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Why We Still Can’t Shake The Feeling Of ‘Working Mum Guilt’

An expert weighs in on how to face it

There’s no shortage of stresses a new mum has to grapple with, and despite changing narratives that have begun to circulate in recent years, there’s still an overriding feeling of guilt that many mothers, new or experienced, have to face. ‘Working mum guilt’ has never been more prevalent than in 2020, with many mothers facing the new (and overwhelming) task of continuing to balance business and family, all while staring it directly in the face at home amid the global pandemic. 

And while, yes, recently there has been a shift in the workspace – flexible work hours, a better understanding of mental health and company-wide policies implemented for working parents, the proof of how much longer we have to go is proven by Carrie Bickmore’s recent confession, revealing she’d missed her daughter Adelaide’s first steps because she had to work. 

The Project host told that she’s “pretending it didn’t happen” now because she’s so disappointed. “I wasn’t there, I was at work which is bittersweet,” she said of her 18-month-old.

It’s not a new phenomenon for women to be asked flat-out about this guilt either. When interviewed by the BBC, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked if she felt “guilty” about balancing her role as a mum and also as the leader of a country, something we’re sure Scott Morrison, who has two daughters (yes, double that of Ardern) has never been asked. 

Ardern’s response was as thoughtful as ever, simply quipping she’s “a mother, not a superwoman” and that the perception that the latter is true “does a disservice to all women, it raises expectations that no one can meet”.

working mum guilt

Lysn psychologist Nancy Sokarno says, “It is inevitable for all mothers to feel mother’s guilt in some capacity but for the mother’s that decide on being in the workforce there is a heavy societal expectation placed on doing ‘what’s best for the child.” 

“Feeling like they are sacrificing their bonding time with their children or not paying their children enough attention or simply not being there for important events can elicit guilt in mother’s choosing to return to work,” Sokarno adds. “Always feeling like there isn’t enough time in the day to make it all fit or that they are taking away children’s needs and wants by making this sacrifice.

“Societies concepts of ‘a good mother should…’ is constantly playing on the minds of working mothers and add to that individual and familial pressures and you have a smorgasbord of guilt.”

While working mum guilt is something that needs to be broken down, it’s completely normal to feel it. 

“Yes, you are debating against what feels innately necessary on a maternal level vs your individual and collective needs for your family and the drive to succeed and provide all at once would send anyone into emotional overdrive. What is right for one family won’t be right for another and it is important to remember that no matter what it is you decide, know that as long as your intentions are positive and productive then you’re doing the right thing.”

Ways To Combat That Guilt:

Sokarno details the ways to manage while balancing the two important roles. 

  • Manage the why? What is the purpose – make it very evident as to why you are pursuing these values so that you’re working towards something you feel is important and it is easier to combat that lurking feeling of guilt. 
  • Be present with your presence – Engage fully when you do have the time to give, better an hour spent being mindful of your interactions than five being distracted by multitasking to fit it all in. 
  • Don’t feed into the “parenting police” who always feel the need to criticise no matter what you decide to do. Do what you feel is right for you and your family.
  • Knowing that there will never be a “perfect” work-life balance and that whatever you decide on in the best interest of yourself and your family is good enough!
  • Knowing when to reach out and get help – doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Use your support system wisely so that you can be productive with your time.

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