The importance of managing a working parent’s guilt

Why do we waste so much energy as working parents feeling guilty?

‘Guilt is a crushing emotion.  Some parents feel so guilty at having been at work all week that they have high expectations of their children/themselves that can’t be met so they over compensate.  Guilt reduces creativity and confidence’ 
Dr Angharad Rudkin, The Guardian March 2013

Guilt is a topic that frequently comes up in our maternity coaching workshops and it has always intrigued me – why do we feel guilty about going out to work to earn money, educate ourselves and subsequently improve the quality of life for our children?

Managing a Working Parents Guilt

The first thing I have noticed though, is that it is only in the maternity workshops that the issue of guilt arises, and not in our New and ‘Expectant’ Dads workshops.  Why is that and could that hold the key to understand why we feel guilty?  Does it mean dads don’t feel guilty about going back to work and leaving their babies at home?  No doubt this is mainly due to our culture in the UK.  Despite so many more women working and parenting, still, it’s mostly women who take the time off and because dads have been conditioned from birth to work, they grow up in the knowledge that their role is predominantly going to be to work.

What about if a new dad’s own father took time off to look after him and put work on hold – would that make a new dad feel differently about his chosen role?  It does make a difference to women.  I’ve noticed that those new mums whose own mother (or even grandmother) worked whilst they were growing up are less likely to feel guilty (or at least not let the guilt get the better of them).

What about the physiological side of things?  The fact that mothers are ‘physically equipped’ to give birth and then feed must massively contribute to why we feel guilty when we are ‘physically removed’ from our babies to go back to work, even if we have made the choice ourselves.  I have heard it called ‘the emotional umbilical cord’ and it really can feel like that.  Nature’s way of making us stay with our children longer to ‘protect them’ as we would have done in the past?

My other theory on guilt is that you will feel worse if you have made the wrong return to work decision.  Most of us don’t really discuss and ponder over our family values – what makes us feel really happy and is most important to us.  Maybe if we did and then made our return to work decision based on our values, we would feel less guilty??  Possibly, if you can afford the luxury of choice.

So that leads me then to another idea – do those women who always know financially that they absolutely have to return to work, possibly full time, maybe because they are the main bread winner, feel less guilty?  Or because they know that their family simply cannot function or wouldn’t be happy without 2 wages?  If you know you have ‘no choice’, does that make you feel less guilty or not?

Finally, don’t underestimate the impact and influence of those around you – everyone has an opinion on working mothers.  Some people are more resilient than other at being swayed or influenced into making a different choice.  If we were all stronger, more resilient and remained uninfluenced by others, would we feel less guilty?

Isn’t it more about how we deal with the guilt rather than whether we actually feel it or not?  I don’t know many people who haven’t felt at least a twinge of guilt when missing their children’s nativity play or not being at the school gate…  What I do know is that if your guilt isn’t managed properly and put into perspective, it can actually prevent you from achieving your goals.

For more information on managing working parents guilt – contact the team at Parent and Professional today.

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