Lose the Guilt, Working Moms

by dsnider 19. February 2014 09:48


Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.  —William James 

Whenever I give speeches that touch on work-life balance, I get questions from women about feeling guilty by reason of being a working parent. These questions prompt mystified looks on the faces of the men in the audience as inevitably as they get asked, leading me to believe they reflect a perceived conflict over having a career and children that is both uniquely female and really rather quixotic.

Don't get me wrong: I'm sure men worry occasionally about whether they're spending enough time with their children, and I'm equally sure they sometimes feel as if their work-life ratio is out of balance. But I seriously doubt that there are many men, if indeed there are any, who worry that they're doing the wrong thing by working when they have small children.

Whether for traditional reasons or because they're simply wired differently, men expect to work and be parents simultaneously. For that matter, for reasons of economic necessity, so do the vast majority of the women in the world. It's a peculiarity of well-educated, affluent women to feel the need to define career and motherhood as separate, non-interlocking spheres and to feel conflicted about trying to cram both into one balanced life. 

It seems to me the questions about guilt—and indeed the feelings of guilt—are misplaced. If you think about it logically, there are about 4 years after the birth of a child when the child needs full-time care, another 5-6 years of intense, if part-time, supervision, and then 8-9 years of loving oversight. I feel comfortable as a child-raising veteran in saying that it is not possible to devote one's full time and effort to raising children: they're simply not around enough. As infants, they spend a lot of time asleep; as older children, they spend a lot of time in school and with their friends. 

And that's how it should be. Kids are independent human beings, and the goal in raising them should be to guide them in becoming happy, civilized, self-sufficient contributors. They are not, and should not be viewed as, substitutes for a career, nor is having them antithetical to pursuing a career.

Who defined motherhood for upper-middle-class educated women as stay-at-home, full-time, and entirely incompatible with a job? Do even stay-at-home moms actually have nothing in their lives but their kids? Of course not. A woman wouldn't be much of a mother or a human being if she had no other interests, activities or concerns.

Being a working parent requires accommodations in how one approaches one's career—and, from pregnancy through child-raising, being a working mother requires more accommodations than being a working father. Moreover, traditionally male work institutions (i.e., practically all professions and businesses) were set up and are maintained with the working-father accommodations more front of mind than the working-mother accommodations. It's hard to find balance as a working mother in a professional or business career.

But that is not a reason to feel guilty or to opt out. It's more properly viewed as a reason to opt in, to change institutional realities so as to ease the experience for yourself and for the working mothers who come after you, to figure out what works for you and your family and go for it, and to quit letting other people push you around. Listen to your heart, not to some half-baked media-induced notion of what a “real” mother or businesswoman might be.

There's no one right way to be a mother or a career woman, any more than there's one right way to be a father or a career man. It's your life. If you want to stay home and raise kids, do it. If you want to be a working parent, do it. Make the choices that are right for you. Then embrace those choices and don’t waste your time feeling guilty.

Debra Snider is an author, speaker, no-longer-practicing lawyer, former senior executive, and mother of two grown children.  Her published works include two nonfiction business books, one specifically for lawyers, and the novel A MERGER OF EQUALS, which readers have called “one of the most enlightening and true works of fiction about corporate life and love,” "a book that will change your life," and “virtually impossible to put down.”  A Chicagoan until 2005, Debra and her husband now live in Nevada.  Click here for more info on her biography, books, and appearances.

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Debra Snider | Suit Yourself | Working Moms

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