Working Moms – Drop the Guilt

June 19, 2015 Tammy Heermann

The outcomes of a new Harvard study should provide relief to working moms everywhere.   Kathleen McGinn and her colleagues found that daughters of working mothers grew up to be more successful in the workplace than their peers.  They earned more and were more likely to take on supervisory roles.  Sons of working moms were more likely to grow up contributing to the childcare and household chores.  Furthermore children under 14 who were exposed to mothers who worked for at least a year grow up to hold more egalitarian gender views as adults. 

Being a working mom can have positive impacts on children that outweigh the benefits of staying home.  It’s time to drop the guilt then.  But can we shed these feeling so easily?

In my work with female leaders, I hear story after story of fears around re-entering the workforce after having children.  Will my kids turn out okay? Will they feel loved and cared for? Will I be perceived as a bad mother?  These are the confessions I hear.  All this doubt and guilt, swirling around in the heads of bright and ambitious women.  If you’re a working mom you’ve probably had these thoughts too.  I know I have.

Luckily I had a conversation with someone much wiser than I who helped me shift my mindset around this issue.  Lucy is a respected coach, colleague and mom who invited me to lunch when I was grappling with the difficult decision of returning to the workforce after having my daughter.  I recall vividly sitting in the farthest corner of a restaurant with baby in stroller, hoping we’d finish eating before my daughter started one of her screaming fits.  I described my idyllic childhood with a stay at home mom to Lucy and voiced my reservations. Lucy listened to my story and then said in her calm reassuring voice, “Tammy, you learned many great lessons from your mom that have shaped you. If you decide to return to work you too will teach your daughter lessons – not better ones, not worse ones, just different ones.”  That realization was transformative for me. What was an idyllic childhood today anyhow? This conversation with Lucy made me rethink the kinds of values and lessons that I wanted to instill in my daughter.  It also allowed me to drop the guilt I felt about returning to work. 

This shift in mindset is critical to not only our own performance at work, but to the impact that our guilt can have on our family.  Here’s some small ways I have learned to reframe my thinking.  Instead of telling my daughter that I wished I didn’t have to go on a business trip, I tell her about all the exciting things I’ll do when I’m there and how I can’t wait to share them with her when I’m back.  Instead of complaining about another networking event, I teach her the importance of getting to know people and making friends.  Instead of lamenting over how I missed yet another opportunity to volunteer at a school function, I help her give the best darn presentation on her school project.  Instead of feeling shame over not having a hot homemade meal every night, we make the best 5-minute homemade granola bars with creative custom labels. 

So the next time you’re feeling the dreaded guilt of being a working mom, be proud and remind yourself of all the amazing things you are teaching your children.

About the Author

Tammy Heermann

Tammy Heermann is Senior Vice President of Strategic Solutions with Lee Hecht Harrison. Tammy combines her expertise in leadership development with her international working experience to build leadership capacity and culture in organizations.

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