With gifts to share and strengths that can (and should) be utilized, you chose your profession or career for a reason. And you want to achieve something within it (which is normal, by the way). The problem is that, now that you have kids, you feel guilty about that.
Unfortunately you’re not alone in this. In my experience, most women feel this way. It’s as if we’ve been convinced that having kids means putting our dreams, goals, and ambitions on hold while raising kids (and if we don’t, we’re being selfish).
Soon after I had my first child, I fell into this trap too. After struggling with it for a few years, I decided to do something about it and made “I don’t do guilt” my mantra – and have since mentored and coached other women (and men) to do the same.
How? By adopting some mental shifts and new practices designed to change your mentality from guilt-ridden to guilt-free (and you’ll even be a better mom). Here are 10 tips for how to be happy without guilt as a working mom:
[NOTE: although working parent guilt is common among women, it doesn’t seem to hit as many men as women (which is why I’m addressing working moms in this article). However, I sometimes wonder whether men also feel this way but just don’t talk about it as much. If you’re a guy and you also have trouble with working-parent guilt, read on. It will help you too!]
Table of Contents
Guilt-Free Tip #1: Don’t Divide Your Life Into Opposing Sides
Although I use the term “work life balance” a lot, I don’t like it (I only use it so that you’ll know what I’m talking about). The problem with this term is that it sets up a false narrative.
Here’s the thing: you can’t divide your life into two pieces. You’re more complicated than that – and so is your life. When you do this, you’re pitting different pieces of yourself against one another. That part of you that enjoys your career (and wants to succeed in it) is fighting the part of you that wants to be a good mom. And it’s 100% unnecessary.
You can have a fulfilling career while also being a good mother. The two don’t have to cancel one another out.
But one side can cancel the other one out if you let it. And the best way to do that is by pitting one against the other. The next best way is to not be intentional about how you make choices for yourself (which brings me to Tip #2).
Guilt-Free Tip #2: Understand Yourself
Life is about trade-off’s. The trick is figuring out the right trade-off’s for you and your family so that you (1) feel in alignment with who you are, (2) are at peace with your decisions, and (3) are productive, present, and focused. And the only way to do that is to understand yourself.
Questions to Help You Understand Yourself Better
If you want to understand yourself, you need to start asking yourself some tough questions (and be honest in your answers). Questions such as:
- Who do you want to be known as?
- What are your top 3 priorities in life?
- At the end of your life, what 2-3 things do you most want your kids to think/feel/say about you?
- At the end of your life, what 2-3 things do you want to be able to say about what you achieved in life?
These are big questions – and therefore difficult to answer. But you need to answer them so that you can start to create a vision for yourself and your life.
Use Your Core Values as Your Guide
It’s easier to understand yourself (and answer the questions above) if you’ve clarified your core values because they are what give you your identity and make you who you are. They shape your self-perception, your perception of the world and the people in it, and your decisions.
Aligning your behavior and choices with your values:
- Increases your fulfillment level (because you’ll be aligned with who you are at your core);
- Increases self-confidence;
- Gives you a sense of control over your life; and
- Will help you feel at peace with your decisions.
Think about how you’d feel if you had clarity around what you truly value in life, how that relates to your thoughts/behaviors, and how to use your core values when goal-setting and making big decisions. Imagine decisions being more intuitive and natural – and knowing that they’re the right ones. That’s what you get when you deeply understand your core values.
So, how do you know what your core values are? Start by doing three things:
- Look at your answers to the questions above and identify the common values that keep popping up.
- Identify times in your life when you felt your best and as though you were satisfied with who you were. What values were being honored that made you feel that way?
- Think about times when you felt upset with yourself, your actions, and your decisions and identify why. It’s likely that your behavior was out of alignment with a core value.
For help with identifying your core values and to learn how to align your life with them, download your copy of 5 Sure-Fire Steps to Get Your Life Unstuck and On the Right Path here:
Guilt-Free Tip #3: Accept Who You Are
It’s not enough to understand yourself. You must also accept yourself. Accepting yourself is about both your mentality and your actions. From a mental standpoint, it’s about:
- Not trying to hide who you are, but instead being unapologetically yourself.
- Accepting your own self-worth;
- Being confident in your abilities; and
- Feeling at peace with yourself and your decisions.
Getting to this place takes consistent mindset practice to become more mentally resilient and at peace (as well as more positive). Consider using daily affirmations, implementing a daily gratitude practice and/or daily meditation to get started.
[Recommended Reading: Read How to Be More Self-Confident at Work By Changing Your Mindset].
Guilt-Free Tip #4: Define Your Non-Negotiables
Everyone has non-negotiables, yet few people define them with intention. Unless you’re intentional about them, you haven’t convinced your subconscious brain that they’re true priorities. And that means that they’re not really non-negotiables (at least not yet).
What am I talking about here? I’m talking about your big-picture priorities.
How do you determine what they are? Go back to your values and the questions you answered under Tip #2 above. Your non-negotiables are interlinked with your core values. If you’ve gone through that process already, then you’ll know what they are.
Guilt-Free Tip #5: Measure Quality Instead of Quantity or Volume
Think back to your fondest memories of your childhood. Write down what they are and get specific about:
- Who you were with;
- What you were doing;
- How it came about (was it a planned moment or something that just happened in the moment?)
- The amount of time you spent doing this; and
- If it recurred or was one singular moment/hour/day of your life.
Compare these moments and look for similarities. Here’s what I bet you find:
- What stuck with you is the quality of the moment (not the amount of time);
- Most of these are brief moments in time;
- They’re spontaneous (not planned events);
- They involve someone who was present with you and made you feel wholly loved and like you mattered.
Stop stressing over how much time you spend doing things with people (especially your kids and other family members) and instead start focusing on the quality. That’s what’s most important.
Quick caveat: this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t spend much time with those you love. However, if you focus on quality first, the right amount of time will follow suit.
Guilt-Free Tip #6: Create Intentional Boundaries
It’s difficult to enforce boundaries. And it’s even harder when you’re not intentional around setting your boundaries.
Why Boundaries Are So Hard
Part of the reason boundaries are so difficult is because most of us tend to focus on how they affect other people. But by doing that, you’re more likely to get caught up in whether the other person will be mad or think you selfish (making it even harder to enforce your boundary).
I want you to start focusing on what a boundary is – and its purpose. A boundary is a rule about how you want to be treated and/or that protects one or more personal priorities.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”Enforcement of your boundaries has nothing to do with the other person. It’s about self-respect.” quote=”Enforcement of your boundaries has nothing to do with the other person. It’s about self-respect.”]
How (and Why) to Be Intentional About Your Boundaries
Most people know when a boundary is being crossed. You end up resentful, mad, even frustrated. But have you sat down and thoughtfully written down what your boundaries are, why you have them, and how you want to enforce them?
This simple act will make it easier to enforce your boundaries because:
- You’ll be clear as to why you want them (e.g., what needs, values, and priorities they relate to);
- It’s easier to explain them to people;
- You’ll have a plan for how to enforce them when the need arises.
It’s time to be intentional about your boundaries.
Guilt-Free Tip #7: Let Go
It’s time to let go of trying to control everything, comparing yourself (and your results) to others, and trying to be perfect. Because the truth is that it’s dragging you down.
Perfection is Fake and Comparison is the Death of Joy
You know that you’re not perfect, yet hold yourself up to the “perfect” images presented to you by the media, movies/television, and people on social media. And that makes you feel less than you are.
These images of perfection are fake. And it does nothing for you other than to kill your joy, including your ability to enjoy being a mom.
And don’t for a second believe that you need to be perfect to be a good parent. Part of parenting is showing your kids how to be imperfect humans, including:
- How to admit it when you’ve messed up;
- How to apologize with grace; and
- How to move on and let go.
Letting Go of Control
I feel like I’ve beaten this point to death (as I’ve talked about it more than once), but it’s worth stating yet one more time: you can’t control anything other than yourself. It’s time you stop trying to control all those things you can’t, such as:
- Other people’s behavior and thoughts;
- What happens to and around you (that you didn’t cause directly); and
- The outcome of your efforts.
Let’s talk for a second about your outcome. Most people believe that if they work hard enough, they’ll succeed. But that’s not true. Although success requires you to want something and work hard for it, wanting something and working hard doesn’t guarantee your success.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t work hard. Ultimately you’ll be more successful in life by working hard for what you want (even though you won’t get everything you want).
[Take it Further: Read You’re Not Superwoman (or Superman) and You Can’t Have or Do It All – And That’s Okay].
Guilt-Free Tip #8: Affirm Yourself
Self-affirmations (done right) help to retrain your brain from a negative viewpoint to a more positive one. And they can also help you achieve more by keeping you motivated and hopeful.
Why Affirmations Work
Your thoughts ultimately are what create your reality. They create emotions from within and influence your behavior. And you have LOTS of thoughts on a daily basis (some believe up to 70,000).
Each thought you have creates a pathway within the brain. The more you think something, the stronger the pathway. Unfortunately, human beings are hard-wired to think more negatively, which is why it’s so hard to change your negative habits and thoughts.
But your brain can be taught to create new pathways – which is why mindset training works. Consistent and intentional practice can create new positive pathways that will eventually crowd out the negative ones.
How to Use Positive Affirmations to Your Benefit
To make affirmations work for you:
- Keep them real and believable;
- Be specific (not general); and
- Script your affirmation to cover where you are now, how you’re working to improve, and where you’re going.
So, instead of saying “I’m in control of my life and am an amazing parent” say something like “I’m not perfect, but I’m doing my best. And every day, I’m becoming more confident as a person and a parent.”
Make your affirmation a script that’s describing your journey and emphasizing what you’re working on and where you’re going in a positive manner. And be sure to change your affirmation as your thoughts change to suit your current state.
Guilt-Free Tip #9: Remind Yourself of the Benefits to Your Kids of You Working
There are pros and cons to working. And there are pros and cons to staying at home with your kids too.
Instead of getting caught up in all the negatives, focus on the benefits of you working and remind yourself that there are negatives to staying at home. As a reminder, here are some of the many benefits:
- Your kids are being exposed to different life experiences, opinions, and insights, and are therefore being educated in new ways.
- Your children have more people in which to form bonds with.
- Your kids are learning to be independent and self-sufficient.
- Your children are learning that it’s alright to have dreams and ambitions.
Guilt-Free Tip #10: Stay Connected With Your Partner
A happy marriage (or relationship) makes for a happier you. Having a strong bond with your partner will ease feelings of guilt (maybe even delete them entirely), increase your self-confidence and self-esteem, and help you feel better about yourself and your ability to parent. Plus, it’ll increase the likelihood that your partner will be an active parent.
And there’s an added benefit too: by prioritizing your relationship with your partner, you’re teaching your children how healthy relationships are done (and why they’re so important).
Here are a few ways to ensure you stay connected:
- Mandate kid-free time every week (this is time when you spend time alone with your partner 100% kid-free);
- Don’t talk about your kids during kid-free time; and
- When disagreements arise or you don’t feel your partner is pulling their weight, talk about it immediately (instead of letting resentment build up and eventually blow up).
To Sum Up
Guilt isn’t a prerequisite to being a working mom. Help yourself ditch the guilt by:
- Allowing your life to be complicated (as opposed to trying to fit it into two distinct sides that are duking it out for control).
- Striving to understand what you value, why you value it, and what your true priorities are.
- Accepting yourself for who you are by aligning your behavior with who you are at your core.
- Getting clear about your non-negotiables (and actually prioritizing them).
- Focusing your efforts on quality over quantity.
- Intentionally creating boundaries (with understanding behind why you want them, how they help you, and a plan to enforce them).
- Letting go of comparing yourself to others, perfectionism, and trying to control all the things that you can’t.
- Using realistic positive affirmations designed to move you away from negative (and guilt-inducing) thinking and into more positive, guilt-free thoughts.
- Reminding yourself of all the things you’re doing for your kids by working.
- Staying connected to your partner.
I’m not pretending that these are easy to do. Yet they’re all possible. What it takes is consistent action with a (heavy) dash of self-compassion.
Before you go, I want to hear from you. In the comments below, tell me the one tip that resonates with you most (and that you’re willing to start doing now).
Until next time…
P.S. Tired of being successful… only on paper? Let go of guilt and stop feeling so directionless in 5 Sure-Fire Steps to Get Your Life Unstuck and On the Right Path. This free resource will help you clarify your core values and start living your life in accordance with your priorities. It’s time to start moving along a path of your own making.