Why Mothers Who Return To Work Shouldn’t Feel So Guilty

CN_Marc_v1_eWork-life balance is tough for anyone who has a family. But it can be especially tough for women with young children who feel the call to get back to work — whether they need the money, just love to work, or some of each.

I was speaking with a mentoring client about this the other day. She’s been thinking about returning to work after taking some time off to be a full-time mom, and she was very honest with me about the heavy guilt this was causing for her. I know she’s not alone.

So where does all this the guilt come from?

While women don’t have an exclusive on guilt, we are frequently the victim of our own need to do it all — and then feel awful if we can’t. I’m sure you’ve seen stories about women who balance everything perfectly (not that we get the whole story), and we feel like less of a mother if we can’t live up to that.

Also, for many, just the thought of possibly letting our family down — and maybe for life destroying our children by selfishly putting “our” needs first (more on that simplification soon) — can easily throw us into a confusion of guilt and self-recrimination.

I have a friend who loves being a housewife and mother. It’s her job, and she does it well. She wouldn’t want to work at an office or anywhere else that’s not about taking care of her family, and luckily she can afford to do just that. But for many women, there is a deep hunger to work, and it triggers feelings of “failure” or simply “not a good mother”.

What the real story is for most children/mothers

These feelings come from long ago stuff where we felt small and inadequate. And we apply those feelings of not being enough to our lives today. But we are neither of those things any more. And we have valid needs that, when met, can actually enrich our family — it’s not a one or the other thing.

In fact, women who are not enjoying the wife and mother only role, carry their yearnings and deep hunger-for-more around like a cat carries a dead mouse — everyone can see it and smell it. But with the dead mouse gone, a mother can truly be herself — and her kids will not only feel it, they will learn from it and carry it forward into their own lives.

My mom was one of those mothers. She was a great mom who loved me, and I knew it. But she was also bored and sad — craving something more for her own life. And when she finally decided to get a job, I never saw her happier. We all felt it. And even more importantly, she became my role model. I loved hearing about her job and even visiting at times. And she never felt more real to me than when she was being her full self.

A poem for my client

I wrote this for my client, after she told me (paraphrasing) “I tried. I really tried, Ronnie Ann. But I just don’t like doing laundry! And I miss work. But I feel so guilty. Shouldn’t I want to be a good mother?”

Of course, the part we worked on together was the deeper definition of that phrase “good mother”. So many versions of what that can be — we are not all alike and hallelujah for that! She told me my mom’s story helped a lot, which is why I’m sharing it with you.

I wrote her this poem to help frame her decision to return to work. Hope you get as much of a kick out of it as she did:

I don’t like doing laundry
It makes my skin crawl
But it’s not like I’m sayin’
Good-bye to you all.

I love you so dearly
And will do all I can do
To shine in my work
And share that with you!

Please feel free to offer your own thoughts and stories.

Wondering about career mentoring?

I enjoy offering clients a knowing business ear and caring support, along with helpful questions and pointers along the way. If you’re thinking of adding a career mentor to your personal support network and want to know more about these services:

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