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How To Manage The Work-Mothering Guilt Monster


Have you been scratched by the prickly thorn of motherhood, otherwise known as guilt? Most every woman who has worked outside her home before becoming a mom has felt the wound of guilty feelings if she has the option of deciding when or if she will go back to work after the baby’s birth.

How can you teach yourself to concentrate on the sweetness of motherhood and avoid letting your heart be torn by those painful pangs?

Begin by understanding which thoughts make you feel guilty in the first place. Guilt comes from telling yourself that you're doing something wrong or violating a rule - it’s that “should” feeling (“I feel guilty because I ‘should’ be home, but I’m going to work”). Where do these “shoulds” come from, and how do they help us make good or not-so-good choices?

Turn the bad magic of guilt into good magic

Instead of letting your guilt undermine your happiness - by blaming yourself for making one choice or another about, say, work-family balance - use your guilty feelings to your advantage: Every time you feel guilty, ask yourself what lesson your guilt is teaching you.

Then, take our magic potion to help you use guilt for good, to find a solution that works for you and your family. We call it the SOCS method:

  • Describe the situation you’re facing. For example: I want to quit my job and take care of my baby full-time.
  • List all of your options. For instance, if I quit my job, I could teach piano at home, take out a loan, cut back on extra purchases - or all three.
  • Identify the consequences of each option. For example: If I teach piano, I’ll have to hire a sitter to care for the baby while I teach, or schedule classes when my partner is home, for instance, on the weekend; if I take out a loan, I’ll have to make monthly payments, possibly for a long time; if we cut back, maybe we’ll probably miss some of the things we'll have to give up.
  • Together with your partner, choose a solution based on the consequences of each option that best fit your values and lives. This practical way of arriving at a solution can help you make decisions in many areas, large and small - including the difficult decision about work and motherhood.

The ever-changing balancing act

We advise women to manage guilt in the realm of work-life balance by understanding something very important: Motherhood is a process of learning to balance our responsibility to keep those who depend on us safe and healthy with our responsibility we have to nurture our own life. This balancing act changes throughout the seasons of parenthood as our children become increasingly independent and self-sufficient and we become less independent and more reliant on our children to care for us in later years.

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