Working Mom Diaries: Five Things Every Working Mom Should Consider to Reduce Guilt

1553036_10152209121084427_1150539359_nI grew up in family where both parents worked. My dad had a flexible schedule that allowed him to drive my sister and me to ballet and coach our cabbage ball teams; however, my mom was a CPA whose job demanded more of her time. And rather than resent her for that, I wanted to be just like her: strong, smart, important, accomplished. So, I went to Loyola and received a degree in accounting, and I got my CPA license not long after that. I chose to practice tax accounting at a big firm and live a professional life that is defined by the unrelenting stress of impending deadlines.

So when I announced that I was pregnant I suppose I should have expected the onslaught of questions related to whether or not I would continue to work after the baby arrived. I mean, how could one possibly be a good parent and work 55-65 hours a week upon returning from maternity leave? And before this child in abdomen had even reached the size of a lime, I gained an understanding of the deep and painful feeling of “mommy guilt.” It had never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be returning to work full time, but each time I was asked that question, I began to doubt my choices and myself. So much so that rather than the confident response I initially replied with, I began saying “yes, I will be going back to work” with an apologetic tone and a sad tilt of my head.

It has taken me two years, a lot of tears, and some really great advice, but I am entering this tax season as a working mom who has shed her “mom guilt ways.” So, humbly, I say, “Here they are!” Here are the things that have helped me go to work guilt free.

Find a Mentor

I remember standing in my colleague Debbie’s office with a tummy as large as any you’ve ever seen. I was four days past my 1395899_10151989541329427_728960241_ndue date and so ready to meet my baby. But as long as that baby was in there, I didn’t have to face the reality of balancing a baby and a job. So I gathered the courage and the strength, and with tears welling in my eyes, I told her how scared I was that I wouldn’t be able to do it all. And she looked back at me and said, “You won’t. You won’t be able to do it all. But that’s okay. You will find a way to do the things you need to do each day. You will have to give some things up, but you will get a lot in return.” And she went on to tell stories of how she found her way as a working mom. Just knowing that there was someone in my office, who I wanted to model my career after, who was willing to share her advice, life lessons, mistakes and successes with me made this journey feel less lonely. I now try to seek out the new moms in my office and let them know that if they hit a rough spot or have a bad day, I am happy to lend an ear. We can be each other’s resources rather than each other’s critics!

Quality over Quantity

If I had to measure my successes as a mother in the number of hours a day I spend with Jane, I would likely be considered a failure. I knew in choosing to work that our time together would be limited, so I try not to tally how much togetherness we’ve had. Rather, I try to make the most of each and every moment we are together. This doesn’t mean that I roll out the red carpet and perform for her (although I do an incredible monkey impression). It simply means that I try to take each moment we spend together as one in which we can learn and grow and laugh and smile together. If we are driving to school (in radio silence), I will make a game of seeing how many flags we can spot flying on houses. If we are walking past a rose bush, I will stop so she can tell me what color the bloom is and talk about how thorns are prickly. And prickly rhymes with tickly – and then we have a mini tickle session. I try to be in the moment with her to see the world passing by just as she does. And each and every night (no matter how tired I am) I will take her to her room and rock her and read to her and sing her a song. It is our time, and it is precious.

Find Humor in the Horror

946662_10151627718384427_768864709_nOne Monday morning early last April, I found myself alone with Jane and our dog Beignet. That is not a desirous position for a tax accountant. I was running around trying to get everything ready so that I could get to work early, and just as we were about to step out of the door, I realized Jane had pooped. For a moment, I thought about trudging forward poopy baby in tow and dropping her off as if the poop occurred in the car. But, I just couldn’t do it. So I ran her into the other room and began changing her diaper when I realized I didn’t have a fresh one. I threw the poopy diaper by the front door so I could remember to take it out to the trash and hauled her up to the nursery for a new one. Whew! Time to scurry downstairs, grab our bags, and go. But, wait, where was the dog? Had I let her out and forgotten? “Beignet, Beignet,” I called. And that’s when I saw it. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw pillows of white fluff scattered across our living room. For a moment I couldn’t figure out what had happened. Until I saw Beignet sitting, tail down, with a solemn look on her face. And as I approached her, it became clear that she had taken the poop diaper and torn it apart. To this day I try not to think about the fact that there was no poop to pick up. I put Jane down, put the bags down, and cried. And cried. And cried. Why today of all days when I was on my own trying so desperately to get to work before seven so I could get home in enough time to kiss Jane goodnight did the dog have to $hit on my plans? It has taken time, and several retellings of this story, for me to be able to laugh at myself. But if we couldn’t find the humor in the horror of trying to make it all work, then life just wouldn’t be all that fun.

It’s Okay to Want a Career – A Really, Really Successful Career

I have commonly heard my working mom friends say that they feel guilty for not feeling guilty enough for choosing to have a career. WHAT?!?! Why do we do this to ourselves? Why is it not okay for a woman to stand up and admit that what she really wants is an incredibly successful career in a challenging profession?

I was recently having a conversation with a young woman who explained to me that none of her friends want to work the kind of hours it takes to make it in industries like law and accounting, and that that was a generational difference that the business world would have to come to terms with. When I laughed at her use of the term “generational” (as it suggested I was incredibly old at the ripe age of 33), she said, “Well, you’re just different in how you really want to get promoted.” Her tone indicated that for someone like me, you know a mom and all, to acknowledge that, YES! I want to succeed, was a strange and crazy thing. I think we need to change that perception. We need to stop telling ourselves that we are bad moms for wanting to succeed! If each of us acknowledged outwardly that we want to grow professionally, I think we would find a support system that doesn’t exist right now. We’d talk about our achievements and our successes and even our failures. We’d share our tips on balancing everything in our life. We’d feel supported and uplifted by each other, and we’d find a way to break free from the impression that wanting make to partner means you don’t want to be a good mom.

Embrace the Imperfect

I think perfection is at the root of all mom guilt. Jane’s first day at school happened to be her class’s Halloween party. I 392681_10150421271404427_201820566_nreceived an email the day before the party asking me to bring a snack. I immediately pulled up Pinterest and went through page after page of Halloween snacks. None of them looked like something Martha Stewart would have brought to her child’s pre-K 1 class. I saw mummies made from pretzels – but did these kids even have teeth yet? I saw oranges that looked like pumpkins – but didn’t I read somewhere that citrus was bad for toddlers? Finally, I came upon a recipe for Cinnamon Cake Donut Muffins. Perfect! So that they wouldn’t be anything but fresh, I woke up at five the morning of the party and baked and baked and baked. And off I went to her school with 24 of the most perfect muffins you’ve ever seen. I expected that the other moms had done the same and imagined placing my wares on a table surrounded by out-of-the-oven snacks. Instead, my muffins were directed to a spot on the counter where they coexisted with store bought cupcakes and pre-chopped fruit salad and a box of Goldfish. Was I really the only one who made something from scratch? How did these moms know that it was okay to run to the store and scoop up the only thing their kids actually eat? I wonder if they feel guilty for not slaving over Pinterest perfect muffins? But, as I looked on, they didn’t seem to. They were having fun and chatting and no one seemed to notice that the things their kids were eating didn’t coordinate with the party theme.

Now, that was not the last time I have made snacks from scratch. I love baking. But, it was the last time I felt like I needed to turn my world upside down to bring the best snack of the bunch. And I have to say that letting go of the feeling that I had to be this perfect mom was the best thing that could have happened to me. Being perfectly imperfect is so much more fun – for me and especially for Jane.

Have you struggled with working mom guilt? What do you do to get past that feeling?


  1. Excellent post Jenn! Most days, I feel like I’ve let go of the “mommy guilt” because I know me working full time is what works best for our family. And even though morning drop off may not always go smooth, Addison LOVES her friends at “school” and has benefitted so much from going everyday. But there are other days, when deadlines are looming, the house is a wreck, and the overwhelming feeling of not being able to do it all sets in. At those times, I try to take a step back and look at the big picture. Like you said, it’s the quality over the quantity and not everything has to be perfect!

    • Elizabeth, I love what you said about the BIG PICTURE!! I often get so lost in the weeds and finding my way is so hard. And it’s so easy to be self critical, but I agree, if I take a step back and a deep breath and put everything in perspective it all seems ok!

  2. great article! I have a flexible schedule at work and it’s still a juggle! BUT I know that staying home all day is not for me…and I can be a better parent because I go to work. My house isn’t perfect – I choose my battles – and a glass of wine now and then doesn’t hurt!

  3. Great post Jen! Getting over my “perfectionist” ways is tough but I’m learning!! Even though it’s so hard to be away from baby during the day, working is just necessary for me to still feel like me. It might not be for everyone but I think it’s definitely a good thing for our family.

  4. This was perfect! I think moms struggle with either choice, to work or not. I know I do. I only work part time now and I worry that my kids will think moms are supposed to stay home. Raising boys, that is particularly troubling to me. I do love the balance we have but I don’t think my boys know that I work. I grew up with a mother who had an admirable career and was constantly pushing herself, a quality I so admire. I also 100% agree that it is quality over quantity. When I did work full time, the time I had with son was so precious and I cherished more moments than not. I cherish the time now too but I get more easily frustrated and lose my temper quicker. As I said, I am happy with the balance we have but I think we all question whether we are making the right choice. If it makes you happy, then you are going to be a better mother because of it. Great post!

    • I totally agree that there is no perfect choice, only the choice that works for each family! Some days I am 100% confident that I made the right one. But then I miss a play date or a class party and that guilt creeps in…

  5. Loved this post Jen. Actually at a conference right now with many other physicians and can not tell you how much the work/life balance conversation has come up. I’ve always had this idea that if I talk too much about my family/child, people would somehow see me as less dedicated to my field. I realize that this is something ALL parents struggle with. Many of the men at this conference have talked about how much they miss their kids and how bad they feel being separated from them. I’ve always liked the idea that you can do it all…just not all at the same time, all the time 🙂

    • Kelly!!! I have felt the same way. I was so shy to bring up Jane for such a long time thinking that if I talked about her with my colleagues or clients they would think I was not dedicated to them or focused on their work. I’ve come to realize that my performance will show them how dedicated I am, so I talk about Jane all the time. After all she’s pretty freaking cool!

      PS – I love that the dads were openly talking about missing their little ones!

  6. Great perspective and advice! I completely agree that acknowledging that we do want success and then going forward to find the support and encouragement within our organizations is critical (and not always easy)! My mom guilt will always have a little spot in my heart, but I know my boys know they have much more of it!

  7. I am attending Loyola now as a Senior. I have two sons under 5. I have been incredibly lucky to stay home with them until I graduate. My mom was unable to do the same, she has inspired my incredible drive and attempt at incredible motherhood! With that stated I have those fears of going to work and being without them and of course all the more pressure (mommy guilt). I agree with quality over quantity – this is something that stands out for me! I’d much rather my children remember the times they have with me and not just that we had time. Love this article!

  8. Thanks for a great article! You have the winning combination and all of your tips are good reminders. I tell myself when things are overwhelming that this is just RIGHT NOW. It’s not forever. So when there is a meltdown in the morning when I’m already running late for a meeting and know that traffic will suck, I remind myself that is it just right now. She won’t always have a meltdown. I won’t always be stressed or overwhelmed or late for a meeting. It’s just right now. Enjoy the good moments because they won’t last either…but neither will the bad ones.

  9. Jen, these are are excellent! For the longest time, I had so much mom guilt when I dropped Andrew off at school but now, when I see him playing with his friends and talking about school and when I see how much he loves it, that guilt is non-existent.

    For me, working away from home is good for our family. Like I’ve told you in a conversation, I feel like I need to work to maintain my own identity and it works for us.

    And YES! definitely quality over quantity. Although, there are some days where I want more time with my little guy. 🙂

    Great post, thank you so much for sharing!!!

  10. Hey Jen! I stumbled upon this through Facebook and am so happy I did. Our girls are almost the same age and I’m still struggling with the mom guilt! This is just what I needed to hear today. Glad to see you’re doing well! Kaneil


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