Business Women

Mother Guilt when you’re running a business: what it is and what to do about it

August 21, 2018

Mother guilt.

Like a computer virus running in the background, we almost get used to how much it is slowing us down and submit to its power over us.

Then, even if we acknowledge its impact, many of us women feel lost as to how to induce meaningful change that can sooth the constant rush of anxiety-inducing negative self-talk.

With all that women have to overcome to break down the barriers that prevent true equality, mother guilt is particularly devious because it comes from within.

Mother guilt makes us feel constantly inadequate.

Mother guilt convinces us we’re failing when we’re succeeding.

Mother guilt leads us to believe that prioritizing our goals is somehow hurting our children.

Mother guilt turns us into hypocrites, because we tell our children, “you can do anything, the world is your oyster,” when our actions teach them that they must sacrifice in order to enable the potential success of the next generation. Mother guilt prevents us from achieving our potential.

Some of us grew up in a home where our mothers put their talents and goals aside in order to enable us. We are cutting a new path without the aid of a compass, map or model to follow.

That divergence from the model set by our mothers is very often the start of our mother guilt: our mothers were there for us when we were growing up, and here we are trying to find a way forward for our family whilst being absent.

Maybe we then overcompensate when we’re home by becoming helicopter and drone parents. Maybe our kids recognize our guilt and use it against us. We feel bad because we are pursuing our goals, but we can’t stop and enjoy that because everything associated with our own ambition is coloured by our mother guilt.

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The constant comparing ourselves to our mothers and the subsequent actions are proof of something: our mother guilt is inherited. We choose to be professionals in the workplace, yet if we feel guilty about our choice it is because that guilt is seeping in from somewhere else. We want to be happy with our choices, and yet that inner dialogue tells us we’re doing something wrong.

Social media doesn’t help. Scrolling through our feeds, we see images of friends and family laughing with their kids while on a beach in Mexico in one photo, cheering for junior at the soccer game in another, and finally posing beside a tree in a third. Those pictures capture instances, but that’s all they capture. Instances are fleeting moments, not lives. Life for all of us is far more complicated than our curated social media feeds would have others believe.

So how do we control our mommy guilt? First and foremost, we must recognize that the guilt is non-productive. It’s not helping us be better professionals or better parents or spouses. It takes skill to learn to forgive ourselves for not meeting expectations. It takes wisdom to realize when we’re playing to someone else’s expectations rather than our own.

Second, we have to take control and set boundaries. If work is invading our lives, we have to discuss our boundaries with our colleagues and not be afraid to ask for help.

When we work on teams we enable each other’s success. Part of enabling your success may be that your team not message you for things at 8pm. Maybe it’s them respecting that you’ll respond to evening emails the next morning. Maybe it’s not putting meetings on your calendar after 530pm.

Whatever it is, you’re not asking for special treatment because you’re a parent: your building a team that respects boundaries equally for everyone, and thus enabling each other’s productivity when you’re at work and recovery when you’re not.

Finally, to manage mommy guilt we must be proactive decision makers and not reactive participants in our lives. We need to acknowledge our priorities and make our activities a reflection of our priorities, rather than allow our activities to be a reflection of other people’s priorities.

Remember, if we’re to tell our children that they can do anything, especially our daughters, we have to show them that fulfilling lives often require great planning, tough decisions, and frank conversations. We’re not doing our children any favours by giving them the impression that we’re failing on all fronts. Our kids need us, but they also need us to be examples, to be fulfilled, and to bring our best, happiest selves to the home every night.


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