Working Mom Guilt



I feel guilty. About working. About not working. About not feeling comfortable one way or the other. The working mom guilt? It’s brutal.

I thought that by being a stay-at-home/work-at-home hybrid, I’d have the best of both worlds. But instead, I feel like I’m half-assing each one. I barely have time to work and when I do, I feel like my son is getting the short end of the stick.

Before becoming a parent, I had lovely fantasies of how life would go. I’d be working on my laptop, writing a script or editing whatever film I was working on at the time. And my children would play quietly at my feet with Waldorf-inspired wooden toys that stimulated their imagination.

The reality is more like, if I need to do some work that requires deep focus during my son’s waking moments, I let him watch an episode of Sesame Street or play an “educational” Disney Jr. game online.

I’ve had conference calls where the corporate entities on the other end would be horrified to see that I was still in my pajamas, cleaning up spilled mac and cheese in a puddle of geriatric cat pee. And that the only reason my son was quiet is that I promised him ice cream if he could be silent for thirty minutes.

At the playground in my neighborhood, I see mostly nannies. I’ve become friendly with some of them. And when we compare our daily schedules, it occurs to me that the nannies’ entire job is to give attention and care to the children. They pack the kids’ schedules with adventures, classes, and playdates. My son is lucky if we get to the park once a day. And while I’m there, try as I might not to, I usually have to answer an urgent email or two.

Before you get the wrong idea, it’s not like he sits in front of the TV for eight hours a day while I work. I never let him watch more than an hour of TV a day. Most days it’s a half-hour. I try to fit my work in during his naptime and after he goes to bed. I take him to the library, museum, park, etc. But on your average day, he also gets carted around to the bank, the post office, a coffee meeting. He’s not getting my full undivided attention.

I think I often hear reproach from others when maybe they don’t intend it. My husband with, “Oh, you finished editing that episode today? Did he take an extra long nap?”

Or my mother-in-law the other day. We were talking about where we may move and the possible commutes into New York City. When I said, “It would be tough if I worked full-time but since I don’t need to be in the city everyday, it could work out.” She shocked me by saying (innocently I suppose), “Wait. Don’t you work full time now?”

No. No, I don’t. I work for the length of a Little Einsteins episode, a mid-day nap, and for two hours between my son’s bedtime and mine. I felt defensive. Like her impression from spending time with us was that I was always on the computer.

I could stop. I could be a full-time stay at home mom. My husband brings in the bulk of our income anyway. My son would certainly love to be my sole project in life. It would relieve me of this guilt.

But I would lose me. I know it. I’ve been doing this acting/film-making thing since I started a theater group my freshman year of high school. It keeps me going. It motivates, excites, and sometimes infuriates me. Sometimes I’m resentful. My husband doesn’t have to make this choice. Whatever hours he works, I’ll be there as the primary care-giver. While he misses our son terribly when he works long hours and travels, society makes him feel like a “bad” father for doing so. He’s just providing for his family.

If I had to choose, of course I’d choose motherhood over career. My son is the most important thing in my life.

But does that mean he has to be the only important thing in my life?

Related post: You Know You’re the Mom in the Office When…


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  1. 1


    I can totally relate to this post. For me, it’s not working at home, but being a full-time online college student as well as a single mom. I work my tail off studying mostly when my son is taking a nap or after he’s gone to bed, but it’s not easy, and on occasion I have to do things while he’s up. He’ll be starting pre-school though, so that’ll help alleviate some of the pressure as I can work hard studying while he’s at school, but being a single parent and a full-time student, even entirely online, still has its fair share of stresses. It’s like at least two full time jobs at once. I manage it though, and my friends comment on how strong I am, even though there are times I feel just the opposite. Starting up my website has helped to reduce some of the stress though. Even though it takes even more of my time maintaining it, writing articles and posts and sharing experiences with others has actually been quite relaxing, so when I find myself overworked and overstressed, posting things to my website can be just what I need.

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    • 2

      Natalie says

      I just want to say good for you! I too did the single mom in college struggle. I went to class on campus, but I still had to study at night while he was asleep. Your child is still getting more of you than if you worked 40 hrs a week away from the home. PLUS you are securing a future for you and your child, ensuring a way to take care of you both. Most single moms don’t do that, they take whatever job they can to make ends meet while being away from their child. You’re doing good!

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  2. 7


    Sorry.. Can’t do the stay at home thing, don’t want to do the stay at home thing.. God bless those that can. I’m preggo with my third and people keep asking if I’m staying home?! Why? Even if my kids didn’t get me 100% they sure is hell get my paycheck 100%.. Food, clothing, etc..

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  3. 11

    Kim says

    I am really struggling with this right now. I have been a stay at home mom for 4 years and only worked during nap time on our company website. Since October I took over all of the company books so I actually have to gi into the shop and work some days while oldest (5year old) is in school. My other two younger children come with me and play in their playroom at the shop which backs on to my office. They enjoy being there thankfully. I always feel that I am failing at something. If I take the day to play with the kids my work and house fall behind. If I work I feel the kids a house are neglected. Etc. My middle child will be starting kindergarten in Sept and I think I may put my youngest into daycare for two days a week maybe then I’ll be able to spread myself around better. It is a daily struggle though.

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    • 16

      Christina says

      Can you please not curse and project your own negative thoughts on an excellent piece of writing? Everyone has their own feelings, thoughts and opinions, even those of us who do not have children!

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  4. 20


    Being raised by a single mom my brother and I were ALWAYS in daycare. Never once changed the dynamic of the relationship with our mom. Ever. Its not the 50s anymore, both parents have to work sometimes. There will always be the stay at home mom vs. Working mom debate. Would the working mom like to stay home with the kids all day? Sure. Would the stay at home mom like to go a whole day with adult interaction and being able to pee in peace? Sure. But at the end of the day instead of feeling guilty and seeing whose grass is greener, provide for your child and love on them when you have the time.

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  5. 21


    I have zero guilt about working. Working is not a choice for me, I need to do it to support my family. Period. I think that’s where working mom guilt comes from, many people look at it as a luxury (to keep a “lifestyle” or keep mom busy). I think that’s a bit sexist and minimizes our contribution to the workforce. Most working moms do it because they have to, they are the sole or primary breadwinner. We do it because we have to. Period.

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    • 22


      You two hit the nail on the head. Work is not a choice for me either. But because I work we are able to do things other children may not be able to. We go to museums, fairs, multiple vacations a year, have savings, have 401ks and a decent savings for college… And our child is one. I paid my way (and am still paying my way) through college. My hope for my child’s future is that she WON’T be paying for college 10 years after graduation like I am….

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    • 23


      I agree completely. It is not a choice for me. I work full time in a city 45 minutes away because I have to. I was a stay at home mom at one point when I was married and that’s no joke either. My best friend is a “hybrid” and I see that it isn’t easy for her either. Motherhood is hard work no matter what job you may or may not have. But we do it because we love our kids and want them to be happy :)

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  6. 25

    Bea says

    I’ve done the full time out of the house, the full time at home, the part-time work from home, and the part-time work outside the home. They all have their own distinct advantages and disadvantages. All of which change at different ages and stages of the child(ren). What I’ve observed everyone looking for is the illusive flexible work schedule. The job that allows you to be at the 1pm school assembly or to be the monthly 10am library volunteer. To be able to make it to a field trip once in awhile or spend a morning with other toddler moms at the playground.

    I’ve seen women trade salary and upgrades in job titles for the jobs that allow these opportunities, keeping one foot in the professional world. I’ve also seen the stress that this is supposed to lessen bubble up because both sides get less then 100% Furthermore I’ve seen the compete absence of acknowledgment that these opportunities are available to a certain socioeconomic group of moms and is not universal. If you have a level of education and experience that gets you the free lance writer job or you are the VP who can control her schedule then great. If you are the cashier, the secretary, the bank teller, etc these aren’t really options for you. If you don’t have a partner that can take care of the majority of expenses or a job in which you can make the money and have the flexibility these aren’t really options.

    I don’t have answers but I would love to see the discussion expand beyond the same few jobs that can afford to have part-time schedules and hear from mothers across the board.

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    • 26

      Natalie says

      My answer is a government job. Yes I have my degree, which I got while raising my son alone. I then got a job in corporate America but it was demanding and allowed little time off, almost all of which was used on sick leave because as a single mom I’m the only one available. I took a slight pay cut to take a state job. It gives me far more sick leave, vacation leave, on top of paid holidays that match my son’s school holidays. I work a 9/80 schedule so I’m off every other Friday, which is when I schedule teacher meetings, volunteer at the school, or do the stay at home mom activities. I was even room mom last year! I’ll never get rich working for the government but the pay and benefits are enough for us to live comfortably on my income, and have the flexibility to be an involved mom.

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      • 27

        Steph says

        This is what I do as well. I have bachelor’s and master’s degrees and could probably make more in the private sector, but I’m sticking with government work for now at least. I have flex hours (I can begin work any time between 7:30 and 9:30 and just have to put in 8 hours each day), and as long as I don’t have any meetings scheduled, I can take time off on a whim. I’ll be with my employer for 9 years this October, and at that point I will get 4 weeks of vacation time, plus 5.5 days of personal time each year. It’s worth the trade-off of a lower salary, because between my husband and I, we make enough to cover our expenses, save, and have extra spending money.

        But this level of flexibility doesn’t exist at lower levels of government work. When I first started here as a clerical worker in a row office, my hours were 8:30-4:30 with no flexibility, except maybe to work through lunch and leave early if I had to. If I wanted to take a vacation day, I had to request it ahead of time, and my ability to take vacation was dependent upon how many other people had also requested off that day and/or my level of seniority compared to those people. So government work is really only an answer if you’re an “educated professional,” unfortunately.

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    • 28

      Jackie says

      I am a full time working mom of 2. I have my bachelors and masters degrees and work as a licensed clinical social worker in our community mental health center. There are probably opportunities for me to make more if I commute to Chicago; however, one of the benefits of working in my own community is having the flexibility to leave work for an hour if needed to take kids to Dr., see a soccer practice, etc. It is something I would not be willing to trade for money. My company values family and taking time to be with them and, for that, I am grateful.

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  7. 29


    I work full time in the evenings, and my ex wants back custody of our two kids because of it. There is sometimes more guilt if you aren’t 9 to 5. But I work close to home, and my job is flexible in that my dinner breaks are with my kids. Parents work, that’s all there is to it

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  8. 31


    i have escaped the guilt. in fact i never once felt bad about being a working mom. my husband is an amazing stay at home dad and i make more money than he would working so it was the logical choice. im always home no later than 3 but most days its as early as 1 and my son is always beyond thrilled to see me. he knows hes loved and ive been lucky enough to never miss something big due to work . there is not a single drop of guilt in me , in fact theres a lot of pride that i can provide for my family with a single income and always be home to make dinner. i have the bfest of both workds and i fricken love it

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