How I finally dropped the working mom guilt

Mar 2, 2015 at 12:00 p.m. ET

The other night, while nursing the baby to sleep and texting my babysitter to plan for the busy week ahead, it hit me: I was finally juggling work and family life. Without any guilt.

Throughout my mothering career, I've had many different hats — breadwinner of the family, night shift worker, stay-at-home mom, working mom and work-at-home mom — and through my years of trying to combine work and family, one thing pretty much remained consistent.

I felt like I was failing at everything.

Like many working moms, when I was working I felt like all I could think about was my kids and when I was with my kids, I felt like all I could think about was working. There was no balance, no relaxing and I felt like I was constantly giving everything my half-assed effort. It was not a good feeling.

I wondered when I was going to get my act together, when I would finally figure out when it would be OK to say no to playing with my kids so I could get the dishes done or when I would stop feeling so guilty for just wanting to go to bed at night instead of embracing just one more snuggle before they grew up. Where did I draw the line between savoring every last minute with my kids, my sanity and making a living?

I was spinning in circles, going nowhere fast and wracked with guilt at every turn. Was I working too much or not enough, neglecting my kids at every turn or hovering over them? I needed answers, people.

Strangely enough, I found my balance not through quitting work or focusing more on my kids, but in being honest with myself about what I wanted out of life and what made me the best version of myself. It's unrealistic to think that being a parent means expecting that all of my life decisions will be based on what makes me the happiest, because obviously, my kids come first. But it wasn't until I gave myself permission to ask what did make me happy that I found freedom.

I realized that I had this preconceived notion in my head that to be a working mom meant being miserable. That to some extent, motherhood meant sacrifice and that because most people were happy to have any kind of job, I didn't deserve to dream about what kind of a job I wanted. But slowly, through casting my net into the pool of very talented and inspiring people in my dream field, I saw that the life I had always envisioned was possible and that working wasn't always about crying on your way into your shift, desperately praying that you wouldn't kill anyone that day. (For the record, I worked as a nurse on a step-down intensive care unit, where most of my patients were having active heart attacks.)

I saw that working didn't have to be a miserable job just to get through, but that it was possible to find meaningful work that enriched my life and made me a better person and — dare I say it — mother.

Today, my life is harder in different ways, but I can finally say that I have let go of the guilt I made myself feel for wanting to pursue a job that fulfilled me and the guilt I thought I had to feel for working at all. Letting go of "mom guilt," I learned, was as simple as realizing that it never existed in the first place and that by giving myself permission to be happy first, I am a much better mother to my children all of the time — and not just some of the time.

More on working moms

Nicole Feld on motherhood, the circus and joining the family business
Working Mom 3.0: A variation on the Golden Rule
Working moms guide to busy mornings

Comments