Getting Rid of Working Mum Guilt
This week it’s the anniversary of my second, and final, return to work after maternity leave.
There were several ways returning to work after maternity leave the second time was very different from my first: It was winter rather than summer; I had two children to juggle alongside my work, not just one; I was in a more senior role, having been promoted twice since having my first daughter; and I didn’t feel any working mum guilt.
Yes, you read that correctly: I had no working mum guilt. Neither at the time I returned, nor any time since.
For the first two and a half years of my life as a working mum I felt guilty ALL the time.
When I was at work, I felt guilty because I should be spending more time with my family. I worried others might think I was selfish, going back to work because I enjoyed it, when really my job now was to be a mum and to put my children first. I felt guilty that going back to work meant I was putting myself first instead. Yes, there were bills to be paid, but maybe we should be looking to reduce those so I could stay at home, if I was actually going to be a good mum for my child?
When I was at home I felt guilty because I should be spending more time working to get on top of my massive to do list. I felt guilty about the amount of work that still wasn’t done. I felt guilty that I wanted to be able to spend more time with my daughter, and that I left in good time every day so I could get back for bath-time, when there was so much to be done.
And then, about two years after I returned to work and after a big internal promotion (that came with an even higher workload), everything changed.
I had some sessions with a leadership coach. I remember saying in my first session “I’m confident I can do the job or work out how to do it better – but please help me with my work life balance because I’m killing myself and I want to be able to do this job that I love forever”.
And when I said I wanted to sort out my work life balance, of course what I really needed to do was get over my working mum guilt. Because that guilt was a constant underlying feeling that was driving everything that was causing my unhappy work life balance.
I was constantly rushing around trying to be everything to everyone (to prove I wasn’t selfish, and stop anyone telling me I wasn’t doing a good enough job).
And I was ignoring my husband and friends and putting no effort into any of those relationships or any kind of social life at all (because all my time outside the office was being spent either proving I was a good enough mum despite working full time in this big role, or proving I could cope with this big role by keeping on top of ALL the work things.)
But, as a result of the thinking I did in that coaching, my working mum guilt was well and truly ki-boshed. And it has never returned.
Here’s what I realised:
Unconsciously I’d had this idea that I had to choose between being a mum and being a career woman. Society had fed the thought it wasn’t possible to be good at both. (Society was wrong. I was, and am, bloody brilliant at both).
I recognised that feeling guilty was of no help whatsoever – it didn’t help me be EITHER a good mum or a good career woman, of those, let alone both. In fact, it was just making me feel miserable.
I realised I didn’t have to choose. I was mistakenly thinking I could own only one of those identities. Actually, all I had to choose was what most needed my attention and focus at any given moment.
And so I chose an identity that was being both a successful career woman and a brilliant mum. I realised I was both of these things all the time, that I was able to know where my priorities lay on any given day, and I would simply focus on whatever was most needed – whatever was the biggest priority – at any given time.
And when I chose to believe that, what happened was I gave myself permission to enjoy whatever I was doing. I enjoyed being able to focus on work when I was at work and I could focus on family when at home.
That was nearly 15 years ago now. Since then I’ve also come to know there are more truths that can help us ditch the working mum guilt:
We might be choosing to feel the guilt as a way of reminding ourselves that we care about doing a good job, when we worry that we might not be doing a good enough job. Reminding ourselves that it’s there to remind us that we want to do a good job, and then reminding ourselves that we really are doing the best we can, can help.
Loving your job can make a huge difference to being able to develop a brilliant work life balance: but loving your job can also make the guilt worse (am I choosing work over my child because I love it? Does that mean I love my work more than my child??!) remember, you don’t have to choose. You can do both. You deserve both. You can love both. It’s not either/or.
Knowing what your overall priorities are is helpful. But making something your overall priority in life (like your children) doesn’t mean putting that thing first every minute of every day to the exclusion of all else.
Ensuring our own needs are met is vital, and nobody else will do this for us. We won’t have the emotional, mental and physical health we need to be great at anything, let alone manage the ever-changing and challenging demands of parenthood, if we don’t.
If we’re worried about whether we’re being a good enough mum or not, and feelig guilty in case we’re not, we probably are.
So there’s no need for any more of that guilt, because there’s nothing to feel guilty about!
If anything in this post has resonated with you, or you’d like to explore ways of ditching your working mum (or dad!) guilt and improving your work life balance, please get in touch.
I’m Jo Lee, the No Stress Success Coach. I help ambitious people achieve the successful, enjoyable work life they want, without the stress, self-doubt and exhaustion they don’t. I help you make changes that mean you control your work rather than it controlling you, so you’re able to switch off, worry less, sleep better, work less and live more. So you feel balanced, not burned out.