There are differences between working mom guilt and parenting guilt. And, YES, working mom guilt is real!
Is working mom guilt the same as parenting guilt? Nope!
Parenting guilt is more about how you feel you are doing as a parent (when you ask “am I a good mom?“), whereas working mother guilt is about whether or not your “absence” is bad for your child.
Both, however, are strongly based on your perceptions of your parenting and working status as well as how you think others perceive your parenting.
Let’s be honest! You might as well prepare yourself for a lifetime of mom guilt because it happens to all of us at some time or other.
What is Working Mom Guilt?
“Working mom guilt” is a term used to describe the overwhelming sense of guilt that a mother might feel when she has to leave her children at home to go work. It’s a feeling that many mothers across the world can relate to, and it’s one of the most common struggles faced regardless of whether or not the decision to return to work is financially based.
If you feel ashamed of leaving your children at home or in the care of someone other than yourself to go to work, you’re experiencing working mom guilt.
How Does a Working Mother Affect a Child
While the effects of a working mother on a child are not entirely clear, research suggests that both parents’ work lives affect kids’ growth, just not in the way we think.
Although this study finds that a mom’s return to full-time work in the first year of a child’s life results in higher negative outcomes, it concludes that moms who return to work early in a child’s life does not typically equate to behavior or achievement issues.
More importantly, however, is to consider the quality of time spent with family, rather than the amount of time.
This study finds “that working mothers trade quantity of time for better quality of time.”
They go on to say that “children with full-time working mothers spend about six fewer hours per week in unstructured activities than children with stay-at-home mothers.” The researchers conclude that it’s the educational and structured activities they do with their children are to their benefit.
Maybe they forgot that unstructured activities are good for kids?
Regardless of your work status, it seems that instead of feeling guilty, you should focus on asking whether or not you’re spending quality time with your kids when you are home.
Is it Bad to Be a Working Mom?
Having had the chance to be a stay-at-home mom and become a working mom before my son was in VPK, I’ve experienced the pleasure and guilt from both sides.
For some women, staying at home with their children is essential. For others, working may be better.
Finances, and personal and family needs may dictate what is required of a mother.
From my experience, I had the choice to stay at home with my children, and then later chose to go back to work (from home). As it turns out, being a stay-at-home mom was not as dreamy as it seemed and I get much more fulfillment from working. Does that make me a bad mom?
In fact, I feel as though I’m a much better mom … that is, I feel happier, more fulfilled and get to enjoy being around my kids when I’m not working.
Turns out, working moms:
- Are less likely to be depressed than stay-at-home moms.
- Have a positive effect on their children’s academic achievements.
- Make positive role models.
Julie, from Adaptable Mama, spent 18 months of her child’s life feeling “unfulfilled, bored, and depressed … like [she] was nothing more than a nanny, cook, and cleaner.” Being on round-the-clock baby duty while her husband worked and attended school to earn a Bachelor’s Degree, she realized she needed a break and to feel productive, so she went back to work.
Although she feels guilty when she has to wake up her child early to go to the office, she also feels happier.
And aren’t happy moms better for their families?
What Are the Problems Faced By Working Mothers?
According to Magnify Money, the percentage of dual-income families had risen to 53.3% nationwide in 2019, up from 51.9%. It’s not clear, however, how COVID-19 and today’s uncertain economic status will impact these numbers.
As of May 2022, the annual inflation rate in the U.S. rose to 8.6% with costs of fuel, electricity and food skyrocketing! Despite the rising costs, in a survey of over 1,000 companies in the U.S., the average projected salary increase will be a mere 3.4%.
Whether you’re in a single-income or dual-income family, these raises aren’t keeping up with inflation, reducing buying power and, for many families, making financial decisions becomes much harder.
However, it can be hard for mothers to balance work, household duties and taking care of their kids, especially after a long day at work.
The challenges that working mothers face are as follows:
- Lack of maternity leave: Working mothers often struggle with taking time off from work after giving birth to take care of their newborn baby and establish breastfeeding. For those qualifying for FMLA in the U.S., the requirement is up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. Zippia reports that most new moms are taking fewer than 9 weeks due to a lack of paid maternity leave.
- Unaffordable Childcare: Finding reliable and affordable childcare is one of the biggest challenges faced by working mothers. According to a 2021 survey conducted by Care.com, 85% of parents surveyed stated they spent 10% or more of their household’s income on child care. Sadly, HHS considers child care affordable when it’s 7% or less of household income. Though the pandemic resulted in higher child care costs, child care seems to be a consistent issue where money is concerned and drives many moms to choose to stay home.
- Workplace discrimination: In a field experiment conducted by Patrick Ishizuka, mothers are still disadvantaged in the labor market as a long-standing bias about their commitments and availability continues to exist in our culture.
- Lack of balance: Moms have an insane number of responsibilities and the load isn’t always reduced when she goes to work. In 2020, UrbanSitter shared with CNBC Make It that of the nearly 500 parents surveyed, 53% said moms are their children’s primary caregivers. And, more women took on the brunt of the responsibilities (and had to leave the workforce) when children were forced into virtual school during the pandemic!
According to a report by Mavin Clinic, new mothers would leave the workforce within 1 year of having a baby at a rate of 43% before the pandemic due to burnout. The pandemic brought about 2.4 million more cases of working mom burnout and are steadily rising.
Why We Feel Guilty
There are many reasons moms may feel guilty about going back to work.
For some, it may come down to their personal feelings about motherhood, while others worry about what others think of them or the standards and ideals society has set for moms (whether or not they work).
In general, moms always feel guilty when they think that they’re not doing the perfect job or they’re letting others down.
For Laura Ferrari, co-owner and founder of Hyperchat Social, this was her story. She felt guilty while taking the time away from her kids to build and run her business … and similarly the guilt to her team when she wanted to unplug to go on vacation to spend time with her children.
Corritta, of It’s a Family Thing, tells us that she returned to work when her son was only 7 weeks old because she had very little PTO and she “felt as though [she] was missing everything.”
Dr. Maureen C Kenny is a professor at Florida International Univerity and shared experience with working mom guilt with us, stating that “There is always a feeling of when I am at home, I should be at work and when I am at work, that feeling is that I should be home.” She never felt she was 100% present wherever she was. Furthermore, if she missed something important in her child’s life due to work, she felt “crappy.” And when she’d hear about all the things stay-at-home moms were able to do, she’d feel guilty that she couldn’t.
Dr. Kenny recommended the book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead as it helped her with her working mom guilt by realizing “there is a role for everyone.”
How Do I Get Rid of Working Mom Guilt?
In this day and age, it is more important than ever for parents to have a good work-life balance. But how do you achieve that? It is never as easy as it sounds. We all know the struggle of trying to balance parenting and work commitments, let alone the guilt of neglecting one in favor of the other.
Although most moms experience working mom guilt there are some ways to combat it … and maybe even find some balance. Here’s how:
- Set aside time every day to talk with your kids – discuss what they did at school or be available if something is bothering them
- Take time out of your busy day to play with them or do something that they enjoy doing
- Let go of the notion of the “perfect mom” because it doesn’t exist. Recognize that you’re a good mom or come to grips with “good enough.”
- Get rid of Facebook and other social media (at least on your phone) to prevent distractions from interrupting your family life and to allow you to be more present. Plus, it’ll keep you from comparing your life to other moms’ seemingly perfect lives.
- Remind yourself of your reason – whether out of financial need, a financial goal or for some other personal reason, you’re not wrong for working!
- Get help! I know it’s usually easier said than done and StudyFinds tells us that according to a study, 3 out of 4 people don’t ask for help until it’s too late. Avoiding burnout is just one of the reasons asking for help is important for moms. Your parents, your spouse, your friends … most people are more than willing to help if you’d just bite the bullet and ask.
Hear this …
Asking dads to pitch in is not babysitting. It’s called parenting and he’s not relieved of those duties just because you can do it. A partner worth his weight in gold will recognize that your marriage and parenting are a partnership.
That said, don’t forget to:
- prioritize your spouse (this can go a long way toward getting his support)
- take time for yourself – you can’t pour from an empty cup!
As a mom who has been on both sides of the coin, a stay-at-home mom and later a work-at-home mom, both are difficult. And I have found guilt is a side effect of both because, either way, you don’t feel you contribute as much as you should to either the finances or to being part of your child’s upbringing.
For me, contributing to the household finances while working in a career I love has been so much more fulfilling than being a stay-at-home mom. However, life is no less hard, just a different kind of hard. Instead of feeling mentally ill as a stay-at-home mom, there’s the stress of trying to get it all done as a working mom, even though I have a great husband who tries to share child-rearing and household duties in addition to working full-time as well.
I still feel a pang of working mom guilt when I miss another opportunity to chaperone my child’s field trip or am too tired to do an evening activity.
But, I combat this by attempting to dedicate more time on the weekends to my family, have two nights a week dedicated to date-night-in with my husband, and am working on spending more time reading and practicing self-care while turning off work notifications on the weekends.