Do you often feel guilt around working? Perhaps you feel guilty about taking time for yourself, the fact that you want to work, your career successes, or how often your mind wanders to work when spending time with your kids.
No matter the cause for your working mom guilt, it can be overcome. As a working mother who once felt guilt about just about everything (yet learned how to overcome it), I know that to be true.
Today, we’re covering 3 science-backed strategies for living without guilty feelings as a working mom. You’ll leave with a better understanding around what’s causing your guilt and what to do about it (so that you too can overcome it).
Because you deserve to enjoy motherhood while also building a successful career you love.
Table of Contents
Understanding Guilty Feelings and Where They Come From
If you want to stop the guilty feelings, then you need to understand where guilt comes from – and what it even is. Otherwise, it’s impossible to deal with effectively.
Guilty Feelings: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly
It’s important to first recognize that not all guilt is bad. Guilty feelings can lead to:
- being more sympathetic of others (because you’re better able to put yourself in their shoes);
- willingness to apologize when you’ve done something wrong;
- changing bad behavior; and
- harder work and better performance.
Guilt helps to police your behavior.
Unfortunately, guilt can take over and overwhelm you. There’s a tipping point where too much guilt leads to self-criticism, decreased motivation, and yet more guilt.
Even worse: sometimes guilt isn’t warranted because there’s nothing to feel guilty about (even though you feel it). That’s where a lot of mom-guilt comes from. And it’s important to understand where these come from if you want to start living without guilty feelings.
3 Common Causes for Unwarranted Working Mom Guilt
In my experience, there are three main causes for working mom guilt that’s 100% unnecessary (e.g., there’s nothing to feel guilty about):
- holding yourself up to an unrealistic standard;
- beliefs about what you “should” be doing (and aren’t); and
- the opinions of other people.
You’ve Fallen Prey to Perfect Mom Syndrome
First up is what I call the perfect mom standard. You see what others post on Instagram (or listen to what they say about their experiences) and recall memories of seemingly perfect moments that occurred during your childhood… and you don’t measure up.
Here’s the thing: you’ve created an unrealistic standard to measure yourself against. People talk about and show only what they want you to see, which means that you’re not seeing reality at all. And those memories of your childhood? They’re from a child’s view.
You’re remembering the best moments (not the worst) and you’re not seeing the full picture. Kids see things very differently than adults do (which is something to take comfort in as a mom). Trust me when I say that everyone struggles as a parent – even your mom or the other mothers that you remember and feel like were “perfect”.
It’s time to allow your rational mind to come out and remember that everyone messes up and no one is perfect, including you.
You’re Living According to the Shoulds
Do you feel as though you’re not doing everything you should as a mother (especially since you work)? There are deep-seated beliefs that you have about what you’re supposed to be doing and how you should be acting as a mom (heck, even how you should feel). And you’re not meeting those expectations, are you?
I’m betting that most (if not all) of these beliefs come from so-called societal norms and/or family expectations. Things such as:
- believing that you should spend every non-work moment with your kids (which is, of course, going to cause guilt since you’re a human being who needs time for yourself, time with only your spouse, and time with friends);
- feeling like you should be cooking a fresh meal for your kids every night even thought that’s impossible given your work schedule (and truthfully, cooking isn’t your strong suit or something you enjoy); and
- believing that you should enjoy every single moment with your child (yet you don’t so you MUST be a terrible mom).
It’s time to drop these. You’re not required to do it all (and your kids don’t expect it of you anyway). And honestly, it’s unrealistic to believe that you can.
Instead of worrying about all the things you’re supposed to be doing, how about identify what you do well and doubling down on those?
[Recommended Reading: You’re Not Superwoman (or Superman) and You Can’t Have or Do It All – And That’s Okay].
You’re Worrying About Other People’s Opinions (that Don’t Matter)
Other people’s opinions also cause a lot of the guilt you’re feeling. You know what I’m talking about, right? Those little hints and near-constant digs that come from family members and (not-so-great) stay-at-home mom friends about how:
- you’re missing out on your kids childhood by working;
- your kids are being raised by someone other than you; and
- you’re an inferior mom for working.
Here’s the thing about these slights: they’re not really about you. They’re about the inadequacies of the people saying these to you. Besides, who cares what they think? Even if the opinion is coming from someone you care about, it doesn’t really matter.
What matters is your kids. And studies show that your kids are benefited by you working. Your kids are actually more likely to grow up into happy, successful adults. Think about why for a moment. Kids with working moms (and dads) are forced into situations at an earlier age that helps to develop their independence, problem-solving skills, and social skills.
Instead of focusing on all the supposed negative side-effects of you working, how about paying more attention to how it’s helping your kids? Your kids are being given opportunities for growth and development (and it’s actually good for them that you’re not always there for them). It’s time to feel proud about the positives.
[Recommended Reading: 10 Realistic Tips for Mothering Without Guilt While Excelling In Your Career].
Science-Backed Strategies for Living Without Guilty Feelings as a Working Mom
Most people feel a little better after reminding themselves of the reality, as noted above. Yet it’s often not enough. That’s because there are real-life things to feel guilty for. You’re human, so will sometimes lose it with your kids and go overboard. And sometimes you’ll disappoint them.
When you’ve done something wrong, how can you let go of the guilt and instead start living without guilty feelings? You do that through intentional, consistent practices that are aimed at changing your mentality, your thoughts, and your self-confidence levels so that you can stop obsessing over past mistakes, separate your behavior from your identity, and accept yourself fully while being self-compassionate.
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Strategy #1: Stop Magnifying and Instead Accept and Move On
One of the reasons for all the guilt is the human tendency to magnify offenses. Sometimes you’ll scream at your kid and use words that you shouldn’t after they’ve:
- colored on the wall;
- lied to you; or
- refused to clean up their room (after the 100th time of you asking).
And, although it’s not okay that you lost it, it’s also not a federal offense. Obsessing over it while feeling guilty about it for months – even years – isn’t doing you or your kids any good. If anything, it’s negatively affecting you and your relationship with your kids.
Remember, when guilt goes too far it’s actually decreasing your motivation to do anything about it. You end up more self-critical and questioning your ability to be good mother. All that self-criticism has a negative ripple effect on your actual abilities.
How to Stop Magnifying By Taking Responsibility
It’s time to stop the ripple effect. Instead of magnifying your offense, do the following anytime that you feel you’ve messed up:
- Calm yourself down using slow, deep breaths through your nose. Think about what works to help calm you down when you’re stressed and use whatever techniques work best for you.
- Once you’re calm and able to think more clearly, identify what you did wrong. Be realistic about what happened, why it happened, and how you reacted to it. The key is to be honest with yourself about what happened without going overboard.
- Identify a reasonable punishment given the offense (and go through with it). For example, you might help your 6-year old clean up a mess after screaming bloody murder at him or her. Or you could help your teenager do their laundry (a chore he or she already does) for swearing at them when angry. This doesn’t mean you don’t punish your child for their bad behavior, but instead you’re accepting the consequences for your own bad behavior.
- Apologize to your child for any bad behavior. This is difficult, but will help you let go of it. It will also garner more respect from your child (and make it more likely that they’ll accept their punishment).
- Identify what you’ve learned from the situation and how you want to apply it to your life moving forward.
These steps are about taking responsibility. And they’ll help you more easily let go of the guilty feelings when you’ve messed up.
Why This Works
You’ve probably heard that you should learn to forgive yourself. But that’s easier said than done. Moreover, it can backfire and make you less likely to learn from your mistakes or take responsibility for them.
Research suggests that having a more balanced, realistic view of yourself leads to more success and motivation than when you have an inflated or deflated self-assessment. Although you don’t want to obsess over or magnify your offense, you also don’t want to just let it go, without feeling bad about it because that’s also counterproductive.
The steps above allow you to realistically identify your own bad behavior and take full responsibility for it. And by paying for your transgressions, you’re more capable of moving on without continuing to obsess over or magnify them.
Strategy #2: Practice Self-Acceptance to Separate Your Self-Worth From Your Behavior
Sometimes, you might feel like you’re a bad person because of bad behavior. That’s when you need to invoke unconditional self-acceptance.
Unconditional self-acceptance involves separating yourself from your actions and behavior. You accept yourself unconditionally, despite your warts. You might think that this is a way out of holding yourself accountable, but that’s not the case.
People who practice unconditional self-acceptance understand themselves better, are more realistic in their self-assessments, and more capable of receiving negative feedback in a positive way. So, how can you practice this so that you can let go of the guilty feelings and stop feeling like you’re a bad person every time you mess up?
Working Toward Unconditional Self-Acceptance
Unfortunately, there’s no magic wand that will help you to miraculously and quickly accept yourself. Instead, it’s about changing your thoughts over time. Get started by:
- Setting an intention. Proactively decide that you want to accept yourself unconditionally. If you don’t, then you’ll never get there.
- Identifying your current thoughts and feelings that are currently preventing you from unconditionally accepting yourself. You must work through these feelings and thoughts if you want to let go of them (ignoring them won’t allow you to do that).
- Accepting where you are now, while working toward the future. This means being okay with the fact that you’re not where you want to be yet. You’re able to accept because you’re working toward something better.
- Accepting that self-care is about self-respect so that you can prioritize it. Self-care has numerous benefits, including creating space to think clearly, lowering stress and anxiety levels, and building self-confidence. This will make it easier to start letting go of negative thoughts so that you can start accepting yourself fully.
There’s some evidence that mindfulness can increase your ability to more easily accept yourself, so consider incorporating some simple mindfulness exercises into your self-care plan.
[Recommended Reading: How to Decrease Stress And Anxiety Through Mindfulness To Be A Better Leader].
Strategy #3: Practice Self-Compassion for Better Self-Worth
Self-compassion is about treating yourself with kindness and is associated with better self-worth. Being self-compassionate enables you to forgive yourself and move on – no matter what your self-perceived wrong is. Not only will it help you to forgive yourself, but it will make it easier to accept yourself unconditionally.
Just like in learning to unconditionally accept yourself, self-compassion requires consistent, intentional practice.
How to Start Practicing Self-Compassion
Here are a few ideas to help you get started (so that you can stop living with guilty feelings every time you believe you’ve messed up):
- Practice mindfulness meditation to become more aware of your thoughts and observe them while being objective.
- Any time you feel guilt for something you’ve done, ask yourself how you’d treat your child or a good friend in the same situation. Remind yourself to be your own friend in this situation.
- Acknowledge your inner critic whenever it shows up and then re-frame it into a friendlier voice.
- Use positive affirmations.
[Recommended Reading: for more on how to use positive affirmations, read How to Be Happy Without Guilt As A Working Mom].
How to Live Without Guilty Feelings: Summing It All Up
Guilt isn’t something you must live with just because you work. Not only does it rob you of your joy as a mom, but it hurts your ability to be your best and therefore hurts your relationship with your child.
Begin your new way of living – one without all the guilty feelings – by implementing the following practices into your life:
- Remind yourself that you’re human and don’t need to hold yourself to an unreachable standard.
- Let go of trying to live according to all the “shoulds”.
- Don’t worry about the opinions of others (and remind yourself of all the benefits to your kids because of you working).
- Take full responsibility when you mess up so that you don’t magnify your mistakes or obsess over them.
- Work to accept yourself unconditionally and separate your behavior from your identity as a person.
- Practice self-compassion so that you can move on more easily from mistakes and let go of any guilt that comes up.
It’s time to adopt these practices so you can ditch the working mom guilt and start enjoying both your personal and professional life more. You deserve it!
Until next time…
P.S. Don’t forget to download 8 proven strategies for reducing stress, taking control of your thoughts, and becoming more mentally resilient. You won’t just be reducing your stress levels, but you’ll also be: (1) more self-confident, (2) more in control of your life, and (3) happier (without the guilty feelings).
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