Feeling guilty for working while somebody else is taking care of your kids?
One downside of being a professional motivational speaker is that I spend a lot of time away from my family. And while I do secretly appreciate the break from laundry, dishes, yard work, cooking, cleaning, and the many tasks that come with parenting and life – it brings a lot of guilt and a lot of missed moments. And my heart breaks as I meet women all over the United States who suffer from this same sense of Mommy guilt.
I love my job. But I feel so bad whenever I'm doing it because I know I'm not with my family.
And so today I would like to share with all the working moms out there some encouraging words from my heart, in the hopes that you can shed your guilt and own your choices.
(But first…..Let me please clarify something. While I am using the term "working mom" in this post to refer to mothers who have a profession in addition to being a mom, I believe ALL moms are working moms. Just because a woman has chosen to stay at home with her children does not mean her work load is any lighter.)
Here are some tips to help you deal with your working mom guilt:
Redefine your What a Mother Should Do list.
YOU decide what a good mother looks like. Not them. Period.
Get out a piece of paper and write down everything you think a mother should do and be. Should a mother do homework with her son? Should a mother be at every game? Should the mother cook his dinner? Should a mother be there when he goes to bed at night? Make this list as detailed and extensive as you can. It's important. Make sure that your list contains tangible items like cooking his dinner, and intangible items like comforting him when he's picked on at school.
Now take every item on your list and ask yourself WHY this is true. Is this true because it's what your mother did? Is your mother-in-law telling you this is what you should do? Is this true because the other mothers are doing it? Is this true because that's what the celebrities do? The moms on TV? Why is this important? Ask yourself if this is really something YOU believe makes you a good mom. If it's not really in your heart, scratch it off. Save this list (even the scratched off items) for the day that guilt creeps back in, so you can remind yourself that you let this go.
After you have gone through every item and scratched off the ones you really don't believe make you a good mother, take a look at what's left. How long is that list of things you really believe make you a good mom? How realistic is it? There are only so many hours in a day. You are only one person. You can only do so much. Should you whittle this list down even further? What are truly THE MOST IMPORTANT priorities to you as a parent? (And, again, don't look around. Don't ask me. Don't ask your mother. This is YOUR list. YOU define what a good mother looks like.)
Much of our working mom guilt isn't a matter of what we think we should be doing – but what we think other moms think we should be doing.
Own Your Choices And Know You Always Have a Choice
Many working mothers feel like they don't have a choice. Working isn't a luxury, it's a necessity. They are putting food on the table, a roof over their heads, creating a future for their children.
While staying at home may not be an option for you, you always have a choice – a different option.
I don't care how strapped you feel, you always have choices. You are where you are as a result of the choices you have made. If you don't like your choice, change it. There are always other options. If you don't change it, own the choices you have made and move on. Whining about it serves no purpose and will only ruin the moments you do have. You deserve to enjoy your life. You deserve to find peace. And the fastest way to get there is to make the choice to be content with the decisions you have made.
It was the choices that brought you here – and it will be your choices that get you out.
Something always has to give.
You can't have it all. Nobody can. When you choose to focus on one thing, you choose not to focus on another. It's just the way it goes. Your "what a mother should do" list is now your list of priorities. When you decide to do something that's not on that list, then you are automatically taking away from one of those priorities. This list is to help guide you and keep you focused on what's important to you.
Learn to Say No To Items Not On Your List
Sometimes Mommy guilt guilts us into taking on jobs that we shouldn't because we feel bad that we aren't around enough. For example, when I am home, I feel obligated to fill my free time helping in church, scouts, extended family activities, and other areas where I have been absent. But if I do this, then I am taking my eyes off my list. I am using my precious time on something that I did not determine I should do. Things that weren't on my list of priorities.
Moms need to learn to say no. Life balance is up to us. A sense of obligation to projects that don't really feed into our goals as a mother, are quick paths to self destruction.
We must fight the urge to please others and live up to their expectations. There is only so much time. Something has to give. When you work to please others, you choose to let yourself down.
Look Back To See What Really Mattered
When you're feeling glum about a decision you've made, do a little "look back" exercise. Look back on the past year and determine what really mattered. Did it matter that your house was messy in February of 2012? Does it really matter that you missed that one soccer game? Does it matter that you didn't tuck him in three Thursdays ago? Does he even remember?
Much of the little things we worried about as moms, in retrospect, didn't matter as much as we thought they did at the time.
Have a support group of women who get it.
This one is so important. If you're a working mom hanging out with a bunch of stay-at-home moms who knit during book club, then you're going to compare yourself to them and find yourself falling short. Find women who share your experience. And if you don't have the time to join them for dinner, set up a phone chat. Support and encourage each other during those moments when mommy guilt takes over.
Facebook is a great place to form support groups when you don't have time to meet in person.
I don't have a group of girl friends that I do things with locally. I don't get to meet for dinner, book club, or a glass of wine at girls night out. And while I do miss having that cherished girl time – I have created something that works better for me. I have a group of women who are there for me any time I need them. And vice versa. We chat on the phone, talk by email, and find opportunities to visit when our travel brings us to the same city. My support group doesn't look like yours – but that's the point. It's what I need it to be. And it is worth more to me than gold.
Let the Guilt Go!
Awareness is the most important step. So be aware when guilt shows up at your door. Look at it. Study it. Determine its validity, and then release it. It will take a while for you to stop feeling guilty, but you can certainly think it and act it before you feel it.
Feelings follow thoughts and actions. Don't wait to feel brave – ACT brave – THINK brave – and one day the feeling will follow. Same with guilt. ACT guilt-free. THINK guilt-free. And one day the feeling will follow.
Don't Seek Validation From Others
I know that some of you really need for me to say that you are a good mom. But I can't do that. If I did, I would be comparing you to my list. And it's not for me to say. I really want you to be able to know you're a good mom without needing another mom to say it. That serves you better.
I think that some of us women seek validation from other women. We need someone to tell us we made the right choice. We need someone to say "You are a good mom" before we believe it. And the truth is that there may never be someone to tell us that. Our kids may never realize all that we sacrificed. We will probably never get the thank you's we deserve or the validation we seek. So we must validate ourselves. That's the secret to all of this. In fact, it's the secret to much of life.
The best applause comes from within. The true moment of peace comes when we stop looking out to find our worth, and start looking in. At the end of the day, look in that mirror and choose to be proud of the woman you see. And if you're not – then have the courage to change it. It was your choices that brought you here – but it will be your choices that get you out.
A Special Word For Women of Faith
For women out there whose perspective is filtered through the Creator, whose Truth is the gospel, whose bar is set by a Savior, I add these words of encouragement:
Do not look around to determine your worth. Look up. Don't listen to them. Listen to Him. Don't compare yourself to others. See your reflection in His eyes. Seek what is important to Him to determine what is important to you. And even when you stumble, know that He still looks at you with love and grace and enough gentleness to cover your imperfections. He sees your heart. His loving hand is guiding your path. He is watching over you as you sleep and counting your steps. And even when you think He's not here – He is. You are loved. You are cherished. Even on the days you don't feel it. Walk tall, my friend. His strength is yours.