Full-time job, full-time guilt? A must-read for working moms. 

As a working mother with three grown girls who are now mothers themselves, I still guilt myself over the fact that I only took 3-4 months off for each child after they were born. I still ask myself, “Was it wrong that I worked full-time?”

Frankly, one never gets over the guilt and it comes from both sides: personal and professional. If I took time to be with my children, that was time away from work. If I spent more time at work, that was time away from my children. Enter guilt.

When my girls were in their mid-twenties, I finally summoned up the courage to ask them if my self-guilt was deserved. Graciously, they said they didn’t mind my hours and only missed the regular school pick-ups some of the time. However, now they’re mothers themselves and I see how they act with their own children. I see their behavior rather than hear their words. One daughter is a stay-at-home mom while the other two work with schedules that allow them to stay home at least one day a week. I see them struggling with the balance and the guilt…just as I had.

Today, the whole concept of childcare being detrimental to a child’s development and stability is a strongly held position. In fact, you can hear the guilt factories churning as, according to Pew Research Center, 41 percent of adults say the increase in working mothers is bad for society, while just 22 percent say it’s good.

However, recent research reports indicate there may be some good results as a consequence of working mothers. A working paper from the Harvard Business School suggests that, compared to the daughters of stay at home moms, the daughters of working moms:

  • Complete more years of education
  • Are more likely to be employed later in life
  • Hold higher positions
  • Earn more money

And, it seems the sons of working moms are benefitting too. They reportedly are willing to spend more time caring for family members and doing household chores.

Based on this study, working mothers can have long lasting positive effects on their children, and that being employed, having a professional position, and navigating the world of commerce is teaching children well.

According to Kathleen McGinn, author of the study, “What I take away is that employed mothers create an environment in which their children’s attitudes on what’s appropriate for girls to do and what’s appropriate for boys to do is affected.”

In my own experience, I realized my practice of sharing my day and the issues I was dealing with seemed to have rubbed off on my daughters. Today, as successful working moms, my daughters share with me their managing issues and their concerns about communicating at work. It seems my sharing wasn’t just venting and, in hindsight, I even remember solutions coming from them.

“When you go to work,” McGinn said, “you’re helping your children understand that there’re lots of opportunities for them.”

I know when I asked my grown daughters what they thought about me working full time when they were growing up, they immediately spoke about seeing me as a happy, fulfilled person. And, after it’s all said and done, that’s my wish for them. But, that doesn’t mean the guilt goes away. In fact, it’s part of life. I’m convinced it will never go away, but maybe that’s not all bad.

Reading to my grandchild in my office.

Reading to my grandchild in my office.

“Guilt stems, after all, from a feeling of obligation,” Gaby Hinsliff of The Guardian opined. “A sense that there was something you should have done but didn’t, and it’s this sense that basically makes us social animals. Guilt helps us keep numerous complex relationships going, by prodding us to observe the correct mutual obligations for each – indeed you could argue it’s essential to a full and interesting life, since it helps us keep track of what’s owed when, and to whom.”

As I think about the choices I made and the guilt I felt and continue to feel (now it’s about spending enough time with my grandchildren and being there to help my hard-working daughters and sons-in-law), I contemplate how lucky I am to have had choices. And, I realize that choosing to work full-time didn’t mean that I wasn’t a full-time mother. Being fully present, listening and sharing are what makes moments with my daughters so special. Guilt comes with the territory, and that’s fine with me.