Overcoming the Guilt and Stigma Associated with Being a Working Mom

May 16, 2007 — Leave a comment

KSL TVââ?¬â??Studio 5

We are told that we “can have it all:” a fulfilling marriage, a successful family life, and a rewarding career. Why then, are we worried about home when we’re at work, and worried about work when we’re at home? Can we really have it all without this great divide of heart and mind?Managing work with family is wrought with worry and sacrifice that is unavoidable. The key to mental health is to first acknowledge what is before we can learn to manage what is: The reality in this situation? Women will often have that nagging feeling that they are not doing enough to satisfy both work and home obligations. Don’t let those feelings surprise you.

Best way for me to explain this is to tell you about a phone conversation between a woman and her mother. For 30 minutes, this mother criticized her adult daughter for not calling her more often, for not visiting her more often, forgetting her last birthday, missing the last Thanksgiving dinner, and a host of other sins. Then, for the next 30 minutes, this daughter promised her mother to stop doing what she had been doing and to start doing what she hadn’t been doingââ?¬Â¦.but all these apologies and promises seemed to fall on deaf ears. So in total exasperation she finally said, “Mom, why are making me feel so guilty?” With this cheerful smile in her voice her mother said, “Revenge!”

Motherhood and guilt almost seem to go hand-in-hand, something that doesn’t always seem fair with all the sacrifice that comes with the responsibility of parenthood. A mother’s guilt is as normal as changing diapers and kissing scraped knees. You know what’s interesting is that when a woman finds out she’s pregnant, she feels guilty if she’s been drinking or eating the wrong foods. If a woman can’t get pregnant, she, too, feels guilty and believes that somewhere along the lines she did something wrong. For the first time on Mother’s Day I felt guilty as a non-mother type for not contributing more to other people’s children after hearing a particular talk at church about a childless women who was doing just that. There’s no escaping this tendency.

However, what I personally know about guilt is that the guiltier I feel the more self-involved I become. Guilt is an internal state that is self-defeating and self-absorbing. Guilt is all about me, not the subject of my feelings. When I’m so busy feeling guilty I fail to enjoy what I’m doing in the moment and who I’m sharing that moment with. No one wins.

Consider that the root word for guilt is “gold,” as in the penalty that is paid for a criminal offense. How often does the punishment of Mother Guilt truly fit the crime, whether one works out of the home or not? There are considerable personal costs of feeling guilty. Just think about how much energy it wastes and how much stress it creates.

Replace Guilt with Regret

Regret is guilt without the neurosis. A simple change in semantics can make a large impact. Next time you feel guilt over something that happened, replace it with the word “regret.”

With the first pangs of guilt/regret, ask yourself, “Is this something in my life that needs addressing?” “Have I made the best possible decision for me and my family?” If the topic is returning back to work, for instance, and your answer is “Yes,” then guilt has no purpose. However, you can have a regret that there isn’t more of you to go around. Because when we choose a road to the right, we give up being fully involved in the road to the left. The truth is we cannot have it all; we make choices and then we need to make peace and be happy with those choices or make new ones. Perhaps your new mantra is “Be here now.”

Re-Examine Priorities

Priorities are forever changing. If you regret that you are not spending enough time with your children, what changes can and need to be made? Earlier I mentioned that the first key to mental health is to acknowledge what is. The second key to mental health is to remain flexible. “While yes, I’ve made this decision, and here are the consequences; is this the outcome that I and my family can live with?” If not, what adjustments need to be made? One of the biggest mistakes we make is to never re-evaluate and just keep on marching forward only WISHING things were different. Brainstorm! Think outside the box; involve the whole family if that’s appropriate, and make the necessary changes. Perhaps older children need to take on more responsibility in the home if money is tight. This teaches them that we’re all in this together and need to work as cohesive unit.

Compromise and Negotiate

When a mother must work both inside and outside the home, realize that your life will be consumed with compromises and negotiations. There will be days when work comes first and there will be days that family comes first. Again, you must choose because we cannot divide ourselves down the middle and be in two places at one time. There will be regrets. There will be times when you’re negotiating with your spouse or children, and other days when you’ll be negotiating with your employer. Many times we fail to ask for what we needââ?¬Â¦.we teach people how to treat us by setting boundariesââ?¬Â¦.so, ask away!

Refrain From Comparing

Your family situation is unique. While another family seems to not suffer any consequences to both parents working outside the house, none of us see the picture in its entirety. Keep your eyes on your own family and enlist others help where you need it, if that’s in after-school care or help with homecare. If working to buy more things for your family is your motivation so you can keep up with the neighbors, know that I’ve never heard from a client in my 16 years of practice that “my parents never bought us enough stuff.” Instead, I hear, “My parents weren’t around much. We didn’t spend much time together as a family.”

BOTTOM LINE: Guilt wastes time; but regrets teach us about what’s important. Remember to enlist the help of your family – “We’re all in this together,” and continually re-evaluate the demands of work and home.

If you have a question for Dr. Liz regarding her Studio 5 segments, or her private practice, you may e-mail her at drliz@ksl.com.

With the first pangs of guilt/regret, ask yourself, “Is this something in my life that needs addressing?” “Have I made the best possible decision for me and my family?” If the topic is returning back to work, for instance, and your answer is “Yes,” then guilt has no purpose. However, you can have a regret that there isn’t more of you to go around. Because when we choose a road to the right, we give up being fully involved in the road to the left. The truth is we cannot have it all; we make choices and then we need to make peace and be happy with those choices or make new ones. Perhaps your new mantra is “Be here now.”

Re-Examine Priorities

And they are forever changing. If you regret that you are not spending enough time with your children, what changes can and need to be made? Earlier I mentioned that the first key to mental health is to acknowledge what is. The second key to mental health is to remain flexible. “While yes, I’ve made this decision, and here are the consequences; is this the outcome that I and my family can live with?” If not, what adjustments need to be made? One of the biggest mistakes we make is to never re-evaluate and just keep on marching forward only WISHING things were different. Brainstorm! Think outside the box; involve the whole family if that’s appropriate, and make the necessary changes. Perhaps older children need to take on more responsibility in the home if money is tight. This teaches them that we’re all in this together and need to work as cohesive unit.

Compromise and Negotiate

When a mother must work both inside and outside the home, realize that your life will be consumed with compromises and negotiations. There will be days when work comes first and there will be days that family comes first. Again, you must choose because we cannot divide ourselves down the middle and be in two places at one time. There will be regrets. There will be times when you’re negotiating.

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Dr. Liz Hale

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