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Dealing With Working Moms Guilt, Whether You Love or Hate Your Job


Mother with daughter (6-11 months) in living room
Tetra Images - Jamie Grill/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

If you wish you could be a better mom, you’re not alone. Working mom's guilt is practically an epidemic.

Only 10 percent of mothers working full-time give themselves the highest rating for their parenting and just 24 percent of mothers working part-time give themselves a 10 as a parent, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

So how do you deal with the feelings of guilt, whether you love or hate your job?

Is Working Moms Guilt Telling You Something?

Sometimes guilt can be a warning signal that you need to make a change in your life. Are you unhappy with your child care provider? Is your boss making it hard for you to balance? Do you need to ask your husband or partner for more help around the house?

If you see a red flag, fix it. Even if you can't correct it right away, resolving to do so can dispel the guilt. Once you make a plan to have a better work-life balance in two or three years, or start saving so you can quit your job, it's easier to brush off the pangs of guilt.

Write Down the Reasons You Work

We all work for different reasons: We love our jobs. We need the money. We don't want to risk dropping out of a competitive field when new positions are scarce. We realize we'd be miserable as stay-at-home moms and would make our children unhappy. We want to set an example of a successful, independent wage-earner.

Write down your own motivations. Once you've reassured yourself that you're doing what you need to do, then simply let go of the guilt. Trust yourself and the choices you've made for your family.

But keep the list. When guilt arises again – and it will – pull it out to refresh your memory.

Stay Away From People Who Make You Feel Guilty

It sounds obvious, but maybe you were a child who picked at scabs. You know you shouldn't pause to chat with the neighbor who once said, "I could never let someone else raise my child" – so stop doing it!

Relatives are trickier. But if your mother-in-law makes a snide comment about you working, find an excuse to leave the room. That's better than stabbing a fork through her hand, after all.

Consider the Source

When you do face an anti-working mom comment, try to remember that we all speak from our own perspective, based on our own experiences.

You have to see the comment in light of the choices the speaker made for her own family. Did she put her career on hold to be home with kids? Did she miss working or hate being dependant on her husband for money? Then maybe she has to believe hers is the only right choice in order to live with the tradeoffs she accepted.

Play Hooky

For gnawing guilt, take a day off just to spend with your child. Put nothing else on that day's agenda. You'll reconnect with your kid's daily rhythms, appetite, and personality. Your child will relish the special time with Mommy.

If your child is still little, you can examine her for new rashes, see how she naps and eats, and indulge in activities that don't fit elsewhere in the week. If your child is bigger, let him choose the agenda, whether it's the mall, a bike ride, or lunch and a matinee with Mom.

You can also take the opportunity to assess whether you'd be happier working less, or not at all. More likely, you'll reaffirm the life choices you've made.

If you can't take a vacation day, try to pick your child up early for a few hours of play. Or, declare one weekend day errand-free and spend it just being a Mom and kid. If your schedule is really tight, the next time you have to stay home with a sick kid, try to treat it as bonding time, instead of a television and Jell-o marathon.

Remember That All Moms Have Challenges

When you're feeling work-family conflict, it's easy to idealize the life you would have as a stay-at-home mom. You imagine dancing through fields of dandelions with your children, scrapbooking every precious milestone and building their IQ to genius level through activities recommended by early childhood development PhDs.

The reality is that stay-at-home parents can have as much stress as working parents, if not more, depending on the age, temperament and number of kids.

Go ahead, relish your solo commute to work or that quiet cup of coffee at your desk. If you were at home full-time, you might be lucky to shower in private.

Acknowledge the Loss

That said, it's a simple fact of physics that a working mom isn't going to witness every single minute of her children's day. It's okay to be sad about missing out on the sweet moments and the fun.

If you let yourself mourn the things you're giving up by working, it may be easier for you to enjoy the things you're gaining. It's no use pretending there aren't tradeoffs.

Bear in Mind That Life Changes.

The choices you've made about work may seem like forever now, but who knows what the future holds.

People who are judgmental of others' life choices run the risk of having to eat their words. The at-home mom who sneers at you during the school open house may end up going back to work after her husband is laid off.

So keep your own mind open to the possibility that your personal and family dynamics may shift. Revisit your work-life balance periodically to make sure it still meets your needs.

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