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Working mum guilt – and how to survive it

Working mum guilt – and how to survive it

Read on for actionable advice and a life-changing strategy to help you to ditch the guilt

Working mothers walk the tightrope of having to work like they don’t have children and then bring up their children like they don’t work. This is the perfect recipe for burnout. Things go to a whole other level when these mothers are entrepreneurs.

Most working mothers are stretched from pillar to post with miles of to-do lists and not enough hours in the day to do half the things on the list. Entrepreneurs, however, have the added complexity of ‘everything is on you’, so there is just no give. You make all the decisions, you are the leader, you set the strategy you take all the risks. This means if you drop the ball, the buck stops with you. You can’t escalate to a boss because you are the boss and sometimes there are no colleagues to take some of the pressure off you. If your child is sick, that meeting that you fought so hard to get with a potential client must be postponed with no guarantee that the client will agree to see you again because your competitors are on standby.

“Our superpowers of intuition, empathy, and natural multi-level thinking can lead to overload when dealing with a busy workload and multiple expectations. We feel at times like we have something to prove, or worse still don’t feel like we can take our foot off the gas,” says Sian Winfield, CEO at Start-ups & Go.

Women also think they have something to prove and let’s face it, it is not a level playing field. According to the office of national statistics (ONS), men make up the majority of the top 10 per cent of earners. Worse still, some women are plagued with not feeling good enough, particular in their mid to late 40s when they may be suffering from perimenopause and their hormones are wreaking havoc. So, they work more hours just to ensure that there is no room for error.

Where does all this overworking lead? Guilt. Wherever you are, you feel like you are needed elsewhere. You have missed the non-uniform day at your kid’s school again and you are convinced your child will be scarred for life. You keep checking your emails while making dinner because you can multi-task but little Jimmy who has been trying to get your attention for the past five minutes storms off feeling ignored. Just as you are thinking you will be up for the worst mother of the year award you hear a scream from upstairs and, of course, he has caught his finger in the door while slamming it in his rage after being ignored. On the way to A&E, you are sure social services will be called! The guilt is overwhelming. This nightmare is not a one-off for working mothers.

Time for an intervention. Let’s bring in Dr Donald Winnicott, a distinguished psychoanalyst and paediatrician, who came up with the concept of the ‘good enough mother’. His view was that parenting is hard enough and there is no such thing as a perfect parent. Being human means that you will get some things right and some things wrong, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that your children are going to be significantly or permanently damaged.

“Most working mothers are stretched from pillar to post with miles of to-do lists and not enough hours in the day to do half the things on the list”

What should a good enough parent be focusing on? To bring up a well-developed, emotionally secure, and competent person you need to meet both their physical and emotional needs. These are:

• Take care of them physically, by providing food and a safe physical environment for them to stay alive and have good health

• Love them unconditionally so they have a robust self-esteem

• Set them boundaries so that they are easily socialised into society

• Develop their potential so that they can be whatever they want to be

The problem is that most mothers are not clear on their parental responsibilities. They think they must do and be all things to their children. This is an impossible standard for anyone to live up to and it only tips you into chronic guilt and sets you up for failure. Getting clear on the above physical and emotional needs and applying the 80/20 rule by meeting them most of the time should be good enough for you to ditch the guilt.

How to protect yourself from guilt

Mindset

• Check your rules about what it is to be a good mother and make sure it is aligned with your values. Do not adopt someone else’s standard, they might turn up at the school gates looking immaculate, but you don’t know what they are feeding their children. Do not play the comparison game, you will never win as you will not be comparing apples with apples.

• Be confident that being a ‘good enough mother’ is enough. You don’t have to get everything right, go for the 80/20 rule. If you are doing it right most of the time, your child will be just fine.

• Show yourself compassion and be accepting. Let yourself off the hook, you will drop a ball every now and then and that is okay. Rather than indulging in guilt, learn from it and move on.

Behaviour

• Boundaries: Make sure you have clear boundaries between work and family time, do not allow them to bleed into each other. Everyone around you should know that your family time is sacred. Enforce this by maintaining radio silence during your family time, do not be sending emails or reading emails. Be fully present for your family. The same applies to when you are at work, your family should respect that boundary too.

• Say no: Learn to say ‘No’ to things that aren’t important. As a working mother, you have a hard stop for certain things like school pick-up time so you must be disciplined with your activity set when you are working. Do not allow people to waste your time. Say no to meetings without an agenda, only go to meetings that you are required rather than if you are on there as optional.

• Role model: Children model themselves on the behaviour of their parents. If you are riddled with guilt, it makes you anxious which makes it more likely for you to drop the ball. Anxious parents have anxious children. If you find yourself in a guilt-inducing moment, flip it into a learning moment with your child. On the non-uniform day, when they are the only ones in uniform, acknowledge the error and pivot it so it becomes about not being afraid to be different.

Activity

• Delegate: Allow other people to step up and take the pressure off you. Believe it or not, people are around you, waiting for you to ask for help.

• Get the children and your partner involved in running the home. The home is an enterprise with your family members being stakeholders. Everyone needs to play their part.

• Spend time on what matters and in a time crunch, be prepared to let the unimportant slide. To do this, you must be clear on your values and what is important to you. If you had to choose between a spotless kitchen and your relationship with your children, which one will it be?

The author

Gifty Enright is the author of Octopus on Treadmill: Women, Success, Health, Happiness. She is also a public speaker and coaches women on how to manage their careers and family effectively to avoid burnout giftyenright.com.

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