Working moms are no strangers to guilt. It’s not always a bad thing, and can provide telling insight into changes that you could make for a happier life. In this installment of Working Mom 3.0, Stephanie Taylor Christensen uses her own guilt to learn how the powerful emotion can be used for good, and most important, how to set it free.
Guilt has become a familiar emotion since the day my son was born. Despite the fact that I transformed my traditional career in order to spend more time with my son, I still feel that nagging emotion each time I turn on “Nick Jr.” to buy myself a few minutes to check email. But last weekend, the guilt was unbearable. My son took a spill off a chair, which landed us in the emergency room, checking for broken bones. Thankfully, he emerged unscathed and intact. He has since forgotten the incident, but from the moment it happened, my mind has been in a perpetual state of self-blame.
The duality of guilt
If you’re a parent, you know guilt. If you work out of the home, you probably fear you’re too absent. If you work in the home, you likely worry that you’re not engaging your kids enough. Guilt is not inherently bad. In fact, experiencing it can be a good reminder to help us stay on the right path, forcing us to tune in to the choices in our lives that are causing mental unrest. But guilt, if left unchecked, can be overwhelmingly unhealthy, leading to constant stress and anxiety. We spend plenty of time beating ourselves up — but how often do we take time to repair the mental damage our guilt inflicts? There is a way to use your guilt for good, if you recognize it as an opportunity for future decision-making.
Healthy uses for guilt
Candi Raudebaugh, occupational therapist and owner of Inner Health Studio, suggests using affirmation techniques to tap into the situation that is causing you to feel guilty. Accept that you cannot control all things and cannot change the past. Recognize why you feel guilty, and what your guilt is telling you for the present — and for the future. Did you make your decisions based on what you truly feel is right and wrong? If not, what can you change starting right now to “right your wrong”?
If you simply feel bad about something that is a fact of life for many, like going back to work after a baby, allow yourself to feel bad — but only temporarily. Accept and acknowledge the pain of your feelings, but recognize that the situation you feel guilt for is not your fault. Listen to your guilt, and let it help you. Are there changes you can make in your life — right now and in the future — to feel as good as possible about your actions?
Now, allow yourself to let the guilt go.
When our kids fall down, we don’t ask them what they did to cause the fall, or what they should have done to prevent it. We pick them up, acknowledge their pain, soothe their hurt, and tell them to move on. We working moms owe ourselves the same courtesy.