Why Being Excited to Go Back to Work Doesn't Make You a Bad Mom

Mother looks at her laptop as she thinks about going back to work.
 Klaus Vedfelt / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Whether you took a month off for maternity leave, or you took a decade off to be a stay-at-home parent, feeling excited about going back to work doesn’t make you a bad mom.

After all, what’s not exciting about earning an income, holding adult conversations, and getting tasks done without constant interruption? If all that sounds better than changing diapers, then it’s OK.

If you feel bad for being excited about going back to work, however, you’re not alone. Many moms feel as though they need to hide their excitement about returning to the workplace because there’s often a notion that women should want to stay home.

But being excited about going back to work isn’t a sign that you’re a bad parent. In fact, your return to the workplace might be healthy for both you and your kids.

How Kids With Working Moms Turn Out

There’s a pervasive belief that kids with stay-at-home moms enjoy certain advantages. And there’s also a fear that kids raised by working parents are somehow placed at a disadvantage.

But research doesn’t support these claims. In fact, there’s evidence that having a working mom is good for kids.

For instance, having a mother in the workforce affects the way children view gender roles. A 2015 study conducted by the Harvard Business School found that women who were raised by working moms were more likely to be employed, work as supervisors, and earn 23% more than women who were raised by stay-at-home moms. Additionally, women raised by working moms spent fewer hours doing housework.

Working moms may also encourage boys to participate more in household responsibilities. The study found that men raised by mothers who worked outside the home tended to spend more time taking care of family members and doing chores around the house.

The research also found that adult children who were raised by employed mothers were just as happy as adult children who were raised by stay-at-home mothers. This might be a relief to moms who worry that their kids will grow up maladjusted, angry, or resentful, because they didn’t stay at home to raise them.

Here are a few other interesting things researchers discovered:

  • Adult daughters’ employment rates are affected by their mother’s employment. Women are more likely to have jobs when their mothers work. Regardless of whether their mothers work medium or high-skill jobs, women raised by working mothers are more likely to have supervisory positions than women whose mothers weren’t employed.
  • Working moms may encourage kids to stay in school longer. Men and women who were raised by employed mothers are shown to have significantly more education than children who were raised by stay-at-home mothers.
  • Other female role models affect girls. Stay-at-home moms can influence their daughters’ future careers by showing them other women with jobs. Researchers found that it’s helpful for girls to have alternative role models, such as other friends and family members with careers.

Potential Benefits of Putting Kids in Daycare

Some parents worry that placing kids in daycare means that they won’t learn as fast or get the nurturing and support they need to thrive.

But research doesn’t support these concerns either. In fact, many studies show that daycare can benefit a child’s development.

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health tracked 1,428 French children from the time they were 12 months old until they turned 8. Researchers tracked their emotional development throughout the entire time.

They continuously surveyed parents about their child’s behavior, ability to make friends, as well as their social skills. Researchers then examined the childcare situation up to the age of 3—whether children were in formal daycare settings, at-home daycares, or with another caregiver.

They discovered that children who were placed in high-quality daycare environments were better behaved and had better social skills than children who were cared for in at-home settings.

Having social and emotional skills at a young age can be vital to a child’s future. A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that children with better emotional and social skills in kindergarten were more likely to go to college and have a job by age 25.

Working Moms Might Be Happier

Several studies have found that working moms might be healthier and happier than stay-at-home moms. A 2011 study in the Journal of Family Psychology concluded that new mothers who held a paying job were in better health in general, regardless of whether they worked full-time or part-time. They also found that working mothers were less depressed than stay-at-home mothers.

In 2012, Gallup interviewed more than 60,000 U.S. women. The results of their survey found that stay-at-home moms were more likely to report depression, sadness, and anger. They defined “stay-at-home moms” as any woman not employed and who has a child under the age of 18 living at home. They looked separately at unemployed women who were looking for work. 

They found that stay-at-home moms experienced fewer positive emotions. They were less likely to smile, laugh, experience enjoyment, or learn something interesting. They were also less likely to report experiencing happiness “yesterday,” and were less likely than employed moms to rate their lives highly enough to be considered “thriving.” 

Researchers found that stay-at-home moms with lower household incomes fared the worst. Mothers with household annual incomes of less than $36,000 were most likely to report emotional difficulties as well as daily worry and stress.

Why You Feel Guilty

Even though research shows that kids and moms often do better when the mom is working, many working mothers experience a lot of guilt. And guilt can be a confusing emotion at times.

You might experience it when you make a mistake—like when you accidentally hurt your friend’s feelings. 

But you also might experience it when you’ve done nothing wrong. Perhaps you feel guilty whenever someone is angry with you (even if you didn’t behave out of line). Or maybe you feel guilty whenever you can’t help someone feel better (even if you're not the one who hurt them).

As a mom, there’s a good chance you’ll feel guilty quite often—when your child is upset, when your child insists you are mean, when you can’t afford to send your child to the same summer camp that their friends are attending, or when you can’t make it to the ball game.

So it’s not surprising that feeling a twinge of excitement (or maybe a whole lot of excitement) about going to work might also be met with some guilt. 

Left unchecked, these types of guilty feelings can affect the way you think. You might draw conclusions about yourself like, “I must be a bad mom for looking forward to being away from my child.” Or you might think, “I am a horrible parent for choosing money over time with my kids.”

And you probably believe that “good mothers are sad about going back to work.” So when you aren’t sad (and you actually feel excited), you might decide that you must be a bad parent. 

You also might predict horrible outcomes for your child too by thinking things like, “My child won’t feel loved if I’m not home, and we’ll never have a great relationship as a result,” or, “My child won’t be as smart as the other kids if I’m not there to play all day.” 

But these conclusions and predictions aren’t rooted in truth. They probably stem from your deep-rooted belief (or fear) that kids raised by stay-at-home mothers enjoy specific advantages in life and that good mothers stay home with their kids.

These guilty thoughts, however, are likely to fuel your guilty feelings. And the more guilt you experience, the more negative your thoughts can become. It easily becomes a downward spiral.

The Dangers of Guilt

In addition to unhealthy thoughts, guilty feelings may lead to unhealthy actions. For example, if your guilt convinces you that you’re a bad parent, you might never try to improve your parenting skills. Instead, you might resign yourself to the fact that you’re destined to yell at your kids when you’re angry or that you can’t possibly stick with limits when the kids whine.

You also might overcompensate for your guilty feelings by doing too much for your kids. Perhaps you never say no or you let them eat a lot of junk food—because it temporarily relieves your guilt.

Unnecessary guilt might also lead to self-punishment though. If you believe that you’re a bad mom for wanting to go back to work, then you might decide that you’re not worthy of spending time with your friends either. And you might think you don’t deserve to buy nice things for yourself—after all, if you didn’t spend so much money, you wouldn’t have to work, right? 

Guilt can cause you to neglect yourself in many different ways. And the more you neglect caring for yourself or the more you punish yourself, the fewer resources you’ll have to be a good parent. It can contribute to the vicious cycle of self-perpetuating guilt.

Cope With Guilt in Healthy Ways

When guilt creeps in as you prepare to go back to work and after you’ve started working, it’s important to cope with it in healthy ways. Here are some helpful ways to manage your guilty feelings:

  • Label your emotions. Acknowledge when you feel guilty, and name it. Just telling yourself, “I feel really guilty now that I’m excited to go to work,” can help take a bit of the sting out of your emotions. And once you recognize what’s going on, you can address the issue head-on.
  • Develop a mantra. A short affirmation that you can repeat to yourself can help you drown out the negative thoughts that fuel your guilt. Whether you find solace in reminding yourself, “Just because I feel guilty doesn’t mean I did anything wrong,” or you feel better when you tell yourself, “Working moms raise happy kids,” create a short phrase that prevents your brain from dwelling on thoughts that increase your guilt.
  • Remind yourself of the facts. When you start thinking that all the other moms feel horrible about going to work or you begin thinking you’re going to scar your child for life, go back to the facts. Remind yourself that there’s no evidence that working mothers are bad parents or that having a job is detrimental to kids. Instead, review the evidence that having a job might be good for your kids.
  • Practice self-compassion. Harsh self-criticism will make you feel worse. Practice self-compassion instead. Imagine what you’d say to a friend who was struggling with working mom guilt. What kind words of reassurance might you have for her? Give yourself the same kind words of emotional support or advice.
  • Argue the opposite. When you find yourself thinking of all the proof that you’re a bad parent or all the evidence that your child is going to suffer, argue the opposite. Think of all the evidence that supports the idea you should go back to work and that it’s healthy to be excited about it. Arguing the opposite can help you create a more balanced, realistic outlook.
  • Behave like the parent you want to be. Engaging in toxic self-blame will reduce your effectiveness as a parent. Think about the type of parent you’d like to be—strong, compassionate, authoritative, patient, or loving? Then, work on behaving like that type of parent, rather than a guilty one.
  • Engage in self-care. It’s vital to care for yourself, so you can be effective at home and at work. Whether it means scheduling a weekly date night or it means going to yoga class three times a week, it’s important to recharge your batteries so you can be your best.

A Word From Verywell

Whether you choose to go back to work full-time or part-time, you choose to work from home, or you decide to be a stay-at-home parent, the choice is always up to you. There’s no right or wrong way to raise kids. Only you know what’s best for you and your family.

But if you’re feeling excited about getting back to work and you feel a bit guilty that you aren’t sad about staying home, just know you aren’t alone. Many moms welcome the adult interaction and satisfaction they gain from employment. Just make sure to address your guilt in a healthy way so it doesn’t take a toll on you or your family.

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Article Sources
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