Is It Possible To Banish Working Mom Guilt?
Suffering from full-time mom’s guilt? It’s time to banish the unhelpful emotion for good, says parenting expert, Sheila O’Malley.
Guilt and motherhood seem to go hand-in-hand. Guilty for going for a massage when you have bills to pay, guilty that your child is having temper tantrums, guilty for getting frustrated with your kids. For those who work full-time, the guilt can be crippling.
“Many working women struggle with guilt,” says Sheila O'Malley of Practical Parenting
Through her work, Sheila says she constantly meets women who struggle with guilt. “Because of this guilt, women feel that they have to be there tending to their children's needs 100 percent of the time when they’re not working. But spending all their time with their children, when they’re not working, means that they never attend to themselves. Then they become irritable, cranky and stressed.”
Ever wonder why you lose your temper or are irritable around your children when they’re asking something of you (and feel guilty about it)? “You have nothing to give - your cup is empty,” insists Sheila. “I work within companies a lot, and the feedback I get from women is that they’ve learnt to be a bit kinder to themselves, that they are calmer and less stressed. Also, there is a link between happiness and increased productivity.”
Sheila says that time and again, during her sessions, when she asks parents about their moods or behaviour at home, people say that they feel they simply can’t give what they don’t have. And so, Sheila believes that refuelling yourself and your life is the answer to many of the problems that arise when you feel tired and stressed out. “It’s about turning guilt on its head, and instead of feeling guilty because you feel you’ve let someone down because you’ve taken some time for yourself, it’s actually the opposite - you’ll be letting yourself down if you don't attend to yourself.”
The oxygen mask analogy has never been more apt than when talking about doing the best for your children. “During the safety demonstration before a flight, the attendant will always ask you to ensure your oxygen mask is on before attending to your child - you can't look after the child beside you if you haven't looked after yourself first. It’s the same with looking after your children at home,” suggests Sheila.
She adds that every time, as an under pressure parent, that you say ‘yes’ to someone - be it at work or socially, when it’s something you don’t want to do, you’re saying ‘no’ to you. “It’s about having boundaries. We simply don't know how to say ‘no’. So many of us are people pleasers - we’re not respecting ourselves enough or valuing our time. But there’s always a knock-on effect for the people that you work with, for the people at home - our children. We’re letting ourselves down if we don't have boundaries around our time.”
So on a practical level, how do we assuage that guilt? “You might have three children and work full time. When you come home, there’s dinner to make and dishes to do. But at a certain point, you simply have to hand it over and take some time for yourself. Go for a walk - this is so important on a physical level and an emotional level. Even better, go with a friend, even if it’s just around the block. You’ll instantly feel in better form. Go when the kids are in bed, go for a walk at lunchtime, or do a class once a week.”
For those who say they simply don’t have enough time to go for a walk?
“There’s always time for you. You need to make the time. There are 24 hours in the day - how is it you feel that you don’t deserve to have any of that time for you?”
Sheila also suggests being as productive as possible at work, so that you can get out on time or that little bit earlier, and spend that time with the kids. “It’s people who don't take the time to recharge that are cruising along at a 40 per cent capacity. Everyone loses when you’re only at 40 per cent capacity - you, your family, your work. So try to manage your attention, focus your energy when in work, so you can then get out and have a life. It will have such a positive impact at home. You’ll be less stressed, less edgy, less irritable with the kids.”
But it’s not just about ‘taking time’, insists Sheila. “It’s about how you relate to yourself, and it’s about balancing the care of others with self-care. It’s about valuing your time, and not saying ‘yes’, when you need to say ‘no’. It’s about respecting yourself, and responding to how you feel. For example, it’s about saying ‘I’m tired, I need to get an early night’ and taking that early night, even if that means you have to delay housework, or delegate some of it to someone else. Or it could simply mean doing less. Sometimes, we can have unrealistic expectations of ourselves.
So, yes – take time, but also in a myriad of ways, ease up on yourself and be encouraging and supportive of yourself.”
At the end of the day, points out Sheila, would your child rather live in a house with a parent who’s stressed and irritable, or one that’s given herself the time to take care of herself and feels more content because of it?