Overcoming Mothers’ Guilt

Dealing with the emotional side of the work-home balancing act

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Today’s moms deal with a host of resposibilities and stress—and sometimes a healthy dose of guilt. Read on for tips on how to deal with this common problem so many women face.

When Karen, a mother of two, had to leave for a week-long business trip, she felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. She had made several after-school play dates for her oldest daughter and had taken advantage of the maximum hours at her youngest daughter’s daycare. It was a difficult week for her husband to leave work early, so she had no choice but to rely on other people to fill the voids of childcare for her children.

“I barely enjoyed my trip because I was so worried about the feelings of my girls,” says Karen. “We had gone over what the schedule would be while I was away, and I could see the anxiety in their eyes. This was a new experience for them. It was especially unfortunate that my trip coincided with a big presentation that my husband had at work. I wanted so badly to cancel my trip, but it was something that I had to do for my job.”

A Universal Mom Problem

Working mothers face these types of challenges all the time. Mixed with the responsibilities they have to their children are the commitments they have to their careers. And they are not alone. Stay-at-home mothers deal with guilt as well.

Amy, a mother of three, recalls, “I typically spend seven days a week, 24 hours a day with my children. I was desperate for a block of time to call my own. I finally gave in to a schedule that included two afternoons a week of babysitting, only to feel guilty about the money spent for the sitter. I had a hard time justifying it since I wasn’t working. I also felt guilty about the time I was spending away from my children.”

Working Through Guilty Emotions

Nearly all mothers have experienced some form of guilt—whether it’s a feeling that they haven’t done enough for their children or a sense of guilt over choosing to do something for themselves without their kids. So, how do mothers work through these emotions?

Gail Kauranen Jones, a life coach for women and author of To Hell and Back…Healing Your Way through Transition, says that guilt is a normal feeling for any mother. “I don’t know one mother who doesn’t feel guilty about the times she thinks she has failed her child. The key is to be able to acknowledge the feeling for what it is and to learn from it. When you let go of the guilt, you can actually be a better, more relaxed mother.”

Society puts a lot of pressure on a woman to do what’s right for the family. This pressure often comes from well-intentioned individuals who don’t fully understand that for a mother to be at her best, she cannot ignore her own needs and desires.

Stephany, a mother of two, remembers, “During the last trimester of my first pregnancy, my mother and my mother-in law kept reminding me about the benefits of staying home with my daughter; but it was my doctor who convinced me that a happy mother makes the best mother. When I asked myself what would make me happy, the answer was keeping my career. It made me whole. I knew I could be a better mother being a whole person versus half of a person.”

Steps to Feeling Secure

To ease the guilt of working mothers, Jones recommends:

  • Finding a nurturing daycare arrangement that will allow for last-minute emergency care when necessary.
  • Developing a support system that includes people who understand your working situation and your desire to do the best job you can with your children.
  • Focusing on the positive things that you bring to your family.
  • Recognizing that you are an individual with interests and passions beyond your role as a mother.

Laura, a mother of two, decided to keep her job because her family needed the money, but her desire was to be an at-home mother. “I really wanted to spend more time with my children. My job was very stressful, and I was desperate for a break from it. Everyone kept telling me that I’d get bored staying at home, so I decided to pursue a hobby which gave me an identity aside from being a mother. It turned out to be something that I really enjoy doing.”

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