Mom Guilt — as a Working Mother

Mom Guilt as a Working Mother | CorporetteMomsHere’s a topic we haven’t discussed directly: mom guilt. What is your biggest source of guilt (if you can put your finger on one thing); and for those of you who’ve gotten past it, what was your best trick?

For my $.02, I’m actually not that guilty about working — I like what I do (which makes me happy, which is good for everyone!), and it’s helped our family tremendously both in terms of income and flexibility. Mixed with the fact that I’m not the most patient, energetic, or creative caregiver, I often have a feeling of “they’re better off” with someone else.

But: I do feel guilty for not being 100% laser focused on them when I am not working. The problem is that between working and momming, there are a lot of other things that fall into “being a person.” Showers. Working out. Making healthy meals the kids may or may not eat. Researching non-work, non-kid things (like a new mattress, let’s say.) Buying new boots. Getting my eyebrows threaded. Unfortunately, for me, a lot of that “personal care” stuff gets shuffled to the side. I’ve tried a few things to adjust my thinking on it, with varying degrees of success:

  • Shifting personal stuff to late in the day, when my energy is too low for me to be really efficient at work stuff. My energy is also too low to really be great at a workout, alas, but I am at this point a devoted night-shower kind of gal, and if my husband and I are watching TV after hours I often have a laptop or iPad open in front of me to try to research some of the personal stuff.
  • “Putting my own oxygen mask on first” thinking. One of the big things they tell you when you board an airplane is that you should put your own oxygen mask on first, and your kiddos’ second — and sometimes that kind of thinking helps me. For example, working out: I am more focused and happier when I work out, and when I am a smaller size it’s better for business because I can fit into more regular clothes (as NYC stores often only have S or M sizes on the floor).
  • I’m entitled. Yeah, this thinking doesn’t get me very far — but if it’s something small, like getting out for a haircut or eyebrow appointment once every few months, I can just say, “well, HECK, I have to do it sometime.” (But even then I’m more likely to take hours away from work than hours away from family.)
  • “Personal stuff” either gets minimized (see, e.g., my new beauty minimum), or, shall we say, efficient-ized — one of my best lessons from our discussion on mom efficiency was the reader comment that not EVERYTHING needs to be researched ad infinitum.  As one commenter said, her best efficiency had was “[n]ot researching things to death– What’s the highest rated [whatever] on amazon? Buy. This daycare seems good? Sign up. There are 900 types of baby food? Just pick some and throw it in the cart. Reminding myself that its all good.”

Ladies, what are your thoughts on mom guilt? What has been your biggest source of guilt; what’s been beneficial in moving past that?

Pictured at top: Do Mother’s Still Teach Their Daughters Like This?, originally uploaded to Flickr by cloth98. Social media picture via Stencil.working moms talk about mommy guilt


  1. I only feel guilty on the weekend. I don’t feel guilty about working. I was involuntarily at home for almost a whole year with them and it wasn’t good for anyone. My kids love their au pair. She loves them and benefits from being in the US and learning English. My kids get to grow up with a mom who goes to work in a suit every day, just like dad. (Not saying that it’s not okay for kids to have a SAH parent, either, just that there’s a benefit to them of having a working mom, too.) We have more money. I come home with interesting things to talk about. I really cherish the time I have with them, like bed time when we usually get really silly and giggly together. I have a lot of professional contacts, which will benefit them when they’re older if they’re looking for an internship or just someone to talk to about a certain type of job. On the weekends, though, we sometimes leave them with my MIL while we get stuff done and I sometimes feel guilty then, like I should be spending all weekend with them. But even then, I typically just don’t have mom guilt.

    • Actually, I kind of wish we could stop talking about mom guilt. Maybe it’s because I had a single mom who worked the whole time I was growing up so it seems normal to me, but sometimes I think we create guilt by talking about it — it’s like “oh wait I’m supposed to feel guilty for working? Now I kind of feel guilty for not feeling guilty.”

      • mascot says:

        I don’t really feel guilty either. Sometimes I feel bad about being the last for pick-up because I think he’s had a long day or something along those lines. And I worry about whatever he is struggling with in his little life and I feel bad for not knowing how to best help him work through it. But I don’t feel bad about having couple/adult time, me time, professional obligations, etc. His village is filled with lots of loving people so I have no issue letting him spend time with those various folks. (Having involved grandparents is one of the things I am most grateful for).

        • Famouscait says:

          +1 to this. I don’t feel guilty, and second the idea that “His village is filled with lots of loving people so I have no issue letting him spend time with those various folks” For us, this also includes an awesome babysitter and family friends, since family lives a couple states away.

          I’ve never been a social media person (no Facebook, Pinterest, etc.) so I think that helps avoid guilt-inducing feelings in a lot of ways. I do miss him when my schedule means I don’t make it home before he goes to bed, so we don’t get to hang out. But its not a guilty feeling – just a dang I missed out on some good cuddles kind of feeling.

      • Alli8 says:

        I second TBK, and I’ll go further to say it really bothers me that this article presumes we all do and/or should feel guilty, and it’s something we should “get past.” Kat writes that “the problem is” there are a lot of things that fall under the category of “being a person.” THAT IS NOT A PROBLEM, and I don’t feel guilty doing person things like having hobbies or taking showers. And I’m really tired of reading things that make me feel like I should feel (or have felt and gotten over) guilt for being a human. As we all know, no one ever asks dads if they feel guilty for working or having hobbies or taking showers. I understand some moms do feel guilty and do want/need to get past it, but can we please stop assuming that we should all feel guilty? I refuse to feel guilty about taking a shower.

        • CPA Lady says:

          Totally agree. I can’t even comprehend feeling guilty about bathing. I could see feeling guilty for not bathing, maybe.

          I feel a bit guilty from time to time about some things (losing my temper too quickly, being last for daycare pickup), but overall don’t really consider “mom guilt” a thing that happens in my life.

          The concept that every mother is wracked with guilt over the most basic tasks of being a functional human being not 100% dedicated to her child at all moments of the day blows my mind. It’s not competitive martyrdom. At least not the way I’m doing it. I didn’t even feel guilty about giving my child formula. though. *Gasp* *clutches pearls*

      • PregLawyer says:

        I just talked to a male colleague about “mom guilt” today. I asked him for some advice on transitioning back to work with a new baby. He said he wasn’t sure if his advice was sufficient because he noticed that most of the new moms at work were much harder on themselves than the new dads were. We talked about why that was the case. It’s because I’m told I’m supposed to have mom guilt, whereas the men aren’t told they are supposed to have dad guilt. So they don’t have dad guilt!

      • Not guilty says:

        I agree – why are we even talking about this? Am I supposed to feel guilty for showering? Seriously.

      • guiltisnotalwaysachoice says:

        I realize I’m posting this way after the original thread was started, sorry: I agree with the idea that you shouldn’t guilt those who don’t feel guilty, and I wish that I never felt mom guilt, but in response to those who said we in only feel it because people say we should, I don’t believe that simply because of my personal experience.
        I used to hear about all this mom guilt before I had my baby and I’m not really one to feel guilty, so I never thought that’d be me. My mom worked, and I knew from the get go that I always wanted to work. But once my son was born, a year ago, feelings of guilt, whether rational or not hit me immediately about a lot of things, I felt guilty about feeling resentment towards my husband who was at work, guilty I got impatient with a helpless newborn, guilty for feeling resentment for my son for causing me excruciating pain while breastfeeding, I felt guilty about a lot of things… it was very out of character for me. But all the guilt I felt was initiated internally, not from things I read, or heard, or what people would say to me. I think it was partially hormonal and partially because I was a zombie surviving on no sleep and my boobs constantly killed during the early months of breastfeeding so my emotional health wasn’t optimal. When I returned back to work, it got much worse, and I didn’t love my job, so that didn’t help. I would constantly questions whether I should work at all (before baby I had never even considered SAHM as an option and knew I’d go crazy trying to pass the time every day at home). Every time I considered it though, I just knew I’d regret if forever if I quit, and I ultimately stuck it out.
        For me, it just took time for the guilt to subside. After waiting until bf was going better, I could sleep more than 2 hours at a time, and my work projects ramped back up so I felt productive and like my work was worthwhile again, it got better. Now, my son is 12 months, and I am loving my job, my husband, my son, and feel no guilt about working. So even though it is probably true that talking about guilt can make some feel more guilty, I think it is very worthwhile to talk about guilt for those who are experiencing it to find support. If you don’t want to hear about it, just ignore it, but don’t assume because you don’t feel guilt that others should be the same (thus making them feel more guilty). So no… you shouldn’t feel guilty for showering, or getting a haircut, or using formula, or working, or going to the gym, but don’t minimize the guilt that other people have for doing those things.

        • Anonymous says:

          No one said don’t talk about guilt. They did say don’t create an environment where people should feel guilty for taking showers. Not the same thing. And I will go so far as to minimize the guilt other people feel for taking a shower. No one should feel guilty for taking a shower. And that doesn’t mean don’t talk about it– this is me actively, specifically talking about the fact that no one should feel guilty for taking a shower.

  2. Lorelai Gilmore says:

    My levels of mom guilt have waxed and waned over the years, but the most consistent sources of guilt seem to be:

    1) When my kid is the last one to be picked up at daycare. (Note: my child is super-extroverted and LOVES daycare, so she’s never unhappy – in fact, she gets mad if I pick her up early – but for some reason it’s a trigger for me.)

    2) Summer vacation. I always feel tons of guilt that I can’t just be off for long, relaxed, low-key days in the summer – spending afternoons at the local pool, doing swimming lessons, etc. This is aggravated because many of my nearest and dearest are teachers, who have the whole summer off. Related source of guilt: Holidays.

    3) Things I Can’t Control. All kids have their own stuff, whether it’s social, developmental, educational, whatever. All kids have their own challenges. I’m working hard to support my kids through their own challenges – but every time something comes up (example: one kid is struggling with reading), my reflex is to feel guilty because I’m working. I’m trying to let that one go. Not everything is All My Fault.

    • For holidays, I’m trying to take a page from my working mother’s book. Every year, she finished Christmas shopping and wrapping in October. In November she decorated the house. After Thanksgiving, we bought and decorated the tree (together, with Christmas specials, when I was old enough.) By spacing it out, in December we had time for family activities — lots of church (my father was a minister), special programs at school and extracurricular activities, seeing local productions of the Nutcracker or Christmas Carol, staying up late with movies and hot chocolate. She often wasn’t able to take much time off at Christmas, but she created a lot of good traditions and memories.

    • I’m there with you. My kid isn’t even old enough for summer vacation, and I already feel guilty that she won’t get the long stretches of unstructured time that I had as a kid.

  3. Maddie Ross says:

    I feel all sorts of mom guilt, but not any for working. It keeps me sane and I am the primary breadwinner. If we had to sustain on my husband’s salary, well, we would have a much different lifestyle. I think most of my mom guilt comes from living in this current period, I’ll be honest. The things I feel most guilty about are things my mom, and certainly her mother, did not think twice about — not always buying organic (if ever really unless we’re at the farmer’s market for an outing), allowing TV, allowing snacks, allowing candy. Ultimately, I think I am just really permissive and the modern world keeps telling me I shouldn’t be.

    • Midwest Mama says:

      Yes. I love my job, I feel like I’m setting a good example as a lady lawyer, and, as Kat said above, I’m not the most patient caregiver. But I feel guilty over letting my 4 year old have too much iPad and TV time, eat mac & cheese or other unhealthy foods too often, stay up too late at night to avoid a bedtime struggle, etc. So no answers here, but just know that you’re not the only permissive one out there.

    • This exactly. I don’t feel guilty at all for working. I only feel guilty when my kids have a PopTart for breakfast (my husband still eats PopTarts for breakfast every morning, so this is a losing battle for me), or have frozen chicken nuggets for dinner, or watch TV on their Kindles, or haven’t played outside (even though it’s 100 degrees), etc. All very privileged things to be worrying about. I think we’re pretty laissez faire parents and surrounded by a lot of people who are not or were not.

      • Natasha says:

        My husband eats Chips Deluxe for breakfast pretty much every day. Le sigh.

  4. EB0220 says:

    When my firstborn was a baby, I didn’t feel guilty so much as terribly sad that I couldn’t spend all my time cuddling with her. I think it was in large part due to a caregiver I didn’t trust 100%, and some undiagnosed personal health issues. Now that I’ve been a mom for 3.5 years, I hardly ever feel guilty. I have a job with reasonable hours and fantastic on-site daycare. My job pays well, gives us great benefits and I enjoy it. I also feel like I get plenty of time with my kids – again, because my hours are very reasonable and on-site daycare makes it easy for me to visit my younger child if I feel the need for some cuddles. I recently read “I Know How She Does It”, and it really reinforced this “no guilt” feeling for me. Overall, I’m very happy with my current balance.

  5. Philanthropy Girl says:

    I have loads of mom guilt about work. Probably because I’m now in a job I hate, and as the primary bread winner I can’t quit, and finding something new hasn’t panned out. If I at least didn’t mind my job I’d feel a little better. Additionally, DH and I had always agreed that our plan was that I would only work if I wanted to. Well, life hasn’t worked out that way. DH has been unemployed for a long time, with no prospects in spite of countless applications, and instead he gets to be the caretaker. Just this morning I felt guilty leaving because LO is cutting molars and has been crying for two days. He clings and grasps and doesn’t want to stay with anyone but me (not his natural temperament). It’s awful.

    I think my other mom guilt has come out of struggling to control my temper when LO is being squirrely. I’ve been struggling with hormone imbalance, so I’m already ragey-PMS monster most of the time. Then the spoon of baby food ends up on the floor, or he is climbing me like a jungle gym, or he flails and cries when it’s time for a diaper change and it is all I can do to keep from losing it. Then I feel *horrible crushing* guilt for being angry over normal kid things.

    I think some of the mom guilt this is a temperament thing. I naturally tend to feel guilty, as a pretty textbook people-pleaser. It’s just magnified when the person you feel like you’re letting down is your child.

    • mascot says:

      “I think my other mom guilt has come out of struggling to control my temper when LO is being squirrely.”
      I feel like this is one of those deep dark places in parenting that no one talks about. I’m pretty even keeled, but my kid can push my buttons in a way I never imagined. And I’m in a stable emotional place, good support system, etc.

      • Anonymous says:

        Honestly, I’ve started talking it out with my LO when she’s really pushing my buttons. I tell her that I’m sorry, I tell her that she’s doing normal kid things, but right now Mommy can’t handle it and right now Mommy needs her help. It doesn’t really make a difference in her behavior, but it makes me feel better and it makes me take a minute to calm down and acknowledge what’s going on before reacting to her. She can’t talk back, so this might not work once she can.

        • Philanthropy Girl says:

          I do this some, not because my son can understand, but because I think it is a good habit to form. Our kids need to know we’re human and make mistakes.

          It doesn’t mean I don’t guilt over the anger for weeks.

      • Philanthropy Girl says:

        It seems to me there is more acceptance of this with older kids, we understand that whiney ten year olds drive us nuts, and that defiant teens send us over the edge.

        We don’t talk about it in particular when these feelings are toward our infants/toddlers. In part I think because there is so much guilt wrapped up in being angry about behavior a child isn’t capable of controlling. Maybe I’m more comfortable with this because my mom had similar hormonal issues after my sister was born and I bore the brunt of a lot of it at the ripe old age of three. She was really open about her struggles, and her guilt, especially as I got older -and I’m so glad she did. But among my mom peers, I would agree, this is a deep dark secret we don’t talk about.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I don’t feel guilty about the fact that I work, but I feel guilty about things related to working, like (1) being impatient with my kid when he is dawdling in the morning or at bedtime and I need him to go to school or bed so I can do work stuff; (2) him being the only kid at aftercare at his school’s camp the entire summer; (3) times when I have to leave him with an unfamiliar caregiver because one of our usual sitters wasn’t available and school was closed, because he is painfully shy; and (4) when he asks me why he has to go to aftercare, but one of his friends (with a SAHM) doesn’t. None of these compare to the guilt I felt the two times I took him out of daycares he was familiar with when we moved for work. I cried then. It has been a year since the last move and he still asks to go back. Iit makes me feel terrible even though he really loves his current preschool and we see his friends from his old school every couple of months.

  7. POSITA says:

    My two year old has been laying the guilt on thick lately. We stagger schedules so her dad picks her up at daycare and brings her home. I get home an hour or more later. Every day she bursts into tears when she arrives to see my car missing from the driveway. She sobs and sobs “No mama here.”

    And anytime I mention her school she sobs “No school. More mama.” She likes school, but really is sad that we don’t get more time together. It’s really heart breaking. I miss her too.

    • Coyote DT says:

      Aw. That is sad. Poor Mama. Hearts out to you. Mine is too little to say these things, and has never been very attached to me, but that would break my heart too.

    • anne-on says:

      I think I’ve shared this before, but I travel pretty regularly, and my son’s first full sentence was ‘mommy go bye bye, airplane in sky’. It pretty well ripped my heart in half, even though I love my job. It came up during his 2-yr well visit when my pediatrician asked if he had a lot of words yet. Even he looked at me in sympathy, like ouch, they know what hurts, huh?

  8. NewMomAnon says:

    I feel guilt (a) when I’m at work but not paying attention because I’m distracted by kid stuff or other life stuff and (b) when I’m with my kid but so tired and/or anxious that I just don’t have it in me to be totally there with her. And then I find these articles that say that babies as young as 3 months old can tell when their mother isn’t paying attention to them, and worry that I’m scarring my kiddo for life by being a harried frazzled mess of a mom.

    And yes, I’m basically financing my therapist’s retirement fund.

    • Anonymom says:

      This. Thoughts of baby and my non-work tasks distract me at work, and the constant work stress makes me less emotionally present at home.

      And forget being a ‘good wife’ – whatever the help that means.

      I think if work stress didn’t bother me so much, it would be better.

  9. Does it count as “mom guilt” that I devote so much time & headspace to the baby that I sort of neglect my marriage? It’s essentially on autopilot while I affirmatively work hard at my job and being a good mom.

  10. Clementine says:

    Man, this kid isn’t even born yet and I already feel guilty.

    My spouse has a job that requires extended travel. Both fortunately and unfortunately, this is a job that he loves and allows him to have long periods of vacation at home (2-3 months at a time for 50% of the year). I have yet to see how this will work out with the kid. When spouse is on vacation, he’s 100% game to be a SAHD and is able to make it to all the workday events. The other side to this is that he misses 50% of our holidays, birthdays, school concerts, etc.

    I am currently in a much more ‘Lean In’ type of job than I could be working. The hours ebb and flow and while I’m only working 40 hours a week for most of the year, there are times when I work really demanding, long hours. I love my job, but moreso I love where my job can get me and the doors it opens if I’m willing to stick it out for a few more years.

    I worry that I’m going to end up having to ‘cave’ and take a job that I feel less passionate about in order to make my family work. All this and the kid isn’t even born!

    • Everyone is different and you do you, but if it makes you feel any better – before I had kids, I was at a BigLaw firm and thought that going in-house would be “caving” in to make a family work. I loved my job and thought that taking a less demanding job would be opting out.

      As it turns out, an in-house opportunity fell into my lap when my second kid was slightly over a year old. I took it and my quality of life has increased dramatically. But I’m doing more substantive, meaningful, directly impactful work every day. I’m just doing less hours of meaningless work that all law-firm jobs require. So, my totally unsolicited advice would be to keep an open mind – there may be a job out there that’s less hours but more meaningful.

  11. My biggest guilt besides the normal day to day things people have mentioned is whether or not I’m creating “happy memories” and how what we do now, even on a day to day basis, will appear in hindsight. I think back to my childhood – good and bad – and want to try to create as much happy memories as possible. I hear so much from others about all these cool traditions that they do, and such (one really successful executive said his dad woke him up EVERYDAY with the same inspirational POEM.) I’m not sure I can compete with that – and in this pinterest-perfect era, I struggle with trying to make that they are happy and will have good memories to look back upon. It’s a struggle that I can’t seem to mitigate.

  12. M in LA says:

    One thing I did was to make a calendar my daughter could follow when I was away for work, and also to highlight fun things we were doing together. We’re talking pretty basic drawings (stick figures) on construction paper with a sharpie. So for October, I’d freehand the numbered calendar grid on brown construction paper, then do “Halloween” on orange construction paper with labeled drawings of, for example, “Jack O’Lantern,” “Costumes,” and “Trick or Treating”, another page with “Daddy’s Birthday” with drawings of presents, “fancy dinner”, etc., and then anything else we were doing that month (“The Zoo,” “Museum,” “Jenny’s Birthday Party”). I hung them on a big piece of cardboard at her level in the kitchen. At the beginning of each month I’d make the pages and we’d talk about the month. If I was going out of town, we’d draw a heart on the day I was coming back. Then each morning she could “mark off the day” with the Sharpie. She’d also see all the activities and/or holidays coming up — and the drawings quite frankly reminded me of all the iconic things I wanted to deliver on to create our own family traditions. (For example, if I draw a picture of a gingerbread house for Christmas, then I’d better stop at Trader Joes and pick up the gingerbread house kit, shouldn’t I?) I started this at about 20 months and kept with it until recently — about 2 1/2 years! She was really into it, and would remind me if I forgot to do the new month of pages on time. ;)

    Similarly, one of the partners I work with told me about how she set up a calendar for her kids when she was in trial where they could take down a little ball off the mantel piece every day so they could see when she was coming back. Again, a sort of visual representation of the passage of time for littler kids.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Skill level- if I meet a stay at home mom whose kid is my kids age and that kid does anything my kid can’t do I immediately wonder if it’s because I work away from my son
    Work performance- if I have an unproductive day at work I wonder why I am at work and not with my son.
    Activities- I find we do things all the time with my son. There is no tv in the house, no computer. We are always crafting or reading or building. We treasure every minute together because I spend 40-59 hours a week at work.
    Stay at home Moms guilt tripping- other moms definately do try to make me feel bad at times. I have stopped being friends with stay at home moms (with a few exceptions on Mat leave).

    On the good side though:

    Compassion- we go out of or way to help out other working moms, especially those with newborns or more than one kid. And to give them compliments and encouragement. We are all in this together.