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7 Tips for Practicing Guilt-Free Living as a Working Mom


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Do you want a successful career yet feel guilty about it because (gasp!) you’re a mom? 

There’s zero reason for working mothers to feel guilty about working.  Today, I’m sharing seven tips to help you ditch the guilt and instead embrace guilt-free living.

Tip #1: Focus on the Benefits

Life is about trade-offs.  There are pros and cons to you working.  Yet I’m willing to bet that you’re focusing on the cons while giving little to no attention to the benefits.  Am I right?

By focusing on the negative piece of the puzzle, you’re adopting an either/or mentality.  And there’s nothing more destructive to guilt-free living than this type of mindset.

You can work and be a good mom at the same time.  Moreover, there are real, tangible benefits to you working.  And I’m not talking about money (although that’s one obvious benefit).

By working, you’re:

  • exposing your child to different opinions and experiences through their caretakers;
  • teaching your kids to be more independent and self-sufficient;
  • increasing their mental strength and resilience;
  • teaching them that it’s okay to go after their goals and dreams;
  • showing your kids that it’s alright to be a whole person.

These are important life skills. So, stop focusing on the negative and instead focus on how you’re benefiting your child by working.

Tip #2: Prioritize + Let Go of Non-Priorities

Guilt-free living requires good prioritization skills. This means making time for the things that are most important to you because they’re priorities and letting go of non-priorities. And if you’re constantly thinking or saying “I don’t have time” to things you’d rather be doing, then it’s a sure sign that it’s time to re-prioritize.

Here’s a bit of hard truth: time doesn’t magically appear.  It’s finite and unchanging.  And it’s up to you to make the time for things that matter while dropping the things that don’t.

I want to make a special case for letting go because, in my experience, it’s one of the BIG reasons for working-mom guilt.  Especially for those of us who have fallen for the have it all/do it all mantra.

The truth is, you can’t do or have it all. What does that even mean? Why would you want everything (and to do it all)?

Second: guilt will never leave if you don’t learn to be more present when with your child.  Although I’ll talk more about how to be more present below, it’s impossible if you try to do everything.  Your mind will be too cluttered.  This means that you must let go of non-priorities (which includes saying “no” upon occasion).

To learn about how to prioritize properly, listen to my Life & Law Podcast episode about Prioritizing To Do Less, Achieve More here.

Tip #3: Drop the “Shoulds”

A common reason for working mom guilt: all the things you think you “should” be doing that you’re not.

A “should” is a standard or rule that you feel you’re supposed to live up to.  And you’ve adopted many throughout your lifetime.  Many of your “should’s” are a result of:

  • Societal or cultural standards;
  • What you learned as a child about how you’re “supposed to” be and act; and
  • What you feel is expected of you by family, friends, and colleagues.

Should’s can be difficult to spot.  Some are hard-wired into us as human beings and others are adopted subconsciously throughout childhood and into young adulthood because of specific experiences.

I find parenting “shoulds” fascinating because they’ve exploded over the past 15-20 years – in ways that never existed before.

I don’t remember ever playing with my mom as a child or her worrying about how that might mess me up.  Honestly, I don’t recall any parents doing that back then.  And it never occurred to me to be upset about it.

It’s time to take a cue from our parents and drop these unwritten “rules” once and for all.

Tip #4: Don’t Apologize for Who You Are

You chose your career for a reason.  There was probably a bigger purpose or meaning behind your decision.  And you have a skill-set that you enjoy using in your job.

It’s natural to want to be successful doing something you enjoy that utilizes your unique strengths and skills.  Why feel guilty about this?

I’m willing to bet that you never said (or thought to say) to your spouse, “Sorry for choosing to work.” Not before you had kids, at least.

When you apologize for working, you’re exacerbating the either/or mentality discussed in Tip #1 above.  And you’re compounding the guilt by about a million.

Remember all those benefits we talked about above?  Working doesn’t make you a bad mother and there’s no reason to apologize for it.

Besides, you’re idealizing staying at home while making it out to be something that it isn’t.  It’s hard too – just in different ways.  And stay-at-home moms also feel guilt.

Anytime you feel the urge to apologize for who you are – especially for wanting to work – remind yourself why you work and the benefits of working. And then move on.

Instead of apologizing for who you are, I want you to own how amazing you truly are.

Tip #5: Apologize for Bad Acts

You may be thinking “what the heck, you just told me not to apologize!”  And I stand by that.  Never apologize for who you are.

But do apologize when you mess up.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise: you’re imperfect.  It’s part of being human.  And it’s 100% okay.

When you totally lose it and scream at your kids or say something mean, it’s time for an apology.

Is that always easy?  Heck no.  Especially if you have a 13-year old (like me) who likes to strut his feathers and coo over the fact that you’ve apologized to him.

But by giving a heart-felt apology, you’re opening yourself up to learn from your mistakes.  And you’re allowing yourself to move on instead of seething in guilt over what a “bad parent” you are.

Tip #6: Practice Mindfulness

In my many years of being a mother, mentoring other working parents, and coaching working moms, I’ve found that the #1 reason given for mom-guilt is the inability to be present.

This is you if, when spending time with your kids, you:

  • Find your mind wandering to your long list of to-do’s;
  • Constantly feel pulled to check email or answer work calls; and/or
  • Can’t think clearly and want nothing more than some time alone to think (and feel guilty about it).

How will a mindfulness practice help you?  For starters, it will help you to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings so that you’ll be better able to deal with them.  And it increases your ability to positively deal with (and bounce back from) stress.

Most importantly, the point of mindfulness is to train your brain to be more present and aware.  A regular practice will help you stay focused on the present moment.

If you’re not well-versed in how to practice mindfulness, get started with a simple breath awareness meditation or body scan exercise.

Tip #7: Create and Enforce Your Boundaries

Healthy boundaries are necessary for guilt-free living – especially as a working mother.

It goes without saying that living your priorities requires you to say “no” to people.  And that’s all about boundaries.

But there’s more to it than that.  There’s likely someone in your life (maybe even more than one person) who makes you feel guilty about working.  And if your kids know that you have guilt around working, they’re going to use it against you (kids are super-smart that way).

It’s time to create some boundaries around what is and isn’t acceptable treatment.

When it comes to your kids, it’s okay to tell them that you love them and that your job is to be the parent they need.  And that part of that is to create opportunities for them to be independent, self-sufficient, and learn that they aren’t the center of anyone’s universe.  Additionally, it’s okay to let them know that you are your own person and have other responsibilities and interests too.

Finally, when it comes to others who try to make you feel bad about working, remember this: there is no “right” way to raise kids.  Your way is what’s best for you and your family.  And their criticism likely comes from their own doubts.

Avoid These Common Trouble Spots

When implementing the tips discussed above, there are a few places where you might get tripped up:

Replacing One “Should” With Another

When you challenge a “should”, don’t replace it with another one.  Here’s a simple 3-step process to help you drop your “should’s” without inadvertently adopting another one:

  • Step 1: Identify. Ask yourself what you feel guilty about and put into words why.  What rule(s) or standard(s) are you not living up to?  These so-called “rules” are really “should’s”.
  • Step 2: Acknowledge.  Your so-called “rules” aren’t required – and it’s time to acknowledge that.  This will help your brain to start seeing alternatives.
  • Step 3: Make a choice. It’s your choice to drop them.  To help you do this, question them.  Ask yourself “is this really true?”  And when you answer “no”, move on. Don’t try to replace your old rule with a new one.

Prioritizing the Wrong Things

If you’re having trouble with prioritization, I want you to remember a couple of important rules:

  1. Urgent isn’t the same thing as important.
  2. Other people’s priorities aren’t your priorities.
  3. Just because you’d be good at something doesn’t mean that it’s a priority.

Don’t get sucked into the trap of prioritizing non-priorities.

Your Need to Be in Control Prevents You from Being Able to Let Go

It’s hard to let go of stuff.  Especially when you like to stay in control.  I get it – I’ve been there too.

But letting go of trying to control everything (especially those things that you can’t really control) will actually give you more control over your life.  Part of why you feel so out-of-control is because you’re trying to control too much.

Letting go of non-priorities is part of this process.  By letting go of things that aren’t priorities, you’re taking more proactive control over your life.

For more about letting go of control, I recommend listening to Life & Law Podcast Episode 144: Letting Go Of Control here.

Start Living Guilt-Free Now

You deserve to enjoy motherhood.  Start implementing these tips and reclaim that right.

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Hey there, I’m Heather

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I’m here to help purpose-driven lawyers and other professionals (like you) build your ideal career to support the life you actually want. Because you shouldn’t have to choose between professional success & personal happiness.

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