Ah, the mom guilt. We’re all familiar with the feeling. Research actually shows that virtually all mothers experience feeling guilty about their choices and performances. Maybe you’ve compared yourself to the Instagram mom who makes elaborate snack boards (while you dig out a package of peanut butter crackers from underneath the seat to hand back to your kid on a long car ride). Maybe you feel bad about not sitting down to formal family dinners (I’ve been reduced to tricking my son into eating his chicken nuggets in the bath).
So much of motherhood is learning to abandon expectations and humbly accept reality. I once planned to raise the world’s youngest foodies so we could travel the world and experience new cuisines. Now, I make macaroni and cheese from a box at least four times a week, and the last time we traveled abroad my youngest survived on plain rolls for a week. I’ve read a dozen books on the dangers of screen time, and now I have a 6-year-old who says things like “I’ll Google it.”
While mom guilt can strike in any facet of our lives, working mothers often experience a unique form of guilt. Although 70% of moms do return to work (often far too soon, given the abysmal state of parental leave in the United States), the cultural expectation is that we be perfect moms on the side. Like many in my generation, I grew up with a stay-at-home mom. She was a super-mom, the kind who handmade our Halloween costumes and baked cookies while my sister and I were at school. When I first became a mom, I struggled with knowing how to balance my professional reality - that I wanted (and needed) to work, and how I should parent as well. It took be a little while to figure out how to balance these two parts of my life. I finally came to a place where I’m confident that I can do a pretty good job in both. The secret? Playing to my strengths.
There is not one prototype for a great mom. There is not one single way to have an amazing career. There are any number of ways to have a satisfying professional and personal life. The key is to be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and play to your strengths.
I don’t want to be an over scheduled, stressed out, overwhelmed working mom. I want my kids to see me working, and know that my job is part of how I contribute to society. I want to be present, involved, and engaged as a mom. I don’t want to be a martyr to my family’s every need.
I am present emotionally. I set aside time to talk about their day, and I schedule one-on-one time with each kid individually to give them undivided attention.
I plan fun activities: I am the queen of planning family activities - whether it’s a picnic at the park or a weekend ski trip. Most afternoons include a stop at the playground or library, and we have some kind of adventure every weekend.
I prioritize creating special experiences as a family. We expose the kids to museums, the theater, cultural exhibits, and world travel. The time, effort, hassle, and expense are worth it to me.
I read to them every day. Books, bookstores, and libraries are a big part of our lives.
I’m invested in their well-being, so I am always trying to learn more about them and how I can be a better parent. I read all the parenting books and legitimately try to improve as a mom.
I play to my strengths. I’ve accepted that I am not a Pinterest-worthy mom. I don’t come up with cool art projects, or stay up late building an elaborate birthday cake that looks like Elsa’s ice castle from Frozen. Sometimes birthday gifts are determined by what’s available through next-day shipping. We once bribed our three kids with a gallon of chocolate ice cream and a package of Oreos just to take one nice family picture at the beach.
Resist the urge to compare yourself to other moms on Instagram. Remember that no one is perfect at everything - play to your strengths and don’t feel guilty about shining more in one area than another. What makes YOU a great mom?