My son Joshua recently celebrated a birthday and I was thankful to be at home to enjoy this special occasion with him. I remember experiencing severe “working-mom guilt” for missing his birthday a few years ago. I was scheduled to be out of town for a 3-day business meeting that ended on his birthday. I planned to facilitate my portion of the agenda so that I could leave the meeting early on the final day to fly home in time for his birthday party. Well, the flight was delayed such that I made it home long after midnight. I remember waking Joshua from his sleep to tell him how sorry I was for missing his birthday. He replied ‘It’s OK mom, it’s not your fault” as I fought back the tears. Not only did I feel an immense amount of guilt for missing this special day in my son’s life, I felt guilty about leaving our team meeting early.
The Women in the Workplace 2020 report highlights the pressures that working mothers normally encounter have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic: “Working mothers have always worked a “double shift”—a full day of work, followed by hours spent caring for children and doing household labor. Now the supports that made this even possible for women—including school and childcare—have been upended.” The report explores the “motherhood penalty” and performance bias persistent in the workplace which suggest mothers are judged more harshly and are perceived as less invested in their work. This bias is thought to have intensified during the pandemic as the increased family demands have caused working moms to worry 2x that of fathers that their performance is being judged negatively.
The report cites this quote from a female VP that paints a vivid picture of this working-mom guilt. I can relate to her comment about struggling to step away from my virtual desk. Let me tell you what really happened on my son’s recent birthday. I blocked my calendar off for the afternoon with the intention of starting his birthday celebration at 2:00 pm. My husband finished grilling, the cake, decorations and presents were ready, but I was still in my home office trying to send one more email and put the finishing touches on a PPT presentation. Joshua impatiently came down to my office, told me that everything was ready and implored me to come upstairs so we could start the festivities. I mumbled ‘just one more minute’ while I kept typing with my gaze fixed on my laptop. My son was persistent and would not leave my office to wait for me to emerge ~30 minutes later like I usually do. So, I shut everything down and followed him upstairs to engage with my family for the rest of the evening. It took me a few minutes to mentally disconnect from work so that I could be fully present while we ate BBQ and cake, opened presents, played Scrabble and watched an Anime movie together.
This Harvard Business Review article provides several practical strategies on “How to Let Go of Working-Mom Guilt”. The tip that really resonated with me was about revisiting [and aligning with] your values. If family time is a core value of mine (and it is), then I must intentionally prioritize family time by establishing boundaries and saying ‘no’ to that one more email. I recently created a “Not-To-Do List" that I've been using myself and sharing with my clients to help us create the space for important, quality-of-life activities such as self-care, family time and personal development. For those of you struggle with working-mom guilt, I encourage you to leverage these tactics to break free of your quest for perfection and rest assured that you are good enough. Feel free to share additional tips in the comments - I’m still a work-in-progress!
Regina Ross is a certified HR & Change Management Practitioner and ICF-credentialed Executive Coach who helps leaders successfully navigate organizational and personal transformations. Contact Regina at ✉firstname.lastname@example.org or subscribe to her blogpost at www.walkonpurpose.com/blog-1.