Reining in the Mommy Guilt

May 09, 2019

By Emily Bennington

Let’s get one thing straight right away: If you choose to have a family, the notion that this is an “all or nothing” career decision is ludicrous at best, sinister at worst. That said, it does require sacrifices. There will be times when you have to leave work to deal with your kids and times when you have to leave kids to deal with your work. There is guilt in both, but you will save yourself a lot of heartache if you decide—up front—that “having it all” doesn’t mean being it all.

If your every day is spent running full-steam from dawn until dusk, it’s time to look in the mirror and admit that you’re not serving yourself, your kids, or your career.

Let’s change that. Starting now.

Sanity 101: Five Must-Have Tradeoffs for Working Moms

Trade-off #1: Go for the “Big Money”
In other words, what can you do that will be the most important, the most visible, and have the most impact? When it comes to prioritizing time, your kids aren’t all that different from your boss in this respect. If they are old enough, just ask them. For example, you can say, It looks as if I can make only one school event this month—either the lunch or the assembly. Which one would you prefer I attend?” The fact that they have a voice in the decision will help your kids feel better about it—not to mention they’re learning a valuable lesson in time management, too. Also, if you’re on a crazy airtight schedule, don’t allow yourself to get talked into anything behind-the-scenes. You may get a gold star from the PTA for selling the most raffle tickets, but your son or daughter probably couldn’t care less. So before you commit to something, think about whether your child will notice. If the answer is no, well, there’s your answer.

Trade-off #2: Know What’s Important to Your Kids, Even if They Don’t Tell You
If your child senses you are completely stressed out, he may downplay the significance of things he really does care about. It could be the school field trip you blew off, but it could also be something of greater significance, like unwanted peer pressure or the rejection of a first crush. The way your kids need you has as much to do with what’s going on in their lives as what’s happening on the “family calendar,” so you can’t get out of tune with them—regardless of how full your inbox is.

Trade-off #3: Screw Guilt
It’s nothing more than shooting yourself in the face for falling short of what you think you should be doing. Did you catch that? Guilt is self-induced. So put down the gun. The only thing that matters is the relationship you have with your child, and if that’s all good, everything else is all good. The comparison game isn’t worth it because there will always be moms who seem to juggle life effortlessly and still make time for Zumba. If your version of “success” is based on who made pecan sandies from scratch or who spent the most time volunteering, you’ll never win because you’ll never feel good “enough.”

Here’s a tip: If you still can’t shake your guilt, try keeping a journal of your finer parenting moments. You’ll not only have something to bring you back around when you feel completely hopeless, but you can give it to your kids as a memento down the road. (Ha! History is written by the victors, remember?) Also, you’re probably not going through anything a little malbec and a lot of trench stories with other working moms can’t fix. So schedule a girls’ night ASAP. Trust me, it’s way cheaper than therapy.

Trade-off #4: Put the Endgame First
Just like you do at the office, focus on details without losing sight of the bigger picture. Are your kids happy and well adjusted? Again, if your relationship is strong and they’re not in juvie, who the bloody hell cares if no one had a hot breakfast this morning? “Mom Capital” has deposits and withdrawals all the time, but if no one’s in the ER and the house didn’t burn down, life is good. Parenting isn’t a day-by-day or week-by-week gig, so forgive yourself (and your boss) if you occasionally have to miss out on something cool because your job needs you. (Take it from someone who missed the kindergarten graduation ceremony of her first born.) If your kids are old enough, use the occasion to explain that you are responsible for something at work and you want to do your best so that you can be proud of the result—and yourself.

Trade-off #5: Unapologetically Guard Your Calendar
It’s often a bellwether of your happiness. (Really.) So think about that the next time someone asks you:
—To join a committee you’re not passionate about
—To go to lunch when you really don’t want to
—If it’s okay to “pick your brain” over coffee

As a very successful friend of mine often says, “If the answer isn’t hell yeah, it’s NO!”

© 2013 Emily Bennington. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Who Says It’s a Man’s World: The Girls’ Guide to Corporate Domination, by Emily Bennington (AMACOM, 2013). Used with permission of the publisher.

Read a sample chapter from Who Says It’s a Man’s World, by Emily Bennington.

If you'd like to learn more about how to budget your time more effectively, consider this AMA seminar:

Managing Chaos: Dynamic Time Management, Recall, Reading and Stress Management Skills for Administrative Professionals

About the Author(s)

Emily Bennington is a frequent speaker on the topic of career success. She is a contributing writer for, a featured blogger for The Huffington Post, Forbes Woman, and US News and World Report and author of Effectively Immediately and Who Says It’s a Man’s World, from which this article is excerpted.