I think as we talk about working mom’s guilt, we sometimes believe that this idea erupted in the 1990s – that mothers before this time felt no guilt about working, or being away from their children.
Perhaps this is because, largely, women were not a huge part of the workforce back in the 1950s and 1960s. Many remained at home and their duties were to cook and clean and take care of the house and children. So, they were doing what it was they were ‘supposed’ to be doing at this time.
Then, women began moving into careers, something they weren’t historically ‘supposed’ to do. Judith Warner, author of “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety” writes that by 1986 the majority of all women with children three or younger were part of the workforce.
Somewhere along the way, she says, pointing to the early ’90s, guilt became the buzzword.
In the mid-80s Parents magazine, writes Warner, touted that working mothers were happier and healthier and less stressed than those that stayed at home and that busier was better. But by the 90s, guilt plagued magazine stories.
Some believe that this came about because this generation of mothers felt they had to be constantly stimulating, engaging or playing with the child. Anything that took away from this caused the mom to feel guilt. The child’s self esteem became paramount. Warner says a psychoanalyst named Bowlby who came up with the idea of ‘attachment parenting’ is partially to blame – at least his idea that constant bonding adds to a mother’s guilt. His key thought: the bond that is formed by an infant with a mother in the very early years is the key to the types of relationships the baby will have for the rest of his life.
Is this true? Is this when the tides changed and mothers began to be consumed with guilt? Perhaps it had something to do with the guilt explosion working mothers feel, but I’m currently reading Barbara Walters’ biography, “Audition,” (great book if you are looking for something to pick up), and I find it incredibly interesting that even Walters experienced guilt when she set off to work.
Remember, this was back in the 1960s and 1970s, long before the idea that we had to constantly hold or play with our children became prevalent. In fact, many mothers were still at home – and Walters said this compounded the guilt she felt because she was in the minority as a working mother.
Writes Barbara, “Still, did I feel guilt? How do I count the ways? Is there a working mother on earth who doesn’t?”
Walters says, “I am known for saying that you can’t have it all – a great marriage, a successful career, and well-adjusted children-at least not at the same time.”
To me, this just proves that working mothers guilt is a normal emotion we all feel from time to time when we sometimes have to choose one thing (at times this may be a work function) over something else (which may be our child’s function).
Parenting expert and author of several award winning parenting books Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., recently answered my question of, “What can working mothers do to reduce the guilt they feel in their lives?” Answers Chansky, “Use the “yes, but” strategy.” Say to yourself, “Yes, I feel guilty because I’m not with my kids, but I love my work and if I’m not modeling being happy in my life, I will teach my kids to be miserable.” Easy, right?
Here’s another tip: “Don’t catastrophize, be realistic.” Says Chansky, if you are feeling guilty it doesn’t mean you are a bad parent – it actually means you really care! “Tell yourself accurately why you are doing the things you need to do-and the feelings will cool down.”
One thing Walters mentions as having been a great help in her life were the two caretakers/helpers she hired when her daughter was just an infant. She says that these women loved her daughter so much and she always knew that they were giving her the best that they could give her when Walters was at work or out of town.
Shannah B Godfrey, author, scientist, and mother of 14 children, agrees with Walters about choosing a loving childcare provider. She also agrees with Walters that finding a provider who is in it for the long haul, and not just a few months or a year, is paramount. “One thing that can give toddlers bonding/attachment disorder is being moved from childcare to childcare.” She says moving them around a lot can cause emotional trauma, and the less that you move the child to a new provider, the better.
So will we always feel guilt? It looks that way. But do we need to allow this guilt to consume us, depress us, or run our lives? No. Simply understanding that all mothers – those working in the home, out of the home, stay at home parents, working parents – feel guilt alleviates some of our stress. Identifying the guilt and then working on a plan to reduce the guilt is also key, and I’ll be posting about this soon.
Have a guilt free, wonderful Monday workday!