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Do you suffer from working mom guilt – especially since you like what you do and want to achieve high levels of success in your career?  I have some GREAT news… you can overcome working mom guilt while actually excelling in your career.

Instead of beating yourself up about all the things you’re supposedly missing or not doing right, it’s time to get to a place where you feel at peace with your decisions.  Because the truth is: you can be a good mother and excel at work (at the same time). It doesn’t have to be either/or.

Let’s talk about how to leave working mom guilt behind (for good).

 

What’s Behind the Guilt?  It’s Complicated…

Part of the problem is that your guilt isn’t simple.  It’s not just that you feel guilty because you work.  Your guilt arises from:

  • the fear that your son loves your nanny more than you (while simultaneously feeling you should be happy that you obviously found the right person);
  • regularly coming home too late to cook a decent dinner (which means take-out and frozen dinners most of the time);
  • hearing that you’re the only mom who didn’t make it to the 3rd grade spelling bee (which was, of course, held at 2:00 in the afternoon during an important work meeting you couldn’t reschedule);
  • being proud of all you’ve accomplished in your career and not wanting to let go of any of your successes;
  • having a hard time focusing at work because of how exhausted you feel;
  • leaving work early to attend your daughter’s piano recital;
  • the relief you feel Monday morning to get away from your sick (and often screaming) baby;
  • the extra work and hours your team picked up on your behalf when out on maternity leave; and
  • the excitement of going back to work (and to adult conversation) after being out on maternity leave.

Guilt arises for a variety of reasons.  It’s a giant, complicated combo platter of feelings that causes confusion and makes it difficult to figure out how to fix.

But if you look closely, there’s a common theme: you feel that you’re not measuring up.

 

Woman working with intention at her desk

 

Your Best Is Perfectly Fine (And So Is Not Being Your Best Sometimes)

The premise of mom-guilt (whether it’s working mom guilt or general motherhood guilt) is that you’re doing something wrong.  That means that there’s some standard that you’re falling short of.

The problem is that motherhood isn’t one-size-fits-all.  Every person is different, which means that every mom and every child is too.  And so is each family unit.  How can there be one perfect or right way, given that?

Besides, there’s no such thing as “right” or “perfect”.  You’re a human being (and I hate to break it to you, but humans are NOT perfect).  You’re going to mess up and make mistakes.  All you can do is your best, which means:

  • accepting that you’re human and will make mistakes;
  • taking responsibility for and striving to learn from your mistakes; and
  • apologizing with grace when necessary.

It’s time you treat yourself as you do your children.  You don’t expect your kids to never fall down, make mistakes, or fail at anything.  It’s part of learning and growing as a human being – and it doesn’t miraculously stop just because you’re an adult or have become a parent.

Case Study On How to Stop the Guilt

When I was pregnant with my first child (Zachary), I promised myself that I wouldn’t suffer from mom-guilt.  Unfortunately, this promise was quickly broken.  I felt guilty for how much I worked – especially because I wanted to work.

I was proud of how hard I’d worked to put myself through law school and get to a place where I would soon make partner in a large firm.  But that meant working long hours and sometimes being away from my son more than I wanted to be.  My guilt was made worse by the fact that so many women in my profession chose to leave the firm life behind or took themselves off partnership track so they could be home more often.

And then one day, while extremely sleep-deprived after spending the night at the ER with Zachary for croup, I lost it.  He had been whining all day, wouldn’t nap, and threw a tantrum because a favorite blanket was being washed.  I screamed bloody murder at him.  At the top of my lungs.  Two inches from his face.

Within seconds, I was guilt-ridden and crying. Funny enough, he wasn’t crying (he looked confused).  After I calmed down, I realized that I needed to take responsibility for my actions and apologize.  I sat him down and apologized for my actions fully.  There was no excuse and I was wrong.

That’s the moment I realized that I could choose not to feel guilty so long as I accept that I’m human, try my best, and take responsibility when I mess up.

[Recommended Reading: for help with apologizing to your kids and processing through your emotions so that you can do it with grace, read How to Take Control of Your Emotions So They Don’t Control You].

 

A woman who is prosperous in time, energy and spirit

 

10 Tips for Overcoming Working Mom Guilt (While Still Excelling At Work)

You might be wondering how to make the choice not to feel guilty, even when you choose to work (and especially since excelling at work is important to you).  The trick is to adopt the right mentality. Here are 10 tips that will help you cultivate the right mentality for mothering without guilt while also achieving high levels of success in your career:

Tip #1: Let Go of Either/Or

There’s this ridiculous belief most working moms have that they must “balance” work versus the rest of life.  But there’s no such thing.  Your life is integrated and you chose your career for a reason – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

What’s worse is that this creates a struggle between one part of your life and another.  And it makes you feel like you’re doing something wrong whenever you choose one side over the other (which is pretty much happening all the time).

Here’s the thing: there’s no either/or.  You can have success both as a mother and in your career.  But you can’t do that if you’re pitting the two sides against one another.  Drop the either/or mentality.

Tip #2: Educate Yourself About the Benefits of Working

There are pros and cons to working full time as a mom.  And there are also pros and cons to staying at home with your kids and working part-time.  Unfortunately, you’ve been focusing on all the negatives of working.  It’s time to educate yourself and start focusing on the positives for a change.

Kids benefit from having a working mother. A Harvard research study has shown that:

  • Women who grow up with working mothers are more likely to earn higher wages and hold higher positions within their fields than those that don’t.
  • Men who grow up with working mothers spend more time caring for their kids and doing chores around the house than the men who had stay-at-home moms.

Moreover, your kids will have more opportunities to be independent, will learn from their caregivers, and will learn that they don’t have to put their dreams or ambitions off either.  You’ll be teaching them valuable lessons because you work.  Start focusing on the benefits instead of only on the negatives.

Tip #3: Take Impeccable Care of Yourself

This one is difficult for many of my clients who are mothers.  They seem to think that they don’t have the time to take care of themselves.  The thing is: you’ve got to make the time (and YES, you can make it).

It’s time that you allow yourself to admit that you’re a better mother, wife, worker, and all-around person if you’re well.  And that’s all that self-care is. It’s about doing what’s necessary to be physically, mentally, and spiritually well.  You’re worth devoting some time to and for you!

[Recommended Reading: if you have trouble taking time for self-care, read 5 Reasons You Feel Guilty About Taking Care of Yourself (and What to Do About It)].

Tip #4: Accept that There are Trade-Off’s

Here’s something you MUST accept if you want to truly overcome working mom guilt… life is about trade-off’s.  Often, there isn’t a “perfect” choice available (otherwise, I’m not sure it would be a real choice).  But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a best choice.

Figure out what trade-off’s are acceptable to you and then make decisions accordingly.  And forget about trying to do or have “it all” because there’s no such thing.  This is something that I think men have right (you never hear them talking about wanting to have it all).

[Recommended: Life & Law Podcast Episode #18: Priorities, Choices & Tradeoff’s].

Tip #5: Use Your Values As Your Guide

Now the question becomes, how do you figure out which trade off’s you’re comfortable with?  It’s actually simpler than you think.  Understand and define your core values so that you can use them as a guide when making decisions.

Your core values motivate and drive you forward.  They are what make you uniquely yourself.  When you understand your values and align your life with them, life is easier and simpler.  The right decisions become more apparent (and so you stop agonizing over and second-guessing them).

Once you understand your values, the right trade-off’s will become obvious.

Tip #6: Focus on Quality

I want you to think back on your childhood memories with your family.  What do you remember most fondly?  Do you remember a pre-planned, elaborate excursion or something that wasn’t planned (but is instead the exact opposite of an elaborate event)?  I’m willing to bet your best memories are of small, simple moments where someone gave you their full attention.

When you’re with your kids, focus on them.  Be 100% present with them in that moment. That’s what it means to focus on quality over quantity.

It’s not that quantity doesn’t matter – because you obviously need to spend time with your kids (no time or very little time won’t do).  But you don’t have to be with them all the time.

Play and have fun with your kids.  Play hide and seek, ride your bike, play games, and just have fun.  And as they grow older, talk to them about whatever they want (follow their lead – they’re sure to surprise you).

Tip #7: Learn to Be Present

If you want to have great quality time with your children, you must be fully present.  And the only way to do that is to work on it consistently.  Presence is a skill that must be developed.

There are many ways to develop presence, but one simple way is to practice mindful breathing (which is a form of meditation).  Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and focus on your breath.  Close your eyes and pay attention to how the breath feels going in and out of your body (try breathing slowly through your nose).  Any time you find that your mind has wandered, bring your attention slowly back to your breath.

You can also practice mindful observation.  Go for a walk and mindfully observe all that you see, hear, smell, and touch.   Again, whenever your mind wanders, bring it back to your surroundings and what can be observed.

Being more mindful will help to train your mind to be more present.  And you’ll also become more aware of when you’re not being present (so that you can do something about it).

Tip #8: Create Blocks of Time for Family Only

If you want quality time, you must make it happen. Sometimes, you can get some quality moments in the car or when eating together.  However, it’s important to set aside time for one another and block it out in your calendar.

This isn’t the same as taking vacations.  It’s about having time for true connection and to be present with your kids on a regular basis.  Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

  • 30 minutes of dinner time each evening; and
  • 2 hours for family time every Sunday evening (where you play games, ride bikes, play mini golf, etc.).

Let me be clear: this isn’t the only time you’ll be together.  However, this is devoted family time that should be absent of any electronics (no phones or television).

Tip #9: Enforce Strong Boundaries

The only way to ensure that you’re guilt-free is to create and enforce boundaries.  Before you start arguing with me: I know that boundaries cause many people guilt.  In my experience, it’s often related to fear.  Fear of what others will think, fear of hurting someone’s feelings, and so on.

But boundaries aren’t just about saying “no”.  In fact, most of the time they don’t involve saying “no”.  A boundary is merely a rule for how you need to be treated to feel respected and whole as a person.

Boundaries are created to: (1) support your own well-being (physically, mentally, and spiritually), (2) honor your core values, and (3) keep you free of obligations that you don’t really want (which is where saying “no” often comes into play).  Determine where you need stronger boundaries and create them.  And then enforce them.

Note: when you create boundaries you must tell people about them.  For example, if your mother-in-law often comes over unannounced (and you need that to stop), then you must tell her your new rule.  That’s your boundary.  You’d enforce it by telling her she can’t stay if she drops by unannounced.

[Recommended ReadingHow To Say No Without Feeling Guilt (Step-By-Step Instructions)].

Tip #10: Keep Yourself On Track Internally

It’s important that you allow yourself room for mistakes and growth.  After all, you’re human.  I’ve found it helpful to talk to myself with some simple affirmations whenever I mess up.  It’s part of my internal ritual for acknowledging that I’ve messed up, identifying how to take responsibility, and then having the courage to move forward (because trust me, it’s not easy to apologize to your kids).

Put together your own affirmation for when you mess up that reminds you that you’re human (and that’s okay) and helps you better identify what you’ve learned and what you can do better the next time.

Time To Banish Working Mom Guilt For Good

Becoming a mother doesn’t mean that you must give up your career or else suffer from guilt. You can excel both as a mom and within your career (and let go of working mom guilt for good) so long as you adopt the right mentality.

Use the tips above to help you banish working mom guilt (even adopt an “I don’t do guilt” mindset).


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Hey there, I’m Heather

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FORMER BIGLAW LAWYER (FOR 18+ YEARS)

LAWYER LEADERSHIP & BUSINESS COACH

MOM X 2

CANCER SURVIVOR

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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