Managing Mommy Guilt
If you’re a woman with children, you’ve felt it — sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Mommy Guilt is an equal-opportunity offender. It strikes whether you’re 25 or 45, CEO of your home or a Fortune 500 company, living in a small town or big city.
Women who work outside of the home haven’t cornered the market on it. Work-from-home and part-time working moms feel it, too. Mommy Guilt doesn’t discriminate between women who have family around to help, either, or moms who depend on nannies, babysitters, day cares or schools to keep their kids safe and happy while they work.
Kristi Roe, 41, of Charlotte, has two children: Spencer, 6, and Harper, 5. Her husband, Greg, 45, is an information technology security analyst at Wells Fargo. She experiences Mommy Guilt from both sides — as a mother and as a family counselor. Currently director of patient experience at Carolinas Healthcare System, Roe previously owned a counseling and consulting business, and still counsels several clients, mostly women, on family issues.
Roe says Mommy Guilt is real. The level of guilt “depends on who you are. All moms have some level of guilt,” she says. “I think many women feel pressure to do things a certain way … the food they feed their children, the way their children behave. Parenting is intense. Sometimes women lose themselves in their child; they try to micromanage everything.”
When her son was born, she started with a nanny and worked part time for a while, since neither she nor her husband have family in the area. “But when my daughter came, we put both of them in day care full time,” she says. “And they were both fine.”
Roe’s career is important to her. She works long hours and travels frequently, so she often experiences Mommy Guilt. But she doesn’t let it overtake her.
“I’m very passionate about my career path,” she says. “My job is important to me. I’m ambitious. The guilt would be worse if I didn’t feel good about my children’s lives. But I do.”
Even full-time working moms who have plenty of family around to help take care of the kids still feel twinges of guilt. Sherri Weddle Bowen, 44, of Winston-Salem, works as director of the office of the president at Forsyth Technical Community College. She is also the college’s team captain for the March of Dimes and sells a line of flameless candles.
When Bowen’s children, Cody, 10, and Dakota, 8, aren’t with her husband, Marty, 45, a captain at the Lewisville Fire Department, they hang out at her parents’ or in-laws’ house.
Once a year she comes in to work late so she can be there for her boys’ first day of school, “but that’s the only time I do it, and I don’t pick them up,” she says.
Bowen juggles her kids, husband, job and activities with “lots of planning.” Her husband is the primary cook in the house.
To find balance, Bowen says she has to make choices. “I say that you can pick two of three things: your sanity, a clean house or your family. I choose sanity and my family and kids.”
Libby Perry, 33, of Cary, admittedly experiences Mommy Guilt, too.
“I feel guilty for working with young kids at home,” she says. “I feel guilty when I think I am letting the 4-year-old watch too much TV. I feel guilty if I think that maybe I spend too much time looking at my phone around the kids. I feel guilty that I don’t take as many pictures of the 1-year-old as I did with the 4-year-old. I feel guilty that I don’t always cook healthy enough meals.”
A Pittsburgh native, Perry works for a software company in Raleigh. She has two children, Meadow, 4 1/2 and Domenic, 1 1/2. Her husband, Tony, 32, works as an executive for a pharmaceutical company in Raleigh. Perry is grateful that her employer let her change to a 30-hour workweek after having her second child. While her husband works long hours, she says she tries to make managing a family and household while working as easy as possible.
“Things like Lowes Foods to Go, Amazon Prime and a housecleaning service are things that help,” she says.
Perry would love to minimize her Mommy Guilt. “I wish I had more time with my kids. And I wish the kids and I had more time with my husband,” she says. “As far as lessening the guilt, I’m still looking for ways to do that. I just remind myself that I am doing the best I can right now. Sometimes I feel like I am in survival mode!”
Amanda Harrell, 39, of Raleigh, a licensed marriage and family therapist at 3-C Family Services in Cary, also cut her hours after the birth of her twin sons. She says she spent the beginning of her career “going full throttle, going 100 percent. I was working from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day.”
When she had her first child, daughter Harper, now 6, Harrell was able to maintain a full-time working schedule. But when her twin boys, Quaid and Hudson, now 4, came along, Harrell says going to a part-time schedule “was an easy choice.”
Harrell now works two days a week, seeing clients “back-to-back” from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. When her children are older, she says she will go back to work full-time.
Harrell says her husband, Jim, 39, “works insane hours” as an attorney, but they find time together as a family on the weekends. “The kids go to bed fairly early now, so that’s a way my husband and I can have time to hang out,” she says.
Counseling the Guilty
As a family therapist, Harrell often works with women who experience Mommy Guilt. She first tries to determine if the guilt is justified.
“A lot of women are walking around with unjustified guilt,” she says. “They feel they’re not doing enough. They feel unworthy. In that case, there is a lot of work we can do to figure out and get to the bottom of their feelings.”
But if the guilt is justified, Harrell works with the client on ways to spend more time with her kids. “Maybe you do something special with your kids at the end of the week, maybe you attend a baseball game or other activity they are involved in on the weekends,” she says.
And, she adds, part of the solution is to schedule “me-time.”
“Moms need time to themselves,” Harrell says. “Many have a hard time doing something nice for themselves. If you lack energy, are running on empty — you’re doing things halfway with your children.”
How do you alleviate Mommy Guilt? Tell us by commenting on our Work-Life Balance blog, where you’ll also find more tips on conquering your Mommy Guilt.
Anne Wooten Green is a freelance writer and editor from Winston-Salem. She still feels Mommy Guilt even though her children are 26 and 22.