What is working mum guilt (and how can I overcome it?)

Bonnie Evie Gifford
By Bonnie Evie Gifford,
updated on Nov 28, 2021

What is working mum guilt (and how can I overcome it?)

Why do some women feel guilty for pursuing their careers after having kids? We spoke with Transformative Coach Ali Scott to find out more

We’re all different: as individuals, and as parents. Making the decision to return to work after having a baby is tough. For some, there’s no choice at all: financial commitments, family situations, and the overwhelming cost of childcare are all readily acceptable reasons new mums give for returning to work. Others might choose to remain at home as a stay at home parent, finding motherhood alone to be a fulfilling and rewarding role to embrace.

Yet for some mums, there’s one motivator we don’t always talk about: Our desire to continue our careers, our need to keep a part of our identity outside of motherhood. And this? Well, it can cause more guilt than we might realise.

A survey by Mother and Baby revealed that despite six out of 10 mums welcoming the financial and emotional independence granted by employment, we feel guilty about leaving our children at home or in childcare, as we fear we are missing out on key moments in their development.

As a new mum, I was just one of my friendship group to recently have a baby. Yet the more I spoke with my friends and fellow mums, I came to realise: not everyone has the same desire to return to their careers. I became one of the many mothers out there to feel guilty for not finding motherhood to be the total, utter fulfilment that some mums do feel. It left me wondering: is it wrong to want to return to work after becoming a parent?

What is working mum guilt?

Working mum (mom) guilt refers to the feelings of guilt mothers might feel for returning to work instead of staying at home with their new baby or children. Thought by some to stem from the idea of the working mum dilemma, as author and journalist Amy Westervelt explains, “We expect women to work like they don’t have children, then raise children as if they don’t work.”

There’s societal pressure for us as women to do it all which, when faced with the stark reality of it, leaves us feeling guilty no matter what we do. And over time? That can lead to blurred boundaries, where work spills into family time, family worries cloud your mind at work, and you’re left feeling as if you’re missing out on all fronts and failing both at work and at home. Achieving work/life balance never felt so hard.

Why do some working mothers feel guilty?

Becoming a parent is a huge change that affects all areas of your life. Simple things we once took for granted, such as taking a shower, become a luxury you can’t always find time for in the early days. Finding time for yourself (be that for self-care, five minutes to enjoy a coffee without watching your kids, or catching up with the news without interruption) can leave you feeling guilty.

The cycle of guilt can feel endless. You may feel guilty for not spending enough time with your family, for missing little firsts, for relying on others for a few hours of childcare. You might feel guilty for working fewer hours than colleagues, for earning less money due to fewer hours (thereby putting more pressure on your partner), for sharing the household and childcare loads now that you’re working, or for worry that it’s selfish to return to work - only to have to then pay a significant amount for childcare.

We spoke with Life Coach Directory member and Transformative Wellbeing Coach, Ali Scott, to find out more about how we can feel more comfortable and less guilty in pursuing our careers as working mums.

“Getting away from guilt must always begin with a commitment to stop beating yourself up about what’s going on in your life. Guilt happens when we are misaligned with our true selves. So it’s a great practice to connect with yourself regularly, and ask: What does your truest self want? If you genuinely want to be successful at work and pursue a fulfilling career as well as being a mum, then the starting point is to fully accept this as your path.”

So while some of us feel guilty for wanting to return to work, others feel guilt for not wanting to return. But what causes some of us to feel this way? Ali explains:

“Guilt comes in when we think we should be doing something differently. We are all on different paths in life, we all have different things to express into the world. A mum who stays at home reluctantly can create a much less helpful environment for a child than a mum who is actively pursuing her dreams and happiness wherever that may take her some of the week.

“Honestly, your children would not want you to be unhappy about your choices. You can love a child fully and completely and not spend every waking moment with them, and your connection with your children will almost certainly grow stronger when guilt is erased from the picture and you are freed up to simply be who you are.”

How can I overcome working mum guilt?

No matter how eager we are to return to work and pursue our careers, those early days can feel overwhelming. Ali shares her recommendations to help mums ease back into work and start the process of pursuing their career goals once more.

1. Be gentle with yourself

“Returning to work after maternity leave can be one of the hardest things a woman ever has to go through. There can be a mixture of emotions, from sadness and guilt to stress to relief, and all can leave you feeling overwhelmed. So firstly (and secondly, and possibly thirdly) be gentle to yourself.

“Seriously, make sure you are talking to yourself with kindness. There’s no rule that says you have to find this easy. It’s all too common to get tied up in unrealistic expectations that are layered onto us by family, friends, colleagues and society in general. Some mums find returning to work a breeze, and some don’t. Neither is right or wrong.”

2. Share your concerns with someone you trust

“Make sure to voice your worries and concerns to your partner, trusted friend or therapist/coach. Sometimes just saying things out loud into a caring container can really help.”

3. Get a good night’s sleep

“There are some practical things you can do to help ensure a more smooth transition. Tiredness is often one of the main issues, and doing whatever you can to ensure sleep is as optimised as it can be will be key here.”

“Some mums find returning to work a breeze, and some don’t. Neither is right or wrong.”

4. Choose childcare that you feel comfortable with

“Ensuring you are leaving your baby with someone you feel extremely comfortable with is clearly important, and will go some way to alleviating any guilt about not being around 24/7.”

5. Be honest at work

“Be honest with your colleagues and boss. The more you pretend you can do when you’re really feeling that you can’t, the more they will give you to do - you know how this works.”

6. Give yourself time

“Realise that it will take you some time to feel fully comfortable in your new role of working mum, and allow yourself this time.”

Returning to work - whether that’s weeks, months, or years after having a child - is scary. In many ways, it feels like our lives outside of our immediate family bubble come to a standstill from the moment you first hold that tiny, screaming bundle. Yet making the choice to return to work can have such a positive impact on our own sense of self.

Figuring out what is best for not only your family, but for your own wellbeing is key to discovering if returning to work is the right choice for you. And if you don’t find the perfect solution immediately? There’s nothing to stop you from trying new ways - and new career paths - until you find one that works for you.

For more information, advice, and articles on working mum guilt and pursuing your career as a parent, visit Life Coach Directory or use the search below to find a coach near you.

To find out more about Transformative and Wellbeing Coach, Ali Scott, visit Ali Scott Coaching.

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