Motherly Article: Rejecting ‘working mom guilt’ made me a better parent
We're proud to share a recent article written by our founder, Joy O'Renick, for one of our favorite mama sites: Motherly!
Motherly provides AMAZING educational, community, and support content to its millions of readers, and we are so excited for MARION to share space with them on the interwebs.
Please check out the copy of the article below, or navigate over to link on Motherly's site.
Rejecting ‘working mom guilt’ made me a better parent
By Joy O'Renick | March 20, 2023
Like so many of us, I began experiencing mom guilt the moment my sons were born. When maternity leave ended, my sons started daycare and I suddenly went from being with them 24/7 to only seeing them for what felt like a few minutes before drop off and again before bedtime. Cue mom guilt.
Things became even more challenging when I stepped away from my job as an education director and started my own company, MARION—a maternity workwear brand committed to helping high-powered women maintain their professional status when pregnant and nursing.
I worked into the night and during family time on weekends. It only took a few months for my guilt and anxiety to go into overdrive. My kids were inconsolable when I left, relatives made judgmental comments and I often cried to my husband that strangers were spending more time with my children than I was. And, when I did find time to connect with my sons, I struggled to be mentally present.
Eventually, I decided something had to change. I’m a driven person and proud of what I was building, but to truly let go of the guilt, I knew I needed to change how I was approaching time with my kids and figure out what a healthy work life looked like for me.
6 ways to get rid of working mom guilt
1. Set a daily goal limit
I set daily tasks for myself that included only the most important next steps toward my long-term goals for MARION. I now limit myself to a to-do list I can reasonably complete in 8 hours. Once the list is done, I’m done. On the days I can’t finish, it can be a struggle to soothe my anxiety and walk away. This happens less often than I would have imagined, though, because my 8-hour time limit has created the secondary benefit of measurably improving my work efficiency.
2. Delegate effectively
Peter Drucker’s book “The Effective Executive” advocates leveraging strengths and delegating weaknesses. I struggle with social media, and I eventually hired out MARION’s content creation. Reallocating our budget for this staffing has given me back 10+ hours a week. On the homefront, it turns out my husband is happy to grocery shop by himself, and he has the time. So I quit. Figure out what you can delegate or stop doing.
3. Set a play timer
I often want to drop everything and play with my kids when I get a free second, but worry they’ll get too upset when I leave and I won’t be able to extract myself again. Using a strategy Shonda Rhimes describes in her book “Year of Yes,” I now pick a length of time that’s reasonable for my day (say, 20 minutes), set a timer and say to my kids, “Let’s have a 20 minute playdate until the timer goes off!” The presence of the timer soothes my time anxiety, and my kids are okay when I leave again because I set expectations in advance. Until then, I’m free to completely immerse myself in their play.
4. Remind your kids that you’re with them
My sons love a picture book called “The Kissing Hand” about a mother raccoon who leaves a kiss on her baby’s palm when he goes off to school. Any time he’s lonely, he can use her kiss to remind himself that she’s with him. My “kissing hand” involves little sticky notes with messages for my boys —a small detail I love about them, a silly joke or a “mama hug.” I make 20 in advance and stash them. If I have to leave before they wake up, I put one on the mirror in their bathroom. It takes 5 seconds, and they start the day with a tangible reminder of my love.
5. Calendar meaningful traditions you can stick to
Even if time is tight, look for windows in your week you can hold sacred 95% of the time. Calendar them as non-negotiable, and involve your kids in turning them into beloved traditions they’ll remember as adults. A few of our time-friendly traditions:
- Gratitude: At dinner, we take turns sharing what we feel grateful for that day.
- Pancakes: On Saturday mornings we make blueberry pancakes together.
- Mommy Dates: Once a month, I take one of my sons to eat and do something fun with just me. My husband takes our other son on a daddy date that night, and then we switch the next month.
- Wild Rumpus Night: On Summer Solstice each year, we celebrate by spending the whole afternoon and evening outside. We dress up in silly costumes, roast marshmallows and dance to a family playlist.
6. Remember why you’re doing it
I grew up in the late 80s, when mothers were still expected to build their entire identities around their kids and families, even if being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t what they wanted (rewatch the family movie “Beethoven” if you want a quick reminder of the gender role pressure professional women faced then.) Things have improved since then, but I know my example will still shape my sons’ perspectives about equity. I want them to take for granted that women’s goals, skills and drive should determine their life outcomes, not their gender. If guilt begins to slip in despite traditions and timer playdates, I remind myself that my work is creating this paradigm for them every day.
I haven’t been perfect at following these steps, but even mostly following them has helped me deal with working mom guilt and freed up hours each week to spend with my sons. When I am with them, my mind is freer and I’m catching myself being able to be fully-present and enjoy our time together. I tell them about my job, and let them see that I’m proud of it. They’re crying less when I leave, and I can sense that their needs for emotional connection are being better met just by having the full force of my love and attention while in my presence. Our time is still limited, but it suddenly seems to be enough.