Today was “dinosaur day” at my youngest son’s school. The kids were to wear their dinosaur get-up and spend the day learning and reading about their prehistoric pals.
As we hustled into the school, my first of two separate drop-offs before rushing back home to start my workday, he and I both quickly noticed all of the kids’ different dinosaur T-shirts, boots, and accessories (some in full claw and tail setups). My heart fell. I’d forgotten. “It’s dinosaur day,” I heard my son whisper as he quickly peeked at his shirt (plain gray) and hoodie (green, but no dinosaur-spiked hood—that was at home).
We were both crushed, and I’d be lying if I didn’t suddenly feel a wave of overwhelming working mom guilt.
I’m a firm believer that all moms work. Whether you’re home or in an office, motherhood is hard and complicated and often comes layered with guilt. I’ve done both; one is not harder than the other, just hard in a different way.
My current situation involves working full-time from home while caring for my two kids, and every day is still a struggle in managing time and expectations for all of us. I’m not one of those people who just doesn’t feel mom-guilt; I’m an empath and I feel everything, all the time. It can be consuming at times if I’m honest, and I’ve made a conscious effort to deal with these feelings headfirst instead of letting them eat me alive.
Here is how I tackle my own working mom guilt:
1. I Know It’s OK to Make Mistakes
Forgetting dinosaur day is not my first mom-mess-up, nor will it be my last. I’ve forgotten library day countless times, missed spirit days at my older son’s elementary school, had to miss parent mornings in the classroom, forgotten gym shoes and snacks and calls to the absence line on days they are out, and yes, I’ve even forgotten to pick up my kids on time.
Have I felt terrible about each of these things? No doubt. But I am only one person and I am allowed to make mistakes. I will never be a perfect mom—I know that. What I can do is give myself grace for missing something, whether it’s kid-related or work-related.
2. I Know I’m Letting Them Grow
I find solace in the fact that there are many, many things they learn from school, their teachers, their peers, and their social environment that I could not teach them on my own. I also know that, some days, it’s a challenge for them to be away from me and the comfort of their home, just as it is challenging for me to be away from them.
These things aren’t always comfortable, but they do help us grow. Because of these experiences, my kids become more confident and self-secure, they gain independence and self-sufficiency, and they learn to let other people in—and so do I.
3. I Trust the People With My Kids
This is a big one. If you don’t trust the people taking care of your kids, it’s hard to let go of the anxiety throughout the day. You’re constantly wondering how they are, what they are doing, if they are OK.
The way I’ve found to mitigate this is to take the time to get to know your caregivers. I make sure I reach out often to check in with my kids’ teachers, offer support and materials whenever I can, visit the classroom or volunteer if I have the capability, and take the time to build a rapport with the teachers and administration. They appreciate your involvement and support, and you feel better knowing exactly who your kids are spending time with each day.
4. I Know It’s OK to Let Things Go
Now, as I’ve spent time in my kids’ classrooms and gotten to know the schools and their philosophies, I’ve realized there are many differences in how they do things and how I would want things done. This, of course, is less about me not agreeing with what they’re doing, and more about the fact that I want to control every teeny bit of my kids’ lives. The thing is, that’s just not practical, nor is it healthy.
It’s good for children to get used to different people, routines, and ways of doing things. It’s also good for me to begin to realize that I’m not going to be able to control every facet of my kids’s lives, nor should I want to (nor is my way best always!).
5. We Have Cheat Days
Somedays, for no reason at all, I’ll use my flex time or PTO to take off of work early and pick up the kids for something special—like an ice cream outing or an afternoon at the park. Or I’ll pick up fast food on the way to school pick-up so we can get home and eat on the floor of the living room while watching a movie. It doesn’t really matter what it is, sometimes we all need a little break from the weekday rush to relax and enjoy each other.
At the end of the day, though I love working and what I do, my job is not the most important thing in my life—it’s just one part of my life. Finding a balance between work and home and husband and kids is an impossible task and not my goal. But finding ways to give and take on all sides helps me manage the inevitable guilt that rides in from time to time.