To be or not to be (a working mother)


Guilt. So far, it seems to be the best-seller in the Chart of Confusing and Contradictory Emotions for Working Parents.

Guilt is a wonderful feeling in the fact that it’s a self-growing emotion. Just think about it, and you’ll feel it everywhere, about pretty much anything.  Doesn’t that sound fantastic?! Of course it doesn't. 

I have done my fair amount of thinking about guilt, and I realised that writing exactly what those triggers are could be a good way to get them out of my system. And, who knows, you might even recognise some of yours along the way… So here they are!

My top Guilt-triggers

Guilt about leaving your child in a strangers’ care for ten hours straight and at least three days a week; guilt about enjoying the break and the peacefulness of the office; excruciating guilt when your toddler cries as you literally peel him off your shoulder, especially when he only cuddles you at that time of the day and is all about Daddy for the rest of it; guilt as you pick him up, see that he’s been crying on his own for 20 minutes because you were late and arrived after all the other parents, and he’s realised his Mummy really should come for him now; guilt about the lack of patience you have for him at the end of the working day, when you’re exhausted and he’s knackered as he never sleeps enough at the nursery.

Guilt about not working long enough hours due to pick up or drop off duties; guilt about missing on the big meetings because of a three-day week; guilt about rarely being able to “go that extra mile” for projects as you don’t want to sacrifice your precious family or couple time; guilt because somehow people/the media force-feed you this concept of “having it all”;  guilt because you have to turn down work requests and worry that it will slow your career down, or that people will think you’re not as “enthusiastic” as you once were.

So why on earth do we put ourselves through that?

The reasons to juggle work and family life are extremely personal and particular to every parent out there, so it’d be silly and patronising of me to try and cover them all. So, beyond the financial aspect of going back to work (which gets pretty much written off by the cost of nurseries in London anyway), here are mine:
– a happy mummy means a happy baby, and working makes me happy. Take away the context, leave the content which I enjoy, and that’s what’s truly important.
– I want to raise kids and be able to tell them with absolute conviction that they can do anything they set themselves to achieve. And saying this with conviction means I have to live by it. Sure, I’m not there yet, but I have dreams, projects, and working is part of that picture. I have ambitions which work will enable me to fulfil.
– I need a thing of my own – being at work does a lot to strengthen my sense of self and my identity as a whole. When at work, I’m not a mother, not a wife, not even a friend (I’m still friendly!)- I’m an efficient and enthusiastic consultant, getting rewarded by the professional results I strive and work hard to get.
– Having my own activity brings something to the table at home other than money and stress: interesting topics of conversation, themes and points of discussion; so it’s also an intellectual contribution.

The challenge therefore is, how do we overcome this dilemma of mega-Guilt vs strong desire to work? Or rather, how do we not lose our minds trying to make it work?

This is still work in progress for me, but here is what I try to do to:
– Remember the good reasons why I go to work (see above)
– Good ol’ “Don’t think about it”: bury your head in the sand for a bit while you work, incommunicado. Feels amazing!
– I’ve picked a nursery which I really like, so much so that upon visiting it I wanted to move in myself, and that makes it all easier. I’ve had moments of doubts about going back to work and actually the nursery for Charlie was what kept me in work: they are a great team and get him to do stuff I literally couldn’t do (sand and paint play with 5 other toddlers in a confined place) or he wouldn’t get with me alone (eating their meals together has been a real booster for the weaning process).

– And finally, last but not least, I apply a key coaching principle: Accept and choose your emotions. I work on accepting that yes, sometimes I feel guilty about a certain amount of things, and I also remind myself of the reasons why I do what I do and that making myself feel guilty about it doesn’t serve me at all. No one “makes” me feel guilty – the decision to let guilt take over the driving seat is entirely mine. So today, dear Guilt, you’re not winning!

Over to you now. What are your reasons for returning to work? How do you deal with Guilt, if this is one of your challenges?