What’s Up With All The Mom Guilt? Can We Quit It Already?
Dear, Entreprenista Mamas. As I sit down to write this post, I am also glancing at the clock every five minutes. Why? Because I have to pick up my daughter from kindergarten in 20 minutes, and after volunteering at her school this morning, managing emails for a few work projects, meeting up with a colleague for lunch, running to the store to buy dinner, rushing home to do the dishes so that our kitchen (at least) doesn’t look like a bomb went off when the in-laws come over tonight, I now only have 20 minutes to work on this post--and I want every second to do it, because I have SO MUCH to say on this topic!
So, dear entreprenistas, if you don’t have kiddos and you’re kind of rolling your eyes right now, this may be the time to duck out and tune in next week for a more business-related blog post. But if you do have one kiddo (or five), let’s dig in here. Cuz I’m gonna get down to the delicious stuff on this topic.
Side Note: I wrote the rest of this blog post at a later date (in a much more peaceful state). 😂
The tragic reality is that mommy guilt affects all of my mom friends and family members on a daily basis. This leads me to believe that mommy guilt is a wide-spread epidemic--at least in the U.S.
Whether because of work, a challenging child, a complicated relationship with a family member or spouse, or any number of other reasons, us moms are masters at guilting ourselves concerning our kids. If you’re a mom and have found a way to completely get rid of or combat mommy guilt, please get in touch with me! I’d love to interview you and share your secret. But for now, here are a few things I encounter that produce guilt for me as a mom on a weekly basis, and my commentary on how to combat them. Please know that I am no expert on this topic. I'm probably the most guilty of succumbing to mommy-guilt (pun intended 😉), but I want to put the message out there that I do feel this way daily, and at the very least, you are not alone!
In The Office
Let me ask you something; when did we move away from supporting other women and empowering them to live their best life? When did women become each other's worst enemy in the office? When I became a mom for the first time I was working a full-time corporate job. I remember distinctly that that mommy guilt surfaced right after I announced my pregnancy to my office (at around 12 weeks). The shift in consciousness was immediate. And questions about ‘whether I would stay home once the baby was born,’ and would I breastfeed because it’s super hard to do with an office job,’ and ‘did I plan to work through my whole pregnancy, could I keep up?’ Not all of these comments and questions were phrased so directly, but the underlying tone was there. And I felt oh so guilty. First I felt guilty for not already knowing those answers...as if a rule book was out there somewhere to tell us working moms what to do. Then I started to feel immense guilt around the fact that I did not plan to stay home after my daughter was born.
But it’s not just colleagues that can make the guilt surrounding working motherhood come out, it’s also the cultural norms we’ve created for ourselves as women that bring out the immensely crushing and arbitrary requirements we place on ourselves, but I’ll get into that later.
How to deal with office guilting tactics…
This is the question, right? And I don’t have a definitive answer, but I know from experience, the first thing you can do is try...and I say ‘try’ because I know how hard it can be in an office environment...but really, truly, try to stop giving a damn what people think! I mean it, mamas. If Susy Joe has 100-and-one comments about you needing to leave work early on Fridays to pick up your baby, or Bobby Sue makes passive aggressive remarks when you’re late to a meeting because of a sick child, try to remember that you are a goddess. In fact, it is an AMAZING thing that you were able to drag your screaming, snotty child out of the house, get them dressed, put their shoes on (in spite of them taking their shoes off fifty times), deliver them to daycare, grab the coffee you were dying for since 4 am (due to being awake all night with a grumpy kiddo), and still make it to your meeting at all! You’re in fact the most incredible person in the room!
Second, find other working moms that get it, maybe at your office or daycare or around the neighborhood and befriend them! Believe me, it may seem like you are the only working mom to ever have encountered a struggle, especially when you're isolated or going it alone, but your working-mom-buddies are out there. You just need to find them. These moms will be your safety unit, your shoulder to cry on, your cheerleaders and SO MUCH MORE. Working moms need other working moms. We really do. So go find a working-mom friend, like yesterday. Okay?! 💞
On The Playground
If you have a child, or more, over the age of one, you’ve likely encountered and been blown away by playground politics. The playground at the park and the playground at school pickup/dropoff are both breeding grounds for mom-to-mom snarkiness and bad behavior. If you agree with me, I’d like you to also pause for a minute and ask yourself if you have been the ringleader lately behind some of this lousy playground behavior. If you have, I’d like to kindly ask you to QUIT IT. 🙅Seriously, ladies. We need each other's support! What we don't need are judgments passed about our outfit, how we’re monitoring our children, what we’re feeding them, etc. We need to be a support system and remember that we’re all just trying to figure it out, do the best job we can do to raise our children and get everything else done in life that we want or need to do!
I remember the first time I had a negative experience with a mom on the playground distinctively. My daughter spoke exceptionally early. In fact, she was talking in full sentences at nine months. I can’t take credit for this, it just happened. She also started attending daycare at nine-months-old because I was working and a nanny became too expensive. Again, just a factor for our family. Not a judgment on what I think any other family should or should not do. I was on the playground in the middle of the day with her. We had stayed home from school and work to get some QT together. A couple of other ladies were on the playground as well with a child who was one of theirs. This little boy was about the same age as my daughter (two at the time) and kept pushing her and telling her that he ‘hated her.’ I was unsure how to handle the situation because the mother of the boy didn’t seem to notice that he was acting unkindly to my daughter. Eventually, after moving around the playground to avoid him, having him follow us repeatedly trying to hit my daughter, she started to cry. The mom finally noticed and came running over, yelling at her son to ‘stop hitting!’ She then looked at her friend and me and said, "I don’t know why he does that!" And continued her conversation, with a bit more engagement into what was going on with the kids than before. It was at this point that I decided we would gracefully figure out how to leave the playground, but it was also at this moment that the mom of the little boy (still trying to hit my daughter) noticed how well my child spoke. I think she said something like, “Oh my god! How old is she?” I laughed and said she was two. “Wow!” the mom said, “she’s speaking full sentences! How did you GET her to talk that well.” I was already checking out of engaging with this woman, but the ‘Get her’ comment really Got to me. I didn’t ‘Get’ my daughter to talk a certain way, if anything, I am constantly amazed by this little being who also happens to be my child, and humbled by her. I chose one of my canned responses to this comment. Laughing uncomfortably, I said, “Oh, you’re sweet (not). I think she was just born to be a speaker! And she’s been in preschool or daycare since she was pretty little, I think being around other kiddos has really helped her learn!” The mom gave me a fake, raised-eyebrow smile, backed up to where her friend was standing, and said (still looking at me), “Oh, I would NEVER allow my child to go to daycare.” I was astounded. First, that she felt comfortable saying something like that to a complete stranger, and second, that a mom whose kid had spent the last hour calling my daughter names while following her around the playground trying to hit her would feel comfortable saying anything judgemental at all! I took my daughter by the hand, and we left.
How to deal with public guilting tactics...
I’ve thought about that moment a lot over the years. I’ve contemplated why she might say something so aggressive and mean, why we as women feel the need to be cruel to each other, and how my reaction might have helped or hurt the situation. Should I have told her off? Was walking away without comment the right thing to do? Ultimately, I am still not sure what the answer is here, but I do know that I want to be a woman, a professional, a mom, a sister and a friend who lifts other women up instead of making them feel shame and guilt about their choices.
Additionally, I am sure that the mother on the playground that day whose child was cruel to mine and made those immature remarks, was fighting an inner battle of her own. Who knows why or what she was dealing with, but I think it’s helpful as a mom facing any number of opinions and judgments out there to remember to a) have sympathy for a bully (they are human and dealing with their own challenges), and b) it’s not your problem or responsibly to engage with that person. You can just walk (or run🏃) away!
From The Family
It may seem ass-backward that your parent, in-laws, or extended family would shame a working mom in any way. These individuals are there to love and support you, right? But family dynamics can at times be dysfunctional and create more stress with their opinions, judgments and ‘strong-suggestions’ on how you should be raising and interacting with your kiddos. It can be as simple as your own mom repeatedly asking you when you are planning to potty-train your three-year-old. Little does she know, you and your spouse have been painstakingly trying to get little Joey to show interest in the toilet, and he is just not ready! Or it can come in the form of overt and blatant criticism. For example, I had a close friend tell me once that her mother-in-law took her to coffee to say to her that unless her kids went to private school, she wouldn’t set up the trusts for them she had planned and that she would know that my friend just didn’t care about raising intelligent adults. Harsh! 🙊
So what do you do when you’re faced with a constant stream of opinions, ‘strong-suggestions,’ and judgments from family? I’m going to share a few of my learnings from being a parent of two children below. But know, this is just what worked for me. You may have your own insights, and I’d love to hear them in the comments!
For me, the first and most important thing, I realized after being wracked with guilt a few times concerning feedback I received about my children and parenting style, is to make sure you are on the SAME PAGE as your spouse or partner. If you’re a single parent, hopefully, you can find common ground with your child’s other parental figure.
Second, you need to decide if the ‘feedback’ is something you a) agree with (take the ego out and really think it through), b) can brush off and move on, or c) need to bring up to your offending relative with a kind, ‘please back the eff off!’ message.
Third, do the thing you’ve decided needs to be done, whether it be that you change your behavior, ignore the comment, or discuss it with your relative, and then try to move on!
I am most guilty of lamenting for months or even years about a comment someone made about me, my parenting, my work, or some other element of myself and reading WAY MORE into it than is necessary or healthy. DON’T. DO. THIS. I have spent years unlearning the harmful habit of over-analyzing every little thing. And some days I still fail at letting go. But, each day is a new page. A blank sheet, giving you permission to be the mom, wife, daughter, friend, and professional YOU WANT TO BE. Not someone else’s vision. YOUR VISION. Now go OWN IT! 💪
In Our Heads
The last point is a good segway into this one. I’m not going to spend oodles of time on ‘getting into your head’ about guilt and guilting yourself in this way. There are lots of qualified professionals out there who can give better insight and help to deal with crushing self-guilting. In fact, below are three books I’d highly recommend reading on the topic:
The thing I have found most helpful to remember--when I get all up in my head and start in on the self-loathing--is that it is just in my head.
There’s any number of things I guilt myself about each week. Why I can’t work out in the morning more often...at 6 am...which is the only time I usually have free. Why my work is not more significant, more creative, more on time...in spite of only having four hours to work some days in between drop-offs, picks ups and household needs. Why I can’t volunteer at my daughter’s school more often, sign the kids up for more after-school activities, throw the perfect Pinterest party, etc., etc. 😓Does this sound familiar?
How to combat internal mommy guilt...
When I start to write down all the ways I feel guilty as a working mom each day, I notice how crazy some of the requirements I place on myself sound. It’s a good tactic (writing down everything you think you SHOULD be doing). You may start to realize that it’s impossible for one person to do all those things. Maybe you need to delegate a few items to family or let a few things go.
But also, go easy on yourself when you catch yourself in a guilting loop. We all do it. But you have the power to push the STOP button. You can say, ‘ENOUGH!’ And, you have the strength to do what you can do each day and know that the rest will still be there tomorrow waiting for you...patiently. 😜
Let me know what other creative ways you’ve learned to combat working mommy guilt! Leave your suggestions in the comments.
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