Candace Alnaji is a fellow working mom and law mama. A compatriot in supporting working parents in navigating the crazy world of life + career + children, she and I met through our respective blogging worlds. (Check out her blog, The Mom at Law.) Today, I’m delighted that she’s joined us to share her thoughts on what exactly your working mom guilt might be trying to tell you…if you listen to yourself carefully!
Other Mindful Return posts on the subject of working mom guilt that you may find helpful include:
- What Exactly IS Mom Guilt Anyway? A Clinical Psychotherapist Explains
- Working Mom Guilt: What If (Gasp!) We Welcomed It In?
Now, here are Candace’s helpful insights:
Many of us have experienced working mom guilt at one time or another. It’s a powerful feeling. Often, much of the guilt working mothers feel comes from unrealistic societal expectations and archaic notions of motherhood.
It can come from watching another mom on social media who seems to have her life together in a way you never could. It can come from dropping your kids off at daycare and having to rush out while they cry. Feelings of guilt can arise from missing milestones at home. Or wondering if you’ll ever be the “perfect mom.”
However, working mom guilt can also rear its head for the exact opposite reasons, too. Sometimes you may feel like a bad employee for missing time at work to attend a school play or tend to a sick child. You might feel like you are forever playing a game of catch-up and wonder if everyone can tell. Even if you’re totally killing it at work, you will likely sometimes ponder how much better you would be without the added responsibility of parenthood. And then you feel guilty for even thinking that.
Much of the advice about working mom guilt discusses ways to ditch the guilt—how to unload it once and for all. I know—I’ve written posts just like that. It’s not helpful to wallow in guilt, and it certainly doesn’t make you feel good.
In situations where the guilt is a result of internalizing harmful external messages, you should certainly ditch the unrealistic standards and nagging voices that make you believe you are falling short. Choosing to unload the excess mental and emotional baggage of outside expectations is an important step toward achieving happiness as a mother, professional, and individual.
That said, there are times when acknowledging and digging deeper into your working mom guilt isn’t only helpful, but necessary for recognizing your values and establishing boundaries.
Let’s start with clearing up a common misconception about working mom guilt.
Myth: All Mom Guilt Is Bad.
Truth: Feelings of guilt can actually help you understand key aspects of yourself, your desires, and your goals as a working parent.
In case no one has ever told you (though if you’re reading Lori’s blog, I’m sure you’ve heard this before), working parenthood is not a one size fits all gig. You are allowed to personalize your experience to the best of your ability. In fact, you can and should find not only the job that meets your criteria, but also the life that meets your criteria. Sometimes those intense feelings of guilt and discomfort aren’t just an annoyance. Rather, they’re your gut trying to tell you something.
Listen to your instincts regarding work and parenthood.
Many of us have been in situations where we’ve felt something isn’t quite right. And many, many working moms and dads have experienced the same at work. While there are employers who appropriately accommodate their employees, there are others who not only fall short in that regard, but who lead truly toxic workplaces.
In such environments, it’s only natural to have thoughts of conflict and guilt. You have a loyalty to your family. And when you work for an employer whose demands actively conflict with your personal obligations, you will most certainly experience feelings of guilt and resentment.
However, you don’t have to work in a toxic or hostile work environment to desire greater balance or autonomy in your life. Your guilt could be telling any number of things.
Here are some things your working mom guilt may be telling you. You want to:
- Spend more time with your family.
- Spend more quality time with your family.
- Devote more time to work without interruption.
- Devote your professional life to more meaningful work.
- Have a job with less stress.
- Have a boss who respects your off hours.
- Feel more appreciated at work.
- Feel more appreciated at home
- Stop thinking of work and parenthood as a burden
You may have felt all or none of these things at one time or another. The trick isn’t simply to ignore these feelings and surge forward. Rather, you should lean into and truly take ownership over them.
You may resent the stress you feel as a working parent. But instead of accepting that it’s “just the way it goes,” you should actively find ways to reduce that stress. If you want to reserve evenings and weekends for family time, then cultivate strong boundaries around that time. Similarly, if, for example, you want to work uninterruptedly in the evenings, craft a strategy that supports that.
Take time to assess your values and establish boundaries that support them.
There are those who value their time at home so deeply that they leave the workforce altogether. Then there are others who drastically alter their schedules or seek new career paths. Alternatively, there are those who, upon assessing their values, lean even more into work whether through home businesses or in a traditional 9-5. One way is not better than the other. And your choices will vary depending on the resources and flexibility you have available to you.
So, how do you recognize your values and set appropriate boundaries?
Start by asking yourself what’s most important to you. Make a list of the big and little things that are important to you in your daily life. For example, if serving on a professional committee, volunteering at your kids’ school, and fitting in a workout each day are important to you, add that to your list. Be sure to include why those things matter to you.
Then, once you have that list in place, draw up a second list with the long-term goals you have for yourself, your career, and your family. Be honest. Don’t worry about whether your answers sound cliché or fit a certain stereotype. Just write honestly.
Once you’ve noted your short and long-term goals, take stock of your current situation. Determine how much of your present life aligns with your goals and your family’s goals, and remember that your family’s needs will change as it grows.
If you find that most of your days don’t line up with your priorities, think critically about how you can edit and refine your schedule to support your values. This may mean adjusting work hours (in either direction), applying for a new role within your company, or even leaving your job altogether in pursuit of a new employer. This may sound daunting, but living authentically sometimes requires stepping outside your comfort zone.
Working mom guilt isn’t always helpful, but it sometimes can be. You will never regret the time you spend being honest with yourself. By listening to your instincts, crafting a strategic plan to fit your values, and setting appropriate boundaries, your family, your career—and you—can truly thrive.
Candace Alnaji is an award-winning attorney, blogger, writer, speaker, humorist, and mom of three (including twins). She is founder and author of the popular blog, The Mom at Law, a platform that supports women through all stages of career and motherhood. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
If you need more help getting your head in a better place to return to work after maternity leave, join us for the next session of Mindful Return.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave