Growing up with a stay-at-home mom, I always envisioned a more “traditional” life, with myself being at home with my children while my husband went off to work. I did not realize how much I would enjoy the challenge of starting and growing a business with my husband. However, as my lifelong dream of being a stay-at-home mom and my professional goals have changed, I often feel a conflict inside myself. I know neither being a stay-at-home mom nor running a business is bad or better than the other. But for years, I have felt uneasy. During the pandemic, as I have tried to balance both, I have come to realize I can’t.
Mom guilt is “that pervasive feeling of not doing enough as a parent, not doing things right, or making decisions that may ‘mess up’ your kids in the long run,” says Healthline. This could be a short-term thing like feeling you should have given your child broccoli instead of mac and cheese for the third meal in a row. Or it could be a long-term feeling, like you can’t send them to that expensive private school and being convinced that is the only way for them to get the best education possible. It is the feeling of I should be doing this, that, or the other.
Often, we may feel like we are alone in our journey, guilt, and search for balance. But the reality is, there are 23.5 million women in the U.S. who are working and have children under the age of 18 years old, as per the U.S. census. A working mother expressed to me that she felt kind of silly feeling guilty for sending her kids to childcare, because just a year ago, she felt guilty for putting them in front of a TV so she could get work done. Throughout the past year of the pandemic, many parents have expressed frustration with work demands and taking care of their kids. They felt like they were dropping the ball on either their home or work life. Here are three ways to cope with mom guilt:
Identifying Core Values
About two years ago, I met with a therapist who helped me identify my core values. We wrote out a list of what things I wanted to do or felt I believed in. Then, she helped me realize a lot of these things fell into similar categories. From there, we identified two to three main core values that drive me personally. When I completed the exercise, she explained I was going back and forth between two great things I felt very passionate about. My business fulfills my core value of strengthening families by uplifting parents during their transition to parenthood. Being a stay-at-home mom also fulfills my core value of strengthening families by being there to teach my own children as they grow into intelligent adults. The reason I feel so unsettled is because they both fulfill my core values. Identifying that I was fulfilling my core values was only the first step. Once I identified that both were “good” and one was not superior to the other, I had to figure out the balance.
Keep in mind, there will be times when we have to choose to do something above another thing to fulfill our core values. However, we can choose and then be calm and confident in our choices. For example, if someone really values hard work and family life, but there comes a time when their child’s soccer game is at the same time as a work meeting, they are going to need to choose between them. Some let this choice just happen to them. They may go to the work meeting because their boss personally invited them to do a presentation. Or they may go to the soccer game because the coach asked if they would bring the half-time snacks. But in my experience, the guilt comes from not deliberately making a choice.
When We Let Choices Happen To Us
Working from home puts strain on many women’s capacity as a mother and as a professional. Tracy Brown, author of Why Working From Home is So Exhausting – And How to Reinvigorate, explains, “One of the fundamental elements of good mental health is autonomy, self-expression, and sense of control.” Many of us have been forced into working from home because of situations we find ourselves in. Feeling like we don’t have choices can drain us emotionally and physically. And ultimately, we will look back trying to figure out how we got here or what brought us to this point. But as we mindfully make deliberate choices, we can feel more fulfilled.
Let’s take the above example of someone who has a work meeting at the same time as their child’s soccer game. On one side, if they didn’t go to the work meeting, they could probably catch up. On the flip side, their child has two soccer games a week; missing one for a work meeting would not make a long-lasting impact. However, if they don’t deliberately make a choice, they often feel bad about the other thing they are missing out on. Choosing not to choose is a choice. As we proactively decide we are going to miss our child’s game to go to a work meeting but plan a set time to go get ice cream the next day to hear all about it, we are able to fulfill both our core values. But thinking we will be able to have it all without making any trade-off’s is a fantasy.
Choose To Make Decisions
Now that the pandemic is slowing down and many schools and workplaces are opening back up, there are more opportunities to deliberately make decisions. For example, my kids can now go to childcare. This excites me because I feel like I can focus my energy on working for four hours a day, and then the rest of the day I can focus on them — instead of constantly going back and forth. I looked up different childcare places and found one I felt good about. However, I have never sent my children to childcare or school, and the thought of having them be with someone else is difficult for me. I hear the doubting voice in my head that says, ‘Sally Sue is able to work from home and not send her children to childcare.’ However, this past year has shown me the mental back and forth between taking care of my children and running a business has emotionally drained me.
We can take control of our lives and fulfill our core values as we consciously put decisions back into our lives. I’m realizing I am choosing to fulfill my core value of strengthening families by sending my kids to childcare for four hours a day so I can work and influence others. Then, I am choosing to put work away and fully invest in them the rest of the day. Will there be days my kids stay home sick, or I must do a work meeting in the afternoon? Yes. But the principle is choosing to fulfill my core values and not feeling guilty for those choices.
Allowing other desires or tasks that pop up to make choices for us is exhausting. The feeling deep down that we aren’t doing what we want to be doing can take a mental toll on our bodies. As we identify our core values and then make deliberate choices to fulfill these core values, true peace is found. You can feel confident in your own balance between work life and home life because you know what your core values are and have decided to make your own choices.
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