The Guilt of Being a Full Time Working Mother

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Previously on my blog, I wrote about the mom guilt that comes from within, that evolutionary drive to do everything we can to keep our children alive and well, and the subsequent feelings of guilt if we fall short in some real or perceived way. I also talked about what guilt actually is — an alert that we’ve done something wrong that we need to make amends for — and how to evaluate if it’s useful or not (TL;DR: most of the guilt we carry has long outlived its usefulness, if it ever was in the first place).

Now let’s talk about something every single one of us is all too familiar with: the mom guilt we get from others.

Some of the most common themes others love to mom guilt us about include:

  • Working: Whether we do or we don’t, guilt is sure to follow.
  • Nutrition: What we do or don’t feed our kids, and the related topic…
  • Cooking: How much we do or don’t make our family’s meals.
  • Medical care: Western vs. Eastern approaches and everything in between.
  • Discipline: How much or little we dish out to our kids and what form it takes.
  • Screen time: How much time will actually destroy our kids? We may never know, but there are plenty of opinions across the spectrum.
  • Covid-19: How cautious we are or aren’t and how that affects literally everything else. 
  • Marital bliss: How happy we are or aren’t in our marriages or partnerships. And for those who aren’t married, ALL the questions, assumptions, and judgements.
  • Our bodies: How fit we are or aren’t, especially after having a baby.
  • Motherhood: How great or terrible our attitudes are about the many challenges around being a mom.

I’m sure there’s more, but this list is already pretty depressing as it is.

From talking with our friends and from what we see on social media, it’s safe to assume that most women feel mom guilt, but one woman actually proved it. She interviewed more than 700 moms of all kinds: “There were hourly workers and Fortune 500 executives. Part-time workers, freelancers, moms on career-pause, adoptive moms, single moms.” The one thing every. single. one. had in common? “They all reported feeling guilty.”

That’s pretty remarkable, if you think about it. Our culture has created such unrealistic expectations for mothers in general that literally all of us walk around every day feeling guilty. 

For working moms, the no-win situation we’re in is captured perfectly by Amy Westervelt, author of Forget Having It All, who wrote, “We expect women to work like they don’t have children, and raise children as if they don’t work.” This is so relatable and true. It’s crazy-making. 

But the truth of it is, we were never supposed to be able to do all of anything on our own. Yet we’ve been sold this “superwoman” lie for so long, we’ve convinced ourselves it’s true.

Buying into that lie isn’t harmless, either; it often leads to feelings of shame. 

In fact, I’d say that most of what we call the mom guilt that comes from external sources is actually mom shaming. And that’s much more insidious, because while guilt alerts that we’ve done something wrong, shame says I AM wrong. I’m broken somehow as a person, as a woman, as a mom. 

Social media is a big source of mom shaming, with one Canadian study finding that “even though 53 percent of those [moms] surveyed believed social media did not accurately depict the experience of motherhood, 69 percent still had insecurities stemming from those apps.”

It’s really important, then, that you understand the difference between guilt and shame so you can push back against the narratives from other women, moms, and the media that who you are isn’t good. Because that is the subtext to the comments about what you let your kids eat or watch or do: “You’re a bad person for making those choices.” It’s the shame that feels truly soul-crushing. 

Let’s get off this terrible ride and chart our own path with a healthier, more realistic perspective.

First of all, let yourself off the hook. I often talk about the fact that we apply the same mentality that made us successful in business to parenting. We don’t realize that you can’t actually apply the same model there and expect the same outcomes. Being a great parent is actually intuitive and requires quite a bit of presence. It requires a lot more letting go than holding on. It does also require quite a bit of organization and project management. But how you feel when you parent isn’t ever going to feel like work.

Parenting is so much harder than work.

My suggestion? Take a hard look at your values and priorities and decide which ones are most important to you and which you can let go. Then resolve to only participate in the things that support those priorities, and remind yourself that “no” is a complete sentence that you are free to use for anything doesn’t serve your and your family’s highest good. No mom guilt included.

This suggestion is tough for people pleasers. Saying no feels like you’re admitting you can’t. But, the thing about people pleasing is that it’s a bit like whack-a-mole. The moment you please one person, you end up upsetting another. So the role of a people pleaser suggests that they basically go around and around, trying to please every person while mutually offending another. It doesn’t work – and we ultimately end up having to face the reality that a friend to all truly is a friend to none. Of the parents I work with, the people-pleasers suffer the most.

Which leads me to delegating. Delegating is the key to success anywhere. Absolutely no one does everything herself because it’s impossible. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day or sanity to sustain it.

If you’re not good at delegating, don’t write it off. It’s a muscle. You have to keep flexing and flexing until you strengthen. It will be worth it, just like exercise is.

Accept that you’re going to be imperfect all of the time, but that’s a good thing. Tolerating your own imperfections will allow your children to do as they see. We do not want to enable another generation of people pleasers. We all know how that turns out.

And finally, set boundaries about who you follow on social media and who you interact with in real life. Think about social media like food. There is healthy, delicious food you consume- that food give you more energy and more resources to do the things you love. Then there is toxic, crappy, junk food, the stuff that creates the mom guilt we see and feel. I’m not even talking about guilty pleasures. I’m talking about the crap you eat when you forgot to have lunch so you eat the closest thing you can find and then you don’t have an appetite for anything else. That food.

That is your miserable friend on social media who is constantly making backhanded comments. Or asking you leading questions that make you feel insecure. Or it is that mom on IG who is always talking about how much fun her kids are. Unfollow. Stop consuming the toxic food.

Go enjoy the life you work so hard for.

mom guilt, mom shaming, moms doing it all, marcella kelson, parenting coach, coach for working moms, working mom help, moms in balance

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