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Why Working Moms Should Stop Feeling Guilty

5 Min Read

Ginny loved her work...

A vice president of marketing for an ad agency, in many ways her job defined her. She found the chance to innovate and solve problems for clients incredibly stimulating, energizing, and satisfying. Creative work ignited her soul. Her ambition was to develop an impeccable reputation in her field, and perhaps, one day, start her own firm. Her work ethic, of which she was very proud, led her to say yes to many projects and do whatever it took to deliver excellence.

Yet, Ginny's passion for her work made her feel guilty. It took time away from her kids (7, 11 and 13) and often distracted her when they were together. Her brain was constantly churning with work challenges. It was hard to turn the job off at night and on weekends. She wondered, constantly, if she should put her goals and passion on hold, to be a better parent for her kids.

Ginny's question — to work, or not to work — is emblematic of a struggle many working moms or parents face. We find satisfaction in our work, but we worry that it keeps us from spending enough time with our kids. Ellen Galinsky, President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute, has been studying this, and many other aspects of work, family life, and working moms for decades. Observing this phenomenon of guilt — which exists, despite the fact that not a single study (nope, not one!) concluded that Moms or Dads working has a negative impact on children — Galinsky had an innovative idea that might settle matters: Why don't we see what kids have to say.

In the late-90s, she and her team conducted a landmark study called "Ask The Children" to explore kids' perspectives on working moms, dads, or parents. Surveying over 1,000 children ages 8-18, Galinsky asked both parents and children a series of questions about how they felt about their parents working. Her findings were not only fascinating but also incredibly liberating.

Here are three of the biggest insights:

  1. It's not whether we work, but how we feel about work that impacts kids. When we feel conflicted about working, we are often reluctant to share how much we love our jobs. The guilt we feel departing in the morning leads us to say things such as, I wish I didn't have to work; I hate to leave but Mommy/Daddy has to work; If I don't go to work, we won't be able to afford [toys, games, new clothes, etc.]. Inadvertently, we're sending a message that leads kids to think, My parents hate working; They're only working because of me.
  2. Kids don't want their parents to work less, they want them to be less stressed from work. When adults and kids were both asked what kids would most like to change about their parent's work-lives, the contrast in answers was startling. The majority (56%) of parents thought that their kids would wish for more time with them. Yet, only 10% of kids actually chose this answer. What most kids actually wanted (34%) was for their parents to be less stressed and tired from work when they were together.

  3. As it turns out, kids want parents to love their work, just not more than they love them. So, if you love your work, share that. Talk about it as a source of fulfillment, meaning, and self-development — something your kids should aspire to find in school and in their future career. And if you don't love your work, try your best to embrace and share with your kids the things you do like about it: the paycheck, the flexibility, your coworkers. Your sense of choice will relieve your kids of the burden of thinking that you are only working this miserable job because of them.

Galinsky's research provides powerful and compelling reasons why working moms and parents shouldn't feel guilty about their work. But absolving ourselves of guilt is often easier said than done. Even with the right messaging, there are two time traps that can be problematic for parents and kids...

A) Work spills over into your home-life, preventing you from being fully present with your kids

B) Your work schedule is demanding and unpredictable, keeping you from getting home when you planned to. To minimize these issues, focus on the following two tactics:

Create Edges

Because we live in a time of swelling workloads, it's critical to create edges on your workday and on your workweek. To avoid being trapped by unspoken assumptions, discuss expectations for after-hours connectedness with your boss. Are you expected to answer emails at night and on the weekends? Or, if it's a true emergency, can you agree that the company will reach out by phone? By defining clear edges, you can more easily give work your all during work hours and, when you are done, leave that piece of it behind and be fully present with your family.

Be Reliable.

To the best of your ability, be predictable with your schedule and the time you have to offer your children. Uncertainty about whether you'll be home for dinner or to read a bedtime story is what breeds anxiety and resentment. It's okay if your schedule changes from week to week or even day to day, as long as you communicate that to your children. Even working moms who have to work late or travel for work can remain predictable and reliable for their kids by maintaining the same touch-points throughout the day, with a Skype or FaceTime call: e.g. when they wake up, at dinner time, or before bed.

Your relationship to your work serves as a role model to your kids. Careers have become an integral part of the human experience. Finding a role you love, making a contribution to your community, and earning money to support yourself and those who depend on you are all incredibly valuable life-skills to impart on your children.

Whether you work out of necessity, passion, or a combination of the two, extract working mom guilt from the equation. Guilt about work is nothing but mental clutter; it only serves to steal additional time and energy from being present for quality time with your kids and for yourself. And, as we now know, that's all our kids truly want.

3 min read

Help! I’m Dating a Jerk!

Email armchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get the advice you need!

Help! I'm Dating a Jerk!

Dear Armchair Psychologist,
I've been dating my boyfriend for a year. After spending some vacation time with him and realizing he is not treating me the way I like I'm wondering — what do I do? I need him to be kinder and softer to me but he says simply, "chivalry is not his thing." I believe when two people decide to be together they need to adjust to each other. I don't think or feel my boyfriend is adjusting to what's important to me. Should I try to explain to him what's important to me, accept him for what he is, or leave him as I'm just not happy and the little gestures are important to me?
- Loveless Woman

Dear Loveless Woman,

I am saddened you aren't getting your needs met in your relationship. Intimacy and affection are important to sustain a healthy relationship. It's troubling that even though you have expressed your needs to your boyfriend that it's fallen on deaf ears. You need to explore, with a therapist, why you have sought out this type of relationship and why you have stayed in it, even when it's making you chronically unhappy? Your belief that couples should adjust to each other is correct to some degree. These things often include compromising and bending on things like who gets the bigger closet or where to go for dinner. However, it's a tall order to ask someone to change their personality and if your boyfriend is indeed a jerk, like you say, who refuses to acknowledge your love language or express kindness and softness, then maybe you should find a partner who will embrace you while being chivalrous.

- The Armchair Psychologist

Update to HELP! My Date is Uncircumcised and I'm Grossed Out!

Hi Armchair Psychologist,
Just wanted to let you know that your article was really offensive to read. Do you refer to women's genitals as: "gross," "ghasty," "smelly," or otherwise? Humans are not perfect, each of us is different and you should emphasize this. I hope that man finds a partner that will love and accept him rather than tearing him down. Which gender has a whole aisle devoted to their "special" hygiene needs? I can tell you it's not men.
With love,
Male Reader

Dear Male Reader,

Thank you for your thoughtful feedback to my Armchair Psychologist column. My email response bounced so am writing you here. I am so sorry I offended you. It wasn't my intention. I actually meant to be sardonic and make the writer see how ridiculous she sounded for the harsh language she used to describe her date. I obviously failed at this sneer since you think I meant to be offensive. Many apologies. I'll do better. Have a wonderful day and keep writing us with your thoughts.

- Ubah, The Armchair Psychologist

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