Mom guilt isn’t something I can get rid of in one blog post, but hopefully this exercise can help you lessen its impact.
And if all else fails remember this “the days are long but the years are short”. When we are in the middle of it, it’s easy to feel like this time will last forever, but in the blink of an eye another year goes by and your little, isn’t so little any more.
The Year of Yes and How to Raise an Adult are on sale today for less than $5 on Amazon, you don’t want to miss out on these books!
I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.