How to Overcome Working Mom Guilt

mother's hands typing on laptop with child's hand on the mousepad

Despite the increased demands of society and the pressure to have dual income families, the concepts of having a career and being a mother still appear to be somewhat mutually exclusive.

In other words, there is often still a belief that you can either have a fulfilling career OR be a great mom, but certainly not both. It’s a terrible belief in terms of mental health for parents, often leaving moms feeling less-than or guilty.

This is where working mom guilt comes in.

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As a career mom myself, I take deep exception. I have found ways to be a great mother, but I am also more than just a mom. I am also a psychologist and a life coach. I am a friend, a wife, a daughter, a woman.

I have dreams and ambitions that stretch beyond playing barbies on the lounge floor and baking gluten-free scones every day.

Surely, having these interests and not being home full time do not make me a “bad” mother.

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What Is Working Mom Guilt?

Many working mothers feel compelled, due to guilt and shame, to defend their working position by claiming that they are forced to work due to financial stress.

Diante is holding a fish while her children smile

And this is true for many, but there are also countless mothers out there, like myself, who work because they want to.

The very thought of choosing to work results in unnecessary, yet significant, working mom guilt for those who choose to pursue careers despite also having also chosen to be mothers.

But why do working moms feel such mom guilt?

Daycare Guilt and Self-Care Guilt

Mom guilt takes many forms. Aside from the guilt (and sometimes shame) that ensues when a working mom seemingly chooses another activity beyond the realms of tending to her child, there is also “daycare guilt” and “self-care guilt.” Heard of those?

Yes, this is the guilt experienced each and every day when delivering your child to the gates of daycare and leaving her there while you tend to your other tasks instead of choosing to remain home with her.

This guilt, often mediated only slightly by the fact that some moms do not choose to work but are forced to, exists to some degree or another for every mother who decides to relinquish some of the care of their children for a period of the day.

“I chose to have children, I should be the one taking care of them 24/7” is a familiar belief that leads to feeling guilt in motherhood.

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Now “self-care guilt” is another little beast that seems to show up mostly for working moms when they choose to take more time away from family in order to indulge in an enjoyable pursuit that does not, at that very moment, include parenting.

For some unknown reason, the working mom is expected to be home as soon as she can to spend time with her children, despite being tired, overwhelmed, and depleted. But self care for moms matters a great deal, and work life balance is important.

Taking even more time away from the family to take care of herself is frowned upon, even if only by her. This is a major struggle of working motherhood.

Why Do Moms Always Feel Guilty?

A little disclaimer is probably required here. The guilt experienced by every mother is created and perpetuated only by belief and expectation.

selfie of Diante with her young child

Diante smiles while holding her daughter

It is most often our very own beliefs and expectations of ourselves that result in the nasty guilt we experience.

In this way, I am sure that stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs) experience their own versions of mom guilt.

But I suspect that working moms may, indeed, be more susceptible to mom guilt simply by virtue of the additional beliefs about having a career and family.

You see, the same themes appear time and again. There’s a socially ingrained and self-imposed idea that any mother who chooses to “abandon” their child in the interest of a “selfish” pursuit is not a great mother.

In many ways a great mom is deemed to be an ever-present, ever-patient and ever-nurturing being.

And if you listen carefully to the implications of this belief, you see the enormous sacrifice that is required in being ever-anything–play dates, nap time, dinner time, ball games, school functions–all of it!

How can you be ever-present if you are working? How can you be ever-patient when you are human!? What kind of role model is a mother if her child sees her have no life of her own?

And so, when you choose not to be present, when your human emotions leave you impatient, or when you have chosen a career that gets in the way of being ever-nurturing then there is enormous guilt associated.

How Do Working Moms Deal With Guilt?

So how do we combat this guilt?

Perhaps the very first step is giving up the idea that any human being can be everything all at once. No one can be present and available all the time. No one can be patient and nurturing all the time.

And, perhaps, even more importantly; these qualities are not a prerequisite to great mothering.

So, what constitutes being a great mom? In my book a great mom makes sure that:

  • her child’s basic needs for shelter, food, and education are taken care of 
  • her child feels loved and important 
  •  there are boundaries in place so her child feels secure and is safe, and that her child feels seen and heard

There are so many different ways in which we, as moms, can make sure this happens for our children. If our child is feeling heard, safe, and taken care of at daycare, then isn’t that a win? Haven’t we succeeded in making sure those needs of our child have been met?

When our child experiences safety and security in the company of another caregiver while mom is out for a while, isn’t that a win? And if we arranged that care (as most moms do when planning to be away), then surely that is great parenting?

When a mom feels fulfilled and energized enough to play with her child and that child feels loved and important, isn’t that a win?

And when that child bears witness to a mother who is also successful and reaching for her dreams, isn’t that inspiring?

You Don’t Have to Give Up Everything

Being a great mom should not mean that you give up all else to be a mom, and it doesn’t mean that you are expected to be the one and only person meeting your child’s needs. 

As long as those needs are being met, and some of them by a mom who is happy and content, then you have a happy, well rounded child.

When we can shift our perspective on what it means to be a great mom and realize that it includes being a happy woman, and when we stop focusing on what mothers should do and rather focus on what children need, then we are able to beat mom guilt.

The change in perspective means that we provide for our children in ways that meet their needs and our own.

So, the next time someone asks, “How can you leave your child?” or you feel guilty about enlisting other adults to help care for your child so that you are able to fulfil one of the many other roles you have, ask yourself (or them):

  • Are my child’s needs being met?
  • Is my child happy?
  • Am I happy?

If you could answer yes to these then, in my book, you are winning at motherhood!

Because at the end, a happy child is the goal.

And a happy mom is a good mom.

What is your experience with working mom guilt?

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