5 Ways to Overcome Working Mom Guilt

Mom lying on the floor next to an open laptop while her baby plays with her cell phone

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If you are a working mom you've experienced the blow to the stomach when working mom guilt hits. Working mom guilt is when something happens that makes you feel guilty about being a working mom. For example, you may feel guilty when you leave your little one crying at daycare or you forget something for school because you were too busy thinking about work.

Working mom guilt can stop you in your tracks and hijack your thoughts. But when you're a working mom, you don't have the time or the energy to let working mom guilt put you into a daze for long. Sometimes there is a really good reason for you to feel guilty, but other times there isn't. We are here to help you get over the time-wasting working mom guilt moments.

How to Let Go of Working Mom Guilt

Here are five ways to help you overcome working mom guilt so you can get back to living your life.

Stop Following Other People's Rules

Because of the many mothers in your life, you have a good idea of what makes a good mother. Based on these relationships you've created a set of rules that you follow. When you don't follow these made-up rules you can feel guilty. For example, let's say you know a mom who seems super organized and successful. So, you create rules based on her actions. The problem is you assume many things about her when you set these rules.

To relieve yourself of working mom guilt, forget these rules. Instead set expectations based on your circumstances like who you are, on what your kids are like, and your career goals.

The next time you feel working mom guilt, ask yourself, "What's the worst that can happen if I break the rules?" Your answer will bring you back to your reality.

Reserve Self-Judgment

Working motherhood is a big part of your identity. When you fail at it, and then feel guilty about it, it reflects your inability to do the most important job you've ever had. You are your toughest critic. For example, how could you forget that it was pajama day at school? Again! You and your child are upset and you feel like you can't change a thing. The guilt can be unbearable.

To stop beating yourself up, reserve self-judgment. Think about the bigger picture.

Will your child perform poorly in school today because they aren't in their PJs? No. Will they be sad forever? No. Will they remember this bad experience five years from now? Probably not. Then, tell yourself that you are a great mom, you will forget things and no one is perfect.

Set up Reminders

You have yourself to take care of, your children, your home, and your career. Because you're so busy it's no wonder when working mom guilt sneaks up it can knock you out.

It's time to get organized. Find a way to set up reminders so you don't let things slip through the cracks. Try setting up reminders on your phone that will go off a few times to remind you that the field trip is tomorrow. A fun planner will help make it a habit to check your schedule every day. Or use an app, like Trello, to keep track of to-do lists.

Reframe Your Negative Self-Talk

You will make mistakes (you've probably made many already). The key is to learn as much as you can from them and then change your ways if needed. When you go with the flow, instead of fighting reality, you feel like a winner!

In Byron Katie's 2002 book Loving What Is, she talks about four questions that help you identify thoughts that are hurting you (and may be causing you to feel guilty). If you need help with going with the flow ask yourself these questions to help overcome working mom guilt:

  1. Is it true? (If Yes, go to #2. If no, go to #3.)
  2. Can you absolutely know if it's true? (Yes or no)
  3. How do you react or how do you feel when you believe that thought? (the answer may be that you feel guilty)
  4. Who would you be without this thought?

Then turn the thought around to reflect yourself.

Let's use the PJ day example and your thought is "My child is going to have a bad day because she's not in their PJs.". Is this true? No. The answer to question number three is that you feel guilty when you believe this thought. You'd be a happier working mom if you didn't believe this though.

Now, when you turn the thought around it's "You are going to have a bad day because your child isn't in their PJs." Is this true? No, not when you put it that way, right? You may feel silly when you believe this thought and without this thought, you can get on with your day.

See how this got you out of feeling guilty and more in flow? Magic.

Learn to Breathe Deeply

Working mom guilt can stress you out. It can trigger your fight or flight response, where you try to fight the feeling of guilt. The result is you feel paralyzed from the pain and thus stuck.

To help you break free and feel relaxed use a deep breathing exercise. The trick is remembering to actually take a deep breath.

So to help you get into the habit of taking deep breaths practice this often. This way when the working mom guilt moment strikes, you are equipped to handle it.

First, try to find a quiet space. If this can't happen, then skip to the next step. Take a deep breath by first filling up your stomach with air and then your lungs. Don't worry about body image at this moment because right now a relaxed state is more important than a flat stomach. Then repeat.

You'll feel more relaxed if you practice deep breathing in peace. But when you're in the moment of heightened guilt taking a few breaths can help put space between you and the situation.

A Word From Verywell

Working mom guilt will happen. Over time though you will bounce back quicker and it won't hurt as much. You'll feel like you've been there done that. With these tips, you'll be able to overcome guilt so you can be the best working mom you can be.

By Elizabeth McGrory
Elizabeth McGrory is a certified professional coach who offers life and career coaching for working moms.