The decision to return to work after having a baby is personal one. Some moms make this choice because they need to financially contribute to their family. Others make this choice because they enjoy their career and/or feel it is important for them to have something they do outside of the home.
No matter what the reason, no mother should ever be made to feel guilty for the choice they make. “Mom Guilt” is real, and rather than contribute to it, we should support each other to overcome it.
I have found myself time and time again providing reassurance to both clients and fellow moms, that it is OK that they work out of the home. That it is OK that they take time away from their children to provide for their family in another way. This is reassurance which I eagerly provided.
But it got me thinking.
Why should moms need reassurance to do something other than stay home with their kids?
As mothers we have such high-level expectations placed on us every single day. We need to be everything our children need, and more. And the expectations come from more than just our role as parents.
We have expectations that need to be met from our families, from our careers, from society and (often placed last) from ourselves. Unfortunately, there are times when what is best for one area of our lives, might contradict what we feel is best in another area.
And so we have mom guilt. The blame we direct at ourselves when we do something that is not what is viewed as “best” for our children. But who decides what is “best”?
Who gets to tell us what is OK vs. what we should feel guilty for?
I remember deciding to return to work after my son was born (a very short 12 weeks after he was born … but that is another issue to discuss). It was a huge struggle for my husband and I to decide what would be best in this situation.
Would it be best for me to stay home and raise my children on my own? Would it best for me to get a job outside of the home and contribute to our family finances? I turned to other moms for reassurance that I was doing what was best. I looked at what they were doing in their lives and with their children.
I searched for an easy answer to my own struggle to determine what I should do, and to ease my own mom guilt with potentially making the wrong decision.
While I did not find the easy answer that I was looking for, I did find one thing that was pretty universal. Mom Guilt! Some felt guilty for returning to work and leaving their children with another caretaker. Other felt guilty for staying home and putting the burden of family finances on their partner.
As more of these conversations started taking place, so did more reassurance. We were able to remind each other that there was more to our lives than just our role as mothers.
As a part-time working mother myself, I see huge value in working outside of the home. On the days that I am in the office, I am able to foster another huge part of myself that I really enjoy. I am able to feel that I have more to offer than just being a parent to my kids.
This in no way means I think anything less of stay-at-home moms. The opposite in fact, I have huge respect and admiration for what you do! But for me, and many other moms, I need something else. I need to stay connected to who I was before I became a mother, and who I will be once my kids don’t need me as much anymore.
Mom Guilt should not prevent us from living the rest of our lives
The reality is the definition of what is “best” can and will vary greatly from family to family. And that is OK. What is best for all kids is to have a mother (and father) who is happy. A mother should not be made to feel guilty because of the choices she has made.
We are conditioned to think that we need to be there 100 percent for our children. But what about our relationships, our friends, and our careers. All of these things need our time and attention as well. We need to make sure that we are devoting time to these other aspects of ourselves. Even if that means we are taking that time away from our children.
So if you are a mother working outside of the home, a stay at home mom, or even a mom who chooses to go to a yoga class and put her kids in the gym day care (yes, I do this!!), you are doing a great job!!
Jmore parenting columnist Talya Knable is a psychotherapist who lives in Lutherville with her husband, Stephen, and their two children, Jack and Leigh. Her website is tkpsych.com/ She is also the assistant clinical director of Shalom Tikvah (shalomtikvah.org/), a local non-profit organization that supports Jewish families facing mental illness and other challenging life circumstances.