Working Moms and Guilt

It seems sometimes that being a parent is synonymous with feeling guilty. The baby hasn’t started crawling yet? – you must have messed up somewhere. The toddler can’t talk as well yet? – it must be your fault. The child is not putting on weight ? – you must not be feeding him well. And so on and so forth all through life with the stakes getting bigger as does the guilt trip. But if you happen to be working, then your guilt is increased a hundred fold. Not only do you tend to beat yourself up over every lapse, real or imagined, the rest of the world also considers you a legitimate target.

If you’re working anything and everything concerning children has the potential to make you feel guilty. Sometimes the children are ill and you are unable to stay home with them because of work pressures. Sometimes it could be a school function that you have to miss because of an urgent meeting. Or it could be that you never seem to have enough time and energy to spend with your children in the manner that you would like. For all these transgressions you can expect vocal disapproval from family and friends and an uneasy conscience and loads of guilt on your own account. To top it all, Indian society has some very fixed views about mothers who enjoy working at the cost of their homes and families. So if you are working to keep the home fires going, you’ll probably get sympathy and pity but if you work because you enjoy it – you’re finished!

Many moms try and buy their way to peace. The rationale is that the reason that you are earning is to make life easier for the kids and so spending money on them is legitimate. Besides the kids themselves feel better about your long absences if there’s a present at the end of the day as compensation. Other moms compromise after the children are born. They give up established professional careers and lucrative posts to stay home with the baby. Some change careers midstream, opting for more flexiblework from home or flexi time options. Some brave the guilt and disapproval but stress themselves out completely in the process, battling valiantly the implicit belief that you shouldn’t have children if you can’t look after them.

The crux of the problem lies in the indisputable fact that children do require their mother more than any other caregiver, however wonderful. Studies have shown that lowered parental involvement have a direct correlation to increased youth crime and violence. In the developed world, work schedules have to some extent been manipulated to take into account the needs of parenting, but this concept is still not there in India. Still, almost everywhere in the world, a mother has a choice – to work professionally and be considered a bad mother or to cut down on her work life and be considered unprofessional! Maternity benefits in the form of sufficient leave and flexible work hours, are more conspicuous by their absence than their presence. It is quite surprising that when no one disputes the fact that the upbringing of a human being has an impact on all of society, when it comes to responsibility for that upbringing, not only is the mom considered primarily responsible, society is unwilling to even help her carry out her responsibility!

So is working and being a mom incompatible? Not at all. Consider the following: –

  • A happy fulfilled mom is the best possible example for her children. Giving up work against her wishes turns even the best mom into an irritable, unhappy, discontented mom who ends up making her family miserable. Not only do they pick up her unspoken resentment for forcing such a choice on her, they also pick up another message – that there is something inherently wrong with spending time and effort on making your own dreams come true. A daughter may also unconsciously begin to believe that as a woman she does not have the right or power to validate herself as a person and individual. Of course, this is not inevitable for all who give up their work to stay home, but it’s a probable scenario for those who are resentful of the fact that they had to give up work and who feel unhappy as a result.
  • A working mom can teach her children several important values through her work life. Through her example, her children learn about hard work and commitment and professionalism. They learn to be more self sufficient and independent. They get along better with people as they are exposed to people other than immediate family and they pick up on more subtle values such as self-confidence and self esteem from their mother. Finally, even in the Indian context, it’s a sad fact that an economically independent mom is more likely to command respect in the home.
  • Paradoxically, a working mom is more likely to spend concentrated time with her children from a feeling of guilt and a desire to prove herself. This is of course not true if your job doesn’t leave much time for anything at all, but in most cases research shows that the amount of one to one concentrated time spent by working moms doesn’t differ significantly from that spent by stay at home moms. The reason is that if you’re at home, there is less pressure to spend time with the child alone – after all you’re in the house, aren’t you!
  • Adversary of any kind brings out the best in a person. Children who have to learn to do things for themselves and who have to learn self sufficiency are often highly motivated and determined.

There are no absolutes in parenting and the same holds true for working moms as well. The nature of your work, the levels of stress involved, the time constraints, the quality of child care available to you, the amount of quality time you spend with the child – all go into determining the negative and positive impact of your work on your child’s upbringing. Pick up any magazine and you’ll find tips for working parents on how to maximize time, what kind of environment to place their child in etc etc. The thumb rule however is the same as in any other area of life – follow your instincts. If you choose to stay home do it with conviction and enjoyment and if you choose to work, enjoy that as well. Guilt is an unnecessary emotion – it clouds your judgement and causes depression without providing positive motivation. The make or break for children is not the money or the time spent alone – it is the love and happiness quotient in a home. If they feel loved and cared for, they will grow up to be all that you could want them to be. And for this quality, its less important whether you are working or not and more important as to how aware you are and how sensitive to their needs

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