"When I went back after Sophie was born, I think the feeling would best be described as 'it's unfortunate that I have to work.' I felt 'less-than,'" says Darci Cramer-Benjamin, a family therapist in Buffalo, New York. "I had a hard time seeing all the positives for her. I knew I wasn't a stay-at-home mother, so I knew the positives for myself, but I felt like I was somehow doing her a disservice."
Linda Mason, author of The Working Mother's Guide to Life: Strategies, Secrets, and Solutions (Three Rivers Press, 2002), and co-founder of Bright Horizons Family Solutions, a leading provider of employer-sponsored child care, says that working mothers have no reason to feel guilty if they've found quality caregivers for their children.
"The first thing to make sure is that you have found excellent care for your baby. No mom can feel good about working if you are worried about your child during the day. Conversely, if you know your baby is with a caring, experienced caregiver, you will know she/he will be getting important love and attention. Being a devoted, loving, good mom does not depend on being with your baby 24/7. After all, throughout the ages, moms were very busy while having babies," she says.
Christi Craig, a research administrator for a large private university in Atlanta, says it's important that mothers don't let their feelings get in the way of providing financially for their children.
"I have never felt an instant of guilt for not staying home with my children. I have to provide for my children just like their father does, so staying home was never a consideration for either of us. I'd feel guilty if I weren't supporting them. "It's also important that my children learn to love and trust other people besides their parents. And the more people they love, and who love them in return, the better we all are."
Inevitably, working mothers will encounter others who have made different decisions and don't believe that mothers with young children should work. It can be very difficult to tune out criticism of your parenting style, but Mason says you shouldn't get discouraged by people who disparage the fact that you work outside of the home.
"You can say, 'I'm very devoted to my baby and love every minute I am with her. I do need to work, and enjoy being productive in the work world. We have a wonderful caregiver who also adores her. It is clear when looking at my baby that she is thriving surrounded by all this love and attention.'"
Even after getting over the hurdle of returning to work, mothers sometimes note that they that they can't "afford" to take any time for themselves. Doing so creates another area in which they feel they are letting their families down.
"The worst is trying to find time for myself. I have a hard time separating time I spend at work which is without them and time I spend for myself which is without them," Benjamin-Cramer says. "I feel more often than not that I don't have a right to time to myself, because I'm away at work, so how can I take MORE time away for myself? That's the biggest problem/guilt I have now -- the guilt isn't about working anymore at all, it's about any time I want to take for myself." Shannon, a graduate student in Virginia who didn't want her surname used, and mother of two children, says that mothers also should understand that career goals may have to be adjusted in light of family responsibilities.
"My guilt has largely been mitigated by understanding that work is not my identity. Work is what I do so that I can raise a family," she says. "Whether or not you want to go back to work, the stark fact is that responsible mothers are capable of supporting themselves and their children both materially and emotionally. It takes critical thinking and hard work to arrange your life so that all the essentials are covered," she adds.
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