A few things came to mind when a mom friend and former colleague asked if I could cover how to cope with mom guilt. A feeling I knew all too well, and I learned many others do, too. Seventy-eight percent of mothers feel guilty for not spending enough time with their kids. And it’s not uniquely related to working. A study in the UK found that more than half of moms feel guilty partaking in self-care activities, like soaking in a bath or going to work out.

In my exercise of trying to feel better as I dove into more mom life, I found that the more women I talked to, the less alone I felt. I learned how to take the time to prioritize what I needed in any downtime I had and in the stuff that I never had time to do while immersed in building startups, like attending a school around parenthood and two seminars on how to take care of my health as I aged. 

I began to feel better as I took the time to be present and reprioritize what was important to me. As Yvette Wu, cofounder and CEO of Yield Exchange, an investment marketplace for wholesale GICs, shares: “It’s time we recognize how expansive the role of a mother is and be more supportive of the value it brings both in and outside of the workplace.”

Though there is no right or wrong in your approach, I loved hearing what other women had to share to help their journey to prevent and reframe their guilt.

1) Reframe your thoughts.

Tackling mom guilt is tough. It’s often built on beliefs we have been telling ourselves from a young age as we observe parents, friends, and media. Layered on top are the pressures of modern motherhood, that society has unrealistic expectations of women with children. We are meant to be perfect moms, partners, and businesswomen.  So, is it any wonder we are feeling conflicted?  If we lean into one role, we are led to believe we neglect the other. Many systemic issues need addressing, and I always recommend following Moms First and Chamber of Mothers for advocacy tools. 

To help mothers who are struggling now, I suggest modifying those feelings of guilt into something more productive through a reframe. Instead of saying, ‘I feel guilty because I’m [fill in the blank],’ say, ‘I made this choice because [fill in the blank.]’ By owning your choices, you will begin to recognize that while systemically operating amongst competing priorities through no fault of your own, you are doing your best to give each of those priorities attention when needed. 

Jessica M. Hill, Founder, The Parent Collective

2) Own and accept your choices while lowering expectations.

It took me a long time to find my stride as a mom with a career, and I struggled with guilt for a long time. I don’t anymore. I’ve stopped feeling guilty about everything I can’t do because I work and started to feel proud of everything I can do personally, professionally, and financially. I learned that “showing up” can happen in many different ways. And finally, I’ve just let go of a lot. 

Everyone is at a different place in their journey. Below are the three things I’ve learned along mine that may help you along yours:

1) Embrace your ambition: Doing what you need to do to be fulfilled and to support your family is nothing to feel guilty about. It’s something to feel great about. What changed it for me was a conversation with my oldest son when he was in Junior High. I asked him if he ever felt bad that I wasn’t a mom who was always home, and he said, “No, because then you wouldn’t be my mom.” 

2) Be flexible and creative: Accept that there is an inherent tension between work and home. You can’t do both at the same time. That doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the moments that are important to you. When my middle son was in junior high, he loved Fortnight. He downloaded it onto my computer, and when I traveled, we’d find an hour that worked for us to play together each day. Today, if I can’t make a game or event, I try to have someone record it, and then I can watch it with them later and have them tell me all about it. When they were younger, I’d download some of their favorite books on my Kindle and read bedtime stories over Facetime.

3) Give yourself some grace: You can’t create more time. You can’t do more. But you can lower your expectations to make more space for grace toward yourself, your kids/family, and your dreams.

Kirsten Davidson, Managing Partner at Employera

3) Prioritize your values and core beliefs.

Own your weekdays from 9 to 5 and make them uniquely yours. Seize the opportunity to do work that resonates with your core beliefs and values. Embrace this time as a canvas for personal growth, prioritizing yourself as a human first and your other roles within the house separately.

A great way to prioritize YOU is by taking a few hours away from your usual routine and escaping to your happy place alone. I prefer immersing myself in nature. Once you arrive at your comfortable home, sit down with a notebook and craft a vivid professional vision of what you want your role to look like 3 or 5 years from now. Envision your job title, income, and daily contributions. Picture the colleagues beside you, your daily routine, and the fulfilling emotions tied to your work. Having this clear vision is crucial—it serves as your roadmap. To navigate your current role, align your daily decisions with your future vision. Opt for opportunities that propel you closer and disregard those that divert you. Keep your future vision close and stay unwaveringly focused on it. Only by doing so can you feel fulfilled and show up both at work AND for the other people you love.

Nikki Lindgren, Managing Partner at Pennock Digital Agency

Doing Our Part to Put an End to Mom Guilt

Systemic issues will need to change before women can put away the guilt that our society is designed to create. A few important things to note are more support in childcare and leave policies, equal division of household work, and flexible work options, which will all help. But I’m hopeful when I see that more women than before are showing up in political leadership positions based on recent research, and women are holding 35% of leadership positions.

Women need to have these positions as it allows for various perspectives. The more we do the work to change how we accept our roles, own them, and envision clear paths for our fulfillment in the future that we don’t negotiate, the more we can show society, and more importantly, our children, that we own our choices and that the guilt doesn’t serve anyone.

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