THE BLOG
11/14/2014 10:06 am ET Updated Jan 14, 2015

Are You a Bad Mommy For Loving Your Work? 5 Tips to Get Over Your Guilt

As a working mom, it's easy to feel torn between your obligations at work and home. If you have an enjoyable career, you can also feel guilty for enjoying yourself when you're away from home and your children. Is this wrong? It can feel wrong. But it's all about perspective. Here are five ways to view the situation differently to help you get past the guilt.

1. Recognize that your child needs you more than your time. You're multifaceted, and have interests concerning things you enjoyed before you had children. Yes, having a family means sacrificing some of these interests for the sake of your children. But this doesn't have to require giving up all of these outside interests.

If you enjoy your work and this helps you feel complete, you're in a better position to give back to your children a happier "you" when the family is together. I addressed this concept in a podcast episode when discussing ways to recharge your marital relationship, which involves meeting your husband's needs first so that he's emotionally equipped (and given an incentive) to meet your needs.

Similarly, if a fulfilling career, healthy friendships and exciting hobbies help satisfy your emotional needs, then you are better equipped to give back to your family. The energy that comes from this satisfaction can then be redirected (or infused) into your relationship with your children and spouse, leading to a more satisfying family life.

Immersing yourself 100 percent in your children's lives may look self-sacrificing, but it can be depleting. You have to have something left to yourself that's separate from the children. You can't completely lose yourself in a child's development and expect to transform into the perfect "television mom."

The older family television shows depicted the ideal mother as June Cleaver of Leave it to Beaver and Donna Reed from The Donna Reed Show. These women never got angry and cleaned the house while wearing pumps and dresses.

Today's family shows depict a more realistic home life, but we can still be left with unrealistic expectations of how our family life should look.

These are some of the misconceptions we adopt:
  • A committed mother who loves her children more than anything stays at home with them, or reluctantly returns to work out of financial necessity. This is the only reason she's working.
  • If you enjoy your job and choose to go back to work, you have to question why you had kids in the first place.

These value judgments are sadly misguided.

A healthier construct is that the best gift you can give your children is a complete you who expresses love to them unconditionally. This love can't be measured by how many craft projects you do with your children, or how many "play dates" you arrange for them. After all, there's no template for what activities a child should be involved in to have the perfect life, since there is no perfect life.

2. Don't confuse the idea of job satisfaction with not wanting to spend time with your children.The reverse of this is true, also: If you miss being with your child, this doesn't mean you shouldn't be working or wanting to work.

3. Learn to compartmentalize your roles at home and at the workplace. When you're at your job work hard and thrive. Similarly, when you're home with your family, enjoy your role as a mother and wife and thrive in this setting. Mixing these two roles leads to confusion about what you should be undertaking at a given time.

Let's face it: As a mom you can't completely disconnect from your children even when at work. For example, leaving your sick child with a babysitter while heading off to work will invariably be distracting on some level during the work day. Or, you may go to work but need to check your cell phone periodically to make sure you didn't get a call from school about your child.

These are the realities of being a working mom. But this open door to your home life doesn't have to consume your thoughts at work and can, instead, simply rest in the mind's background (rather than its foreground) while working.

4. Accept that everyone needs down time. The more introverted you are, the more you'll need mental solitude to recharge. This doesn't mean you don't like people or want to be around them. It means that you thrive best when you have time, even as little as 30 minutes, to think without interruption.

Mental downtime allows you to recharge and is essential to achieving and maintaining sound mental health. If your emotional battery is fully charged, you'll be able to give more of yourself to your family at home. What's more, you'll be able to do so in a more meaningful manner.

If you love your work, reveling in it is another form of mental separation from your family responsibilities. Your work may keep you busy, but you are still able to control the mental input so that it's only as stimulating as you allow it to be. This is in contrast to how you are when you are in the presence of your children. When you are with them, you are always on alert and you can't be selective about how responsive you will be to your children's needs.

Enjoying your work can constitute a mental reprieve because the job satisfaction centers the essence of "you," enabling you to mentally recharge and contribute to family-based relationships in a way that's rewarding and purpose-driven.

5. Recognize that your decision to work doesn't mean you're not also committed to your children. Staying at home full-time with your children is more about logistics than your level of commitment to their wellbeing. Someone has to maintain the home and care for them. But these logistics shouldn't be confused with acts of love or its absence. Staying at home makes it easier to handle these logistics. You're more available to take the children to the doctor when sickness surfaces and have dinner ready on time, etc. Staying at home allows you to do laundry during the day instead of at night or on the weekend, and allows you to get a head-start on sending out Christmas cards to family members and friends.

But it's critical to understand that these details are daily logistics of life. They aren't, nor ever can be, building blocks for healthy child development. Choosing to handle these logistics yourself instead of outsourcing them doesn't mean you're more or less committed to your family.

Are You Projecting?

When your decision to work outside of the home becomes the basis by which you measure your level of commitment, you create a self-destructive view that breeds self-judgment. We tend to judge others the way we judge ourselves. Or, we assume that others are passing the same judgment on us that we pass onto ourselves. This defense mechanism, called projection, is damaging to the self-esteem and makes it challenging to have healthy relationships with friends, co-workers and family members.

So what does this look like? If you think that being committed to motherhood requires staying at home or only returning to work out of financial necessity, then you'll probably assume that stay-at-home moms disapprove of you.

Some may in fact disapprove of you. But some may actually envy the fact that you have something else to call your own. But if you think that not working is nobler than staying at home, you'll assume that they disapprove of you. The reality is, however, you are the one thinking poorly of yourself and assuming others are doing the same.

Conclusion

If you choose to resume your career after having children, your mindset will determine whether you thrive in your work or struggle with guilt and shame about loving your career. Use these five tips to adjust your mindset so that you can perform at your best both at home and work, and find fulfillment in both settings.

Want to listen to more commentary? Listen to my podcast episode on this topic.