Working Moms — How Do You Handle the Guilt?

We’d like to welcome to the blog Jan Brown, a life and career coach who will be blogging for us about working mothers and the unique challenges they sometimes face. As she does in her workshops and coaching sessions, she’ll cover ways that working moms can make their lives more fulfilling and a lot less stressful; she’ll also be providing guidance for stay-at-home moms who are thinking about going back to working outside the home. Before heading out on her own, Jan served as a consultant for Fortune 500 companies, advising them on their philanthropic giving.

How do you handle the occasional twinge of guilt?I have a lot to say about guilt this week — recently, my six-year-old daughter declared that she “wished there were no babysitters. Only mommies and daddies to take care of their kids.” This was after I explained that she was about to start swimming lessons (yay!) and that her after-school babysitter would be taking her instead of me (boo!).

I am no stranger to guilt. There was a period from when my daughter was 1 ½ to 2 ½ when I swear every single morning when I left for work, she would literally cling to me — my leg, torso, bag, whatever she could reach — and sob “Mommy don’t go!!!! Staaaayy with me.” Our nanny would have to physically remove her from me. I would then cheerfully say goodbye and head to the subway platform to cry. Every. Single. Morning. It was rough. So what to do about guilt?

Over the course of my six years as a working mom, I have found that guilt is stealthy. It lurks in the shadows gathering its forces and then it pops up, seemingly out of nowhere. I might find myself feeling really good about how I’m managing to get my work done and keep things flowing smoothly at home and see my friends and get to the gym and have special, quality time with my daughter. Hey look at me! Ms. Work/Life Balance 2011! And then, BAM! Something comes along, like a school field trip that I can’t attend, or my daughter gets sick while I’m on a business trip. Whatever it is, it throws me for a loop and starts the guilt cycle all over again.

How to handle the guilt? I can tell you how I handle it. Not solve it, mind you, but ease its death grip on me.

First of all, I acknowledge how I feel. I live by the belief that any feelings you try to push away are just going to come back stronger — and possibly in weird, not-so-healthy ways. When I find myself spending too many nights watching Will and Grace reruns until 1:00 am, it is usually a sign that I have some unacknowledged, unresolved feelings to deal with. So I just try to allow myself to feel what I feel and say “yes this feels pretty awful.” I can’t always “fix” it. But I can notice and name what I feel.

I also remind myself what I truly believe about my decision to work. That it is good for my soul and therefore it is also good for my daughter in the long run. I feel more wholly alive and fulfilled when I work — despite all of its frustrations and annoyances — and I believe that me being a more fulfilled and happier mom is better for her in the long run. Everyone has to make his or own decision about this; for me, I’ve chosen to work. And having a four-day work schedule allows me a bit more time for her while still keeping up with my job. It’s a balancing act that’s never truly going to be perfect, but it’s working for the most part.

Since I have chosen to work, I stay positive when I talk about my work to her. One of the major conclusions of a fantastic study by Ellen Galinksy, which is detailed in her 1999 book, Ask the Children, is that our children want us to be happy in what we do — whether it is working outside the home or staying at home to take care of them. Our happiness in our decision to work or not is the number-one thing that matters in their satisfaction with it, not, surprisingly, how much time we spend with them.

Finally, I lock in the good moments and positive “data points” to pull out when guilt rears her ugly head. The moments when my daughter and I are cracking each other up at the dinner table. When she tells me I am “her favorite and bestest friend.” When she plays well with others. Her laughter, joy, and delight in the simplest of things. The signs I need to see that she is growing up healthy, happy, safe, and loved. This knowledge is a powerful antidote to guilt. The kid is all right.

I would love to hear your strategies for dealing with guilt.

[Image: Kellie L. Folkerts/Shutterstock]

About this Gun

Jan Brown

Jan Brown

Jan Brown is a life coach focused on working moms and moms going back to work. Follow @JanBCoaching.