Picture this: As these very words are being typed, the kids have just got home from school and are vying for attention, asking for snacks and screens for entertainment but a deadline looms so you cave to their requests and plough on feeling overwhelmed by mum guilt. Sound familiar?
Motherhood comes with a huge side of feelings of inadequacy. Whether you’re taking a few minutes to yourself or not feeding your child a home-cooked organic meal, there’s always something making you feel like you’re a terrible mother. And as for trying to balance work and being a mum? Well, that just about pushes mum guilt off the chart. Why? Because, as women and mothers, we are conditioned to feel that we should be ever present for our children, we are bombarded with advice on how best to raise healthy, balanced kids and we are judged (or at least we feel judged) when we don’t comply.
In short, we feel permanently inadequate and forever falling short of being the mother and the employee that we think we should be. The fact that mothers who work are called working mums and dads who work are simply called dads speaks volumes – author and journalist Amy Westervelt sums it up perfectly in her book Forget Having It All: ‘We expect women to work like they don’t have children, and raise children as if they don’t work.’ Torn between the two, women are forever chasing that elusive work/life balance.
So, how can working mums stop battling with constant guilt? It starts with refocusing on what’s important and redefining what makes a good mum (because guess what, it doesn’t include giving up your career…).
Remember the Reasons
Understand why you have chosen to work. Write it down, say it out loud mantra-style in the mirror every day, use it as a response to any mum guilt inducing naysayers. Maybe you need to work for financial reasons, perhaps you gave up on a career that you loved, perhaps you don’t feel fulfilled by family life alone and a job will give you the satisfaction – and sanity – you crave. Whatever the reason, you and your family will be better off for it and that is absolutely good enough.
Set Aside Mum Time
Be fully present when you need to be and spend quality time with your kids. This isn’t always easy, especially if you work from home and boundaries become blurred – but committing to dedicated time with your children is equally important to focusing purely on work. Trying to do both at the same time is guaranteed to not only make you feel as though you’re failing at it all but will cause both to suffer. Put the phone down, don’t feel tempted to check emails and make a clear definition between time with the family and time for work.
Make sure you are supported – by your husband/partner, by your helper, by friends – remember you cannot be all things to all people (something most mothers are actually guilty of). Delegate, ask for help and share responsibilities rather than trying to do it all yourself.
Don’t Set the Bar So High
Be ‘good enough’ rather than ‘perfect’ and accept the fact that there will be compromises and sacrifices when combining motherhood with work. Social pressures and expectations have shaped an unrealistic version of what we should do and be. Children don’t need home-baked treats, elaborate handmade dress-up costumes and lengthy bedtime stories each night as much as they need a happy, un-stressed mum. Do what you can and don’t beat yourself up over what you can’t.
Unfollow the ‘Supermums’
Have a Facebook/Instagram cull. Social media exacerbates mum guilt – you don’t need to be bombarded with photos of seemingly perfect mothers who have everything under control. The truth is, they probably don’t, but despite the carefully curated images, it’s almost impossible not to compare. Mute the ones who make you feel inadequate and follow those who share your reality (we love @mother_pukka for her honest commentary on parenthood and the work/life balance –@annamathur for the super supportive digital village she’s created and @mamastillgotit_ for being brilliantly funny about all things parenting).
If It’s Not Mum Guilt, It’s Something Else
Don’t forget that everybody feels guilty about something and quitting the job t stay at home would only shift your mum guilt elsewhere. A lot of stay-at-home mums feel guilty that they aren’t working. Just ask them, you’ll likely end up with a long list of other complaints. But connecting with other parents, both working and not, will help you put things in perspective. Speak to friends about your guilt and sit back as they share their own worries and anxieties with you.
You’re a Role Model
There’s no doubt that a mum’s ambition is good for the whole family. As a role model who encourages daughters to aspire to be whoever they want to be and who allows sons to understand that childcare/domestic work is not just a mother’s job and as an equal to a partner. Most of all, if it’s what you want or need then it’s good for you – and a happy mum makes for a happy home.
And as for that mum guilt? It’s time to change the narrative about choosing family OR career – because it’s very possible to have both – and to redefine social norms and what it means to be a good mum. Because the most important thing is that your kids know they’re both loved and important despite any working hours you spend away from them.