Mother’s guilt carries a lot of weight in today’s society, there’s no denying it. And despite—or perhaps because of—this, as a mother of two gorgeous boys, with a thrilling yet high pressure corporate career, I’ve made it both a personal and a professional mission not to harbour guilt, and to inspire those around me to start letting go of it also. And, I’m so happy to say that I’m meeting so many more mothers in the workplace who are coming to the same realisation: there is a higher purpose to the work we do and, ultimately, the stay-at-home mum gig (and a lot of what comes with it) is for us unrealistic both logistically and personally (though, kudos to all the stay-at-home mums out there!).
A quick glance at the latest stats from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows 74% of Australian mothers are returning to work after spending at least four months at home with their child. And yet, recent surveys from around the world tell us that the majority of working mothers are significantly burdened by guilt as they feel torn between their many roles.
Thankfully, solidarity among women is moving us into new times. With high profile mothers like Serena Williams sharing their struggle, the floodgates are opening for women to empathise with and empower each other. Recently, I’ve seen some beautifully positive shifts among corporate teams towards a guilt-free existence that ultimately benefits not only us but our children and workplace culture. Upon sharing notes, we discover mothers like us who are riding a rollercoaster of guilt and empowerment. We’ve all had that feeling, when the clock hits 6PM and we’re still in the office; collectively our chests hurt knowing we’re missing story time with our kids.
So, why do we work? Fundamentally, our career enables us to put a roof over our children’s heads, clothe them, and support them in extra-curricular activities. Additionally, working enables us to lead by example. I want my boys to look up to me, admire me, be proud of me and see that women, just like men, are capable of achieving anything they want in life.
The way I see it, my career is not only crucial to the happiness and success of my family, but to my mental health and wellbeing. And I’m not alone in this. With working mothers feeling ever more stressed, all the more reason for us to reward rather than guilt ourselves. I know more and more superhero mums owning their independence.
I was inspired recently by a fellow corporate mum who took herself on a holiday at the end of the year while her partner looked after the children. She needed the recovery time, and everyone was happier for it.
But regardless of how well we look after ourselves, the mother’s guilt will continue to exist … deep down.
Case in point, I’m writing this having had only four hours (broken) sleep last night. My youngest boy, Tom, was up and down all night for no apparent reason, crying out but not obviously distressed. As soon as I gave him a cuddle, he babbled on about his favourite teddy bear and muddled around to take his sleeping bag off. ‘It’s 2.30AM, mate. We’re not taking the sleeping bag off. We’re going back to bed.’
Was he grumpy this morning? Affirmative. Did we still send him off to day care? Absolutely. Did I feel in any way guilty about that? A bit. Am I going to lose sleep over it tonight? No way … unless he cries out again, of course!
As for my big boy, Jed, I’d love to be the kind of mum who sits down for hours on end getting creative with arts and crafts with him. But it’s just not me. I’ve surrendered to it and accepted that arts and crafts is something best enjoyed at day care with the nurturing and trained professionals who are significantly better equipped in this field than I could ever be.
My absence of guilt doesn’t mean my children don’t absolutely come first in my world—of course they do. But I’ve learnt to be clear in the roles I choose to play and surrender to others so my energy and emotions are salvaged for the sake of work and family.
There are going to be nights when I’m not home to tuck my babies into bed, and in those instances there will always be a knot in my stomach. But when I am with my boys, I soak up every second of our precious time together.
I need my women’s community to help me work through these peaks and valleys, and to remind me that motherhood is not about perfection. This solidarity helps me be fully present, without angst, when I have time with my boys.
So, when my family cuddles down together on Sunday evening, we feel recharged to move into Monday and the life we’re living to the full: both my and my husband’s career, my children’s schooling, and all the fun and creativity that shall unfold. We feel happy, lucky and (mostly) guilt-free.
Written by Khara Williams. By day, Khara Williams is a Relationships Director in corporate banking.