Hey, Working Mom. Got A Case of Mommy Guilt?
Here’s an Article to Help You With That!
“I felt a lot of pressure,” says Crystal Whitlow, LCSW, therapist at Wellness Associates and mother of two. “I felt like I was supposed to stay home.”
Surprised at this initial desire to be a stay-at-home mom to her oldest, now 7, Whitlow decided to go for it. Flash forward a few months later and “I was absolutely miserable,” she says. “I realized I needed to work … I’m a working mother.”
Whitlow is definitely not alone in her choice to do what is best for her family and return to work. However, it’s a choice that can come with social stigma.
No, some stranger is not raising my kids.
The notion that working mothers give up their kids to some stranger is a major grievance for Whitlow who explains that the people she chose to care for her children are not strangers she randomly picked: “They are people I really implicitly trust and went through a huge amount of work to find.”
Colleen Hensel, program manager with In-Pact and mother of two, also has this trust in her children’s caregivers. She says once she saw the child care environment and the variety of activities her kids would be engaged in each day, she thought her kids would be bored with her at home. She adds, “I couldn’t picture myself being better at it than any of the trained teachers at a day care or preschool.”
Speaking of day care...
“You’re not going to harm your children by putting them in day care, if it’s a high quality day care,” says Whitlow, who also said she tried two or three different places before she found the right fit. “It’s the quality of day care; it’s not just whether they’re in day care or not.”
Part of alleviating some of the guilt many working moms share is finding a day care solution one trusts and believes is beneficial for her child. Once Whitlow found a child care program she loved, she hasn’t felt a moment of guilt since. “They’re better off there than home with me,” she says, “and they’ve proven it to me because they’re happy and they love it. They’re smart; they’re doing really well in school.”
If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
“I think the family is all happier when mom is happier” says Hensel. Most of us can point to times when our disgruntled mood has trickled down to other members of the family. The opposite is true as well. When we’re feeling good, our upbeat mood is contagious. And being engaged in work that is meaningful to you goes a long way toward a sunny disposition.
John Petersen, Psy.D., psychologist and owner of Family Psychology of South Bend, notes that “A parent’s personal fulfillment is important.” He points out that when a parent is happy and content, that parent is “in a place of really living life fully” and able to share that happiness with the family.
On the flip side, parents struggling with depression have the opposite impact on family life. Whitlow says research has shown that untreated “maternal depression is one of the biggest risk factors for future problems” in children. So it’s important for mom to follow her bliss, and for a lot of women, this means pursuing dreams outside of family life.
The business of family.
Caring for kids comes with plenty of tedious tasks that must be managed. Laundry, packing lunches, making dinner, covering school holidays and sick days – the list is really endless. Hensel says the one thing that stirs up guilty feelings for her is not always having time to keep up the house the way she would like. That means for Whitlow, she has to spend the weekend catching up. “[What] makes me feel guiltier than anything is that when I do have time with them, I’m running round trying to get everything done.”
Negotiating these details can have a big impact on the quality of family life. Whitlow says having an “equal partnership” is the only way to make it work. She and her husband split the housework and definitely include the kids in doing chores. Hensel says she and her husband do a lot of emailing back and forth about details to stay on top of everything. Meeting for lunch is another time she and her husband talk business: “The kids aren’t there, you’re both awake and thinking clearly, and you can talk about important things.”
Finding moments to bond as a family can be challenging, but setting the stage for connection doesn’t have to be a full on production of fun and games or regular heart-to-heart chat sessions. As Whitlow says, “they just want you there” doing normal family stuff.
“Basic structure and routine is good for everybody to reduce stress,” says Petersen. “A nice morning routine, a nice bedtime routine, a reasonable bedtime. And if you can have family meals together, that’s really even better.”
In the Whitlow house, sitting down to eat together is important family time. She also has individual reading time with each of her kids before bed each night. Hensel and her family take 30-45 minutes to play a family game before bedtime. Right now, the house favorite is Uno. Such routines provide predictability and security and a chance to come together and enjoy life as a family.
And isn’t enjoying life the most basic thing we want for ourselves and our children? Turns out, it’s the simple things that get us there. Petersen points out that as a society, we’ve become very ambitious in our parenting and often end up over parenting, but “We don’t have to give and give and give,” he says. “The main thing is to be in a loving household where there’s sufficient structure, there’s not danger, there’s not high degrees of unpredictability, and there’s love and care. As long as that’s going on … you’re giving them the world.”