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'Working Mom Guilt' Leads To Unhealthy Ideals - It's Time To Let Go

For generations, women have borne the weight of societal expectations. Juggling the demands of career aspirations with the joys and responsibilities of motherhood plunges them into the depths of guilt and casts a shadow over their every decision and action.

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Oshi Saxena
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Working Mom, image from Working Moms Show

Image Sourced From Show 'Working Moms'

For generations, women have borne the weight of societal expectations, juggling the demands of career aspirations with the joys and responsibilities of motherhood. This delicate balancing act often plunges them into the depths of guilt, a pervasive force that casts a shadow over their every decision and action. But beyond the veneer of societal norms lies a profound truth: the idealised image of the perfect mother is not only unattainable but inherently flawed. Why does this phenomenon persist, and is there more at play than meets the eye?

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The Threads Of Mom Guilt

In her insightful book, Forget Having It All, Journalist Amy Westervelt tries to encapsulate the essence of the working mom dilemma succinctly: “We expect women to work like they don’t have children, and raise children as if they don’t work.”

The traditional nine-to-five workday is out of sync with the school hours that govern the lives of children. This incongruence forces working mothers into a perpetual juggling act, racing against the clock to fulfil their professional obligations while meeting the demands of parenthood.

Blurred boundaries between work and family time often leave you feeling like you're falling short on all fronts, fueling a sense of overwhelm and exhaustion that can ultimately lead to burnout.

While fathers are often spared the weight of guilt, societal norms dictate that mothers bear the brunt of childcare duties. The absence of widespread acceptance of alternative caregiving arrangements perpetuates this disparity, leaving working mothers to navigate the perfect maze of expectations and obligations.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated the challenges faced by working parents, particularly mothers, who have been thrust into a balancing act of unprecedented proportions. With remote work becoming the new norm, the boundaries between professional duties and familial responsibilities have become increasingly blurred. As women continue to bear the disproportionate burden of housework and childcare, the pervasive sense of guilt has only intensified, compounded by the pressures of navigating virtual schooling and remote work.

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Working Mothers Speak Out

In exclusive conversations with SheThePeople, five mothers share their experiences, shedding light on the complexities of modern parenthood and the insidious nature of mom guilt.

Dr Mansi Saxena 

Dr Mansi Saxena, a dedicated professional with a three-year-old daughter named Kavya, sheds light on the perpetual struggle faced by working mothers. "There can never be a choice between work and child," she asserts firmly, underlining the inherent importance of both facets in a mother's life. Despite residing in a supposedly progressive society, the pangs of guilt experienced by working mothers remain palpable. "A child is closest to the mother," she reflects, "and every mother desires to witness her child's growth firsthand."

However, Dr. Saxena is quick to point out the arduous reality faced by stay-at-home mothers, who often find themselves entangled in a web of household chores, child-rearing duties, and familial responsibilities. "They don’t get a moment of breather," she empathizes, emphasizing the demands placed upon them. 

While she candidly admits to grappling with the omnipresent guilt, Dr. Saxena adopts a pragmatic approach to managing her time effectively. "I try to dedicate myself completely to my daughter after work," she shares, "and I'm not hesitant to seek assistance when needed." 

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To ensure her active participation in her daughter's development, Dr Saxena diligently crafts activities during her spare moments at work, aiming to nurture Kavya's sensory skills, which she believes will serve her well in the future. 

Professor Madhubala Pradhan 

Professor Pradhan, a stalwart academic and mother to an 18-year-old daughter, shares her journey through the lens of guilt and choice. Reflecting on the past, she recounts a key decision when her husband took on the role of primary caregiver while she pursued her career. "It was our choice," she asserts, her voice resonating with conviction. Living in a small town where traditional gender roles held sway, their unconventional arrangement invited scrutiny. Yet, she remained firm, prioritizing what she believed was best for her family.

For Pradhan, the initial pangs of guilt, common to many new mothers, eventually yielded a deeper understanding. "Yes, I had my share of guilt in those early days," she concedes, "but as my daughter grew, so did my perspective." Witnessing her husband seamlessly navigate the world of domesticity shattered preconceived notions of gender roles for their daughter.

"She saw her father wash clothes, clean the house," Pradhan recounts, "and to her, they were mere chores, devoid of gendered implications." It was a revelation that went beyond the confines of their household, instilling in their daughter a sense of fluidity in gender roles that would shape her worldview for years to come.

Today, as her daughter looks up to both her parents as role models, Pradhan finds solace in the knowledge that their unconventional choice was, in fact, the correct one.

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Himanshi Khare

We live in a society where the image of a perfect mother is projected onto women, and the pressure to balance work and childcare can be overwhelming. Himanshi Khare, a seasoned HR professional, experienced this firsthand. 

 For nine years, she navigated a maze of work-from-home jobs, turning down lucrative opportunities in pursuit of being present for her daughter. "I changed multiple jobs to ensure I was there for her formative years," she recalls, highlighting the lengths to which mothers go to assuage their guilt.

The notion of the perfect mother, perpetuated by societal expectations, consumed Khare. Her desire to embody this ideal led to burnout and exhaustion, a common plight among working mothers. "I had this idea of being a perfect mother," she admits, "but I had to realize that in order to function well and be there for my daughter, I needed to focus on myself." This realization prompted Khare to embark on a journey of self-care, embracing yoga as a means of restoring balance in her life.

The hesitation to ask for help is often what limits mothers, she asserts. "The idea that a mother can do it all, and that seeking assistance diminishes her worth, is deeply flawed."

Mohini

Mohini, a diligent househelp, shares a sentiment echoed by many rural working mothers across the country. "Often while feeding other kids, I feel as if my child hasn't eaten," she confides, highlighting the constant tug-of-war between duty and desire, a struggle emblematic of the modern working mother.

Reflecting on the support she receives, or rather lacks, from her husband, Mohini's laughter rings with a tinge of resignation. "It would be good enough if he took care of himself," she quips, stressing a prevailing societal norm where paternal participation in parenting remains an elusive ideal. It's a lament echoing far beyond Mohini's humble abode.

To assuage the pangs of guilt that accompany her daily endeavours, Mohini adopts a strategy not uncommon among her peers: bringing her children to her workplace. Here, amidst the clatter of pans and the sweep of brooms, she finds solace in the proximity of her little ones.  

Dia 

Dia, a seasoned lawyer and devoted single mother, struggles with the perennial tug-of-war between her career and her 2-year-old daughter. Despite the presence of supportive house help and her parents, she confesses to a constant undercurrent of guilt whenever she steps out for work. "I constantly feel guilty leaving my 2-year-old daughter at home," Dia admits, her voice tinged with a mixture of determination and vulnerability. 

Recalling instances where she sacrificed professional opportunities to spend precious moments with her daughter, Dia advocates for a more equitable society. One that recognizes and values the struggles of working mothers, rather than expecting them to effortlessly juggle every aspect of their lives.

"It's a constant dilemma," Dia reflects her words echoing the sentiments of countless working mothers worldwide. The dichotomy between being present for her daughter and fulfilling her professional responsibilities weighs heavily on her shoulders. "I used to find it almost impossible to give my job my full attention," she admits.

The weight of the provider and caregiver rests heavily on Dia's shoulders. She not only carries the burden of her career but also the guilt of burdening her parents with the responsibility of her child. "I find myself ensnared by its tendrils," she admits, "questioning every decision, craving validation for choices made out of love." 

Daughters Reflect on Motherhood

Oshi 

If I look back at my childhood days, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have a mother who was a working professional. Witnessing her tireless dedication and fearlessness in the workplace has left a huge impact on me, influencing my life decisions profoundly. Beyond her professional demeanour, she always made time for me, devoting herself to my well-being after her work hours. During my teenage years, she seamlessly transitioned into being not just my mother, but also my closest confidante and friend. She broached topics like periods, crushes, and sex with an openness that made me feel empowered and informed, allowing me to make my own choices.

She was very upfront that she works because it makes her happy and content, and she leaves me in the hands of the people she trusts the most—her parents. So as a child, I felt like I had the best of both worlds. Having loving and doting grandparents, and my mother as a rock-solid inspiration, and most importantly, as a friend. 

The concept of working was never presented to me as optional, but rather as an integral aspect of life. In my household, every woman was a working woman, each with her children and unafraid to seek help when needed. Through their example, I learned not only the value of independence but also the strength inherent in familial bonds and the collective power of women. 

Sakshi 

Sakshi's memories are a blend of admiration, guilt, and pride as she reflects on her journey from a daughter yearning to halt her mother's departure to a working professional herself.

"I remember those days," Sakshi begins, her voice tinged with nostalgia, "when I wished I could stop my mother from leaving for work. I even resorted to cutting her clothes once, hoping it would keep her home." "But now," she continues, "I find myself struggling with a different kind of guilt—the guilt of realizing the value of her choices and the sacrifices she made."

As Sakshi navigates her career path, she finds herself awash with a newfound sense of pride in her mother's dedication to her profession. "My mother's journey as a working woman not only shaped my values but also instilled in me a profound understanding of time management," she shares earnestly. "While my peers struggled to find their footing, I stood firm, armed with independence and a knack for organizing my life effectively."

Kashish 

Kashish, a DU college student, reflects on her childhood with a working mother with a sense of gratitude and admiration. "I never took my mother for granted," she asserts, emphasizing the value her mother's career instilled in her. "When I see my peers disregarding their mothers or assuming they know little about them, I can't help but feel sorry for them."

She recalls the anticipation of her mother's return home each day. "I used to wait eagerly for 5 pm, ensuring my homework was completed, just to see her smile when she walked through the door," Kashish reminisces. For her, the time spent with her mother was not about quantity but quality, "Instead of worrying about being there 24/7, mothers should focus on making every moment count," she advocates.

Strategies for Liberation from Guilt

1. Embrace Self-Forgiveness

The journey towards liberation from working mom guilt begins with self-forgiveness. Release yourself from the shackles of guilt by reframing your perspective on past decisions. Instead of succumbing to self-criticism, acknowledge the rationale behind your choices and embrace self-compassion as a guiding principle.

2. Align with Your Values

Take a moment to realign with your core values and priorities in life. Whether it's dedicating quality time to your family or pursuing professional aspirations, strive to live by your intrinsic values, alleviate the burden of guilt, and find fulfilment in aligning your actions with your deepest convictions.

3. Cultivate a Support Network

Don't hesitate to lean on your support network when the weight of guilt becomes overwhelming. Whether it's seeking assistance from family members, friends, or community resources, acknowledging your need for support is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of your resilience. 

4. Embrace Imperfection

Release yourself from the unrealistic expectations of perfection and embrace the concept of being "good enough." Recognize that parenthood, like any journey, is inherently imperfect and that striving for an unattainable standard only perpetuates feelings of inadequacy.

5. Curate Your Social Media Environment

Take proactive steps to curate your social media environment and safeguard your mental well-being. Unfollow accounts or groups that evoke feelings of inadequacy or comparison, and instead, prioritize connections that uplift and inspire you. 

motherhood mother's day working moms Myths Around Motherhood Working-Mom Guilt
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