What is Working Mom Guilt?

Mom guilt is a feeling of self-doubt experienced by many mothers. Working mom guilt has the added aspect of concern that participation in the workforce is negatively impacting our children. The term “mom guilt” gets thrown around a lot in today’s society. But what some people call mom guilt is actually not guilt at all. It’s shame.

Guilt vs. Shame

Brené Brown is known for her work on shame and vulnerability. Her definitions of guilt and shame help shed light on the distinction. She says:

“I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful—it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

“I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging—something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” –Brené Brown

This quote gives us the framework for combating our mom guilt and shame. (We’ll get there in a minute.)

What Causes Working Mom Guilt?

There are a lot of influences that can contribute to working mom guilt, both external and internal. 

External influences include societal expectations like traditional gender roles, historical expectations of mothers as the primary caregivers, and cultural influences that place a high value on individual achievement and self sufficiency. Comparison in the age of social media is also a significant factor.

Internal influences contribute as well. These can take the form of self-imposed standards, perfectionism, and unrealistic expectations.

Tips to Overcome Working Mom Guilt

Align Actions with Core Values

Let’s come back to that quote from Brené Brown. We feel guilty when we hold our actions up to our values and see that they don’t match.  Most people don’t actually take the time to slow down and evaluate what truly matters to them. This leaves them in a position where their priorities are likely being determined by others. So, by getting clear on our values, we are better able to make conscious decisions that align with them. This is a powerful tool in your battle against working mom guilt.

Challenge Limiting Beliefs and Reframe Thoughts

When you feel working mom guilt, pause and identify the thought that triggered it. There is likely a limiting belief embedded in that thought. It might help to ask yourself a few questions, like:

  • Where did this thought come from? Is it even based on what I believe?
  • Is this thought actually true?
  • Is there evidence that contradicts this thought?
  • Is this thought helpful?
  • Am I giving something (an event or situation) more meaning than it deserves?
  • Am I comparing reality to an unrealistic expectation?
  • What other (more helpful) ways could I view this situation?
  • Is there a realistic action I can take now to improve this situation?
  • If my friend told me she was having this thought, what would I say to her?

Healthy Social Media Habits

Social media can heighten comparison and cause mom guilt. All the curated highlight reels can cause feelings of inadequacy. Pay attention to how the accounts you follow make you feel. Search out feeds that uplift and encourage you. Find people with values and goals for their motherhood that are similar to yours.

It may also be healthy to limit your social media usage or take a break from it altogether. Figure out what healthy social media usage looks like for you.

Boundaries to Combat Working Mom Guilt

Evaluate your boundaries in other areas of your life as well. You might establish a boundary of only answering work emails during work hours to be present for family time. 

If you work from home, you could establish “question time” with your kids to minimize distractions. My kids know that if I’m at my desk question time is from ten-to until the hour. If the minutes of the time aren’t in the 50’s and it’s not an emergency, they need to wait. (Obviously your kids have to be old enough to recognize numbers to implement this.) I taped a paper with a “5” pointing to the appropriate spot on the clock to serve as a visual reminder when my kids were younger.

You can check out the first half of the How to Set Boundaries with Family Around Gifts post to learn more about setting boundaries.

Essentialism and Simplification

I love the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown! The premise of the book is that there are very few things in life that are actually essential. By identifying and focusing on them, we can make big strides in the things that really matter. This ties in well with the idea of basing your choices on your core values. Getting clarity about what is most important helps simplify and create an intentional life that reduces working mom guilt.

Prioritize Self-Care and Self Compassion

As moms, it’s easy to fall into the constant cycle of tending to the needs of others. While it’s important to care for those we love, burnout is a very real concern. Take time to fill your own cup, whatever that looks like for you.

Keep in mind that it’s impossible to be everything for everyone all the time. Give yourself grace and self compassion.

Community and Connection

Connection is the antidote to shame. Find a community that assumes positive intent, uplifts, and encourages. You can connect with others dealing with similar struggles and support each other. Community members may offer a new perspective, or may have already navigated what you’re going through. Realizing others have similar experiences can normalize feelings and help us feel less alone as we process our working mom guilt.

Working Mom Guilt

If you are experiencing working mom guilt, please know that you aren’t alone. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay there. We can take intentional steps to identify and align with our values. Reframing our thoughts, setting healthy boundaries, simplifying, and connecting can help alleviate working mom guilt.

If you want to learn more about combating working mom guilt, check out our book!

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