Mother’s guilt is something that every mother experiences at some point. It’s also common for this guilt to intensify once a mum returns to work or even in the process of contemplating returning to work. This guilt is rampant among working mums and something I grappled with when I returned to my corporate career after becoming a mum.
As a new mum, I used to feel guilty leaving my husband to look after our baby on the weekend when I wanted to go and do something by myself. Even though I hardly ever did this and my husband was more than happy to take charge of the parenting for a few hours, I still felt guilty asking and taking the time out. I found though that the more I asked and took time for myself, the less guilty I felt and the more I enjoyed time to myself.
When my paid maternity leave ran out, I also felt guilty. Guilty for not financially contributing to the household. I felt guilty for relying on my husband to shoulder the entire financial burden of our family. This is part of what drove me back to work. I didn’t want to scrimp and save as a stay at home mum and I was missing my career.
Then of course, I felt guilty leaving my son in daycare. Even though I knew he was being taken care of. Eventually he enjoyed himself so much he hated being picked up at the end of the day.
And because I returned to work part time, I felt guilty for the time I wasn’t at work. For when I was unavailable due to sick or carers leave on my work days and when I was unavailable for a late afternoon meeting or on one of my days at home.
When I first became a mum I was warned about all the guilt I would inevitably feel. No one ever shared with me the secret to overcoming the guilt. Most women I knew just accepted that feeling guilty was part and parcel of being a mum, especially a working mum.
I also know of mums who feel guilty spending time with their children when they know there is a long list of household chores that need attending to. On the flipside, some mums feel guilty doing household chores instead of playing with their children. Or they feel guilty taking a nap instead of doing household chores, even though they are sleep deprived and desperately tired.
I found out how common guilt is among working mums when I asked 300 working mums in Australia about their fears about returning to work in 2015. There are so many reasons to feel guilty, the most common being putting our children in daycare when we return to work, regardless of your reason to return to work (financial or career investment).
The more I thought about guilt, the more I realised there IS an antidote to it. In fact, there are a few since guilt is a complex emotion.
I realised that being present is the antidote to mummy guilt. If you are truly in the present moment, you cannot think about anything else. For example, if you are playing with your children and are truly present in that moment you can’t think about the chores and feel guilty about not doing them. When I asked 300 working mums in Australia what advice they would give other working mums, being focused at home and at work was a common theme.
Don’t make assumptions
When I felt guilty about not contributing to the household financially I assumed my husband had an issue with this. He didn’t. (I did though). It’s easy to make assumptions about other people’s feelings (your partner, child, colleagues) and then make ourselves feel guilty about feelings which may not even exist.
They say practice makes perfect and that certainly can be applied to doing things that you feel guilty about. The more you practice activities that trigger your mummy guilt with presence and without assumptions, the more comfortable you will feel. Whether it be returning to work, leaving your child at daycare or taking time for yourself. Or all three!
How have you overcome your mummy guilt? Let me know in the comments below.
Kim is a blogger who provides free resources and personalised online mentoring options for new mums thinking of returning to work or coporate mamas. Check out her blog at Undercover Mum.