Family, Self

3 Reasons You Have 'Working Mom Guilt' & 3 Science-Backed Strategies To Overcome It

Photo: by Edward Cisneros on Unsplash
Parenting Advice For How To Deal With Guilt As A Working Mother

If you're a working mother, then you know the guilt that comes from not being there for your kids all the time.

Parenting is a tough job, and no matter your parenting style, you're going to feel guilty at some point over how you reacted to your children, or the effect of your choices on your family.

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It's easy to guilt trip yourself when you're a mother and you work for a living, but there are ways you can learn how to deal with guilt when you've actually messed up and how to get rid of guilt that you shouldn't have, like for providing for your family.

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, I know it's true.

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.

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
  • Working harder

Guilt helps to police your behavior.

Unfortunately, guilt can also take over and overwhelm you. There’s a tipping point where too much guilt leads to self-criticism, decreased motivation, and more guilt.

Even worse: Sometimes guilt isn't warranted because there's nothing to feel guilty about. That's where a lot of "mom-guilt" comes from.

Here are 3 reasons you feel "working mom guilt" that are totally unnecessary:

1. You've fallen prey to "perfect mom" syndrome

This is the "perfect mom" standard. You see what others post on Instagram (or listen to their experiences) and recall memories of seemingly perfect moments that occurred during your childhood ... and you don't measure up.

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).

Everyone struggles as a parent — even your mom or the other mothers you remember and feel were "perfect."

It's time to allow your rational mind to come out. Remember, everyone messes up and no one is perfect: Including you.

2. 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)? You have deep-seated beliefs about what you're "supposed" to be doing and how you should be acting as a mom — even how you should feel.

These beliefs likely come from so-called societal norms and/or family expectations:

  • Believing that you should spend every non-work moment with your kids (which is, of course, going to cause guilt. You need time for yourself, with your spouse, and with friends)
  • Feeling like you should be cooking a fresh meal for your kids every night, despite a heavy work schedule
  • Believing you should enjoy every single moment with your child (and if you don't you must be a terrible mom)

You’re not required to do it all, and your kids don’t expect it of you anyway. Honestly, it's unrealistic to believe you can!

Instead of worrying about all the things you’re "supposed" to be doing, identify what you do well and double down on those.

3. You're living according to other people’s opinions

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
  • You’re an inferior mom for working

These slights aren't really about you. They're about the inadequacies of the people saying these to you. 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 benefit from you working.

They're more likely to grow up into happy, successful adults because kids with working moms (and dads) are forced into situations at an earlier age that develop their independence, problem-solving, 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? They're being given opportunities for growth and development.

It's time to feel proud about the positives.

Most people feel a little better after reminding themselves of reality, yet it's often not enough. That's because there are real-life things to feel guilty for. You're human, so sometimes you'll 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? You do that through intentional, consistent practices that are aimed at changing your mentality, thoughts, and self-confidence levels so you can stop obsessing over past mistakes, separate your behavior from your identity, and accept yourself fully.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Get It All Done As A Working Mom (Even When It Seems Impossible)

Here are 3 science-backed strategies for helping you overcome mom guilt when you actually messed up:

1. Don't magnify the issue; 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.

Although it's not OK 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 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 question your ability to be a good mother. All that self-criticism has a negative ripple effect on your actual abilities.

Instead of magnifying your offense, do the following anytime that you feel you've messed up:

  1. Calm yourself down using slow, deep breaths through your nose.
  2. Once you're calm and able to think more clearly, identify what you did wrong. Be realistic about what happened and how you reacted. Be honest with yourself without going overboard.
  3. Identify a reasonable punishment that you consider positive parenting given the offense (and go through with it). For example, you might help your six-year-old clean up a mess after screaming bloody murder at him or her. Or you could help your teenager do their laundry for swearing at them. This doesn't mean you don't punish your child for their bad behavior. You're accepting the consequences for your own bad behavior, too.
  4. Apologize to your child. This is difficult but will help you let go of it. It will also garner more respect from your child.
  5. Identify what you've learned from the situation and how you want to apply it moving forward.

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. Don't obsess over your mistake or just let it go without feeling bad about it because that's counterproductive.

2. Separate your self-worth from your behavior

Sometimes, you 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 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 and are more capable of receiving negative feedback in a positive way.

You do this by changing your thoughts over time.

  • Proactively decide that you want to accept yourself unconditionally. If you don't, then you'll never get there.
  • Identify the thoughts and feelings that are preventing you from accepting yourself. You must work through these feelings and thoughts if you want to let go of them.
  • Accept where you are now while working toward the future. This means being OK with where you are because you're proactively working toward something better.
  • Accept that self-care is about self-respect. That will help you to better 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.

3. Practice self-compassion

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. Not only will it help you to forgive yourself, it will make it easier to accept yourself unconditionally.

Just like in learning to unconditionally accept yourself, self-compassion requires consistent, intentional practice.

  • Practice mindfulness meditation to become more aware of your thoughts and observe them
  • 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
  • Acknowledge your inner critic whenever it shows up and reframe it in a friendlier voice
  • Use positive affirmations

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.

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!

RELATED: 10 Ways Working Moms Can Succeed At Parenting & Their Career (Without The Mom Guilt)

Heather Moulder is an executive career and mindset coach, attorney, and founder of Course Correction Coaching who helps successful-on-paper-yet-unfulfilled-in-life professionals create a balanced, fulfilling life without sacrificing their success. Connect with Heather for weekly tips and strategies on creating success on your own terms.

This article was originally published at Course Correction Coaching. Reprinted with permission from the author.