Being a working mom isn’t selfish

Dana Underwood Avanti Alliance mom guilt

mom guilt

Being a working mom isn’t selfish. Read that again. Being a working mom is not selfish. There’s a lot of guilt associated with wanting to work. With wanting to build something for yourself. Something you worked hard for, care about, and are good at. But listen when I say, that’s a normal feeling and a healthy desire. 

Think about it, before you had kids, you were an intelligent, independent person who was working hard and thriving. Just because you had kids, the person who you are doesn’t go away. In fact, trying to deny that part of yourself is setting you up for unhappiness. You will resent having to give up what you love. Something that makes you fulfilled. And all of this guilt is unfounded.

look at the facts…

One study, (“Learning from Mum: Cross-National Evidence Linking Maternal Employment and Adult Children’s Outcomes”

McGinn, Kathleen L.; Castro, Mayra Ruiz; Lingo, Elizabeth Long. April 2018.) found that daughters raised by working mothers are more likely to have jobs as adults — and those who have jobs are more likely to supervise others, and earn higher incomes. “People still have this belief that when moms are employed, it’s somehow detrimental to their children,” says McGinn, the Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration. “So, our finding that maternal employment doesn’t affect kids’ happiness in adulthood is really important.”

“As we gradually understand that our children aren’t suffering, I hope the guilt will go away.”

Another study, “When Does Time Matter? Maternal Employment, Children’s Time With Parents, and Child Development” Hsin, Amy; Felfe, Christina. Demography, October 2014) found, “on average, maternal work has no effect on time in activities that positively influence children’s development, but it reduces time in types of activities that may be detrimental to children’s development,” 

But studies aside, we all know that guilt is an unavoidable, although unproductive, emotion. Guilt will lead you to feel unhappy and wrong no matter what you choose. So here are a few tips for getting over ‘mom guilt’ (why there is no term of ‘dad guilt’ is a post for another time). 

look at the big picture

Every mother has tradeoffs. Every working mother is no different. A missed meeting due to a recital. A missed soccer game due to a work event. It is enough to make you feel like you’re failing on every front. But once you accept that each of these is just a small trade off, it’s easier to let go of them. You’re an intelligent adult who made educated decisions on these tradeoffs. Trust your gut. There are 600 soccer games a season (or so it feels sometimes) so one missed one isn’t the end of the world. And we all know meaningless meetings happen all the time, when they could have been concisely handled over email. So, make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time, and go with your gut. And don’t forget to see the big picture in all of it. Somehow, you’re able to make most of the soccer games. And you make most of the meetings. These one-offs will be forgotten in a week when you’re on to the next thing. 

Have a defined set of boundaries

Having this defined list of what is important to you will help make it easier when you’re choosing those tradeoffs. But to do this, you need to be honest. You need to make yourself and your work high on that list of priorities but also allow yourself room to prioritize your family. Clearly map out plans for scenarios that will require tradeoffs, and then stick to your guns when you can. Of course, there will be times when you cross your boundaries, but again, trusting your judgment and having those boundaries laid out clearly will help guide you so you don’t swirl in guilt. 

Avoid the Guilt mongers

Know the people, places and things that cause you guilt. Does daycare drop off make you feel bad every. single. morning? See if there’s a way to work with daycare so the drop off goes more smoothly—or see if there’s someone else who can take your child! Does a self-proclaimed supermom make you feel guilty for bringing store bought items to the bake sale? Maybe volunteer for napkins and plates next time so you don’t have to even bother. And, I know from experience, you certainly can’t always avoid the righteous parents, but you can choose how you interpret their comments. Understand that almost every opinion they have has more to do with justifying themselves and ridding their own guilt and doubt about their own parenting choices. Don’t let their opinions of themselves make you waver in your confidence that you’re doing your best. 

Give yourself grace

This is what has helped me the most. Grace. You won’t always make the right decision. That’s ok. Sometimes you’ll mess up. And it’s those mistakes that will help you learn what is truly important. If you missed a soccer game that you thought was no big deal and your kid scores their first goal and is so sad you weren’t there to see it, then maybe soccer games move up on the priority list from now on. Your priorities can and should change over time. What was once top priority may not be now. Allow yourself the grace to admit when your priorities may not have been in the right order and make the adjustment. Taking action to reprioritize can help alleviate the guilt.

no judgement

For all of the studies and tips and guilt, there truly is no one right answer. For some women, staying home full time is what is best for them and their families. And that’s great. That’s what will help them feel fulfilled. And for others it’s being a full-time working mom. And there are even others who feel confident in their initial path forward, only to realize quickly, or not so quickly, that they need to reassess their choice. No matter what you choose or why, know it’s a personal decision for every woman. And everyone’s journey will look a little bit different. And there should be no judgment of others whose choices may not look like yours, and certainly, there should be no judgment of yourself.

Not sure what direction you want to go in your career and looking for clarity on what you really want. Get my downloadable workbook to help you cut through the noise


Scroll to Top