Guest Gurus Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio: Traps We Fall Into

An excerpt from their book, Happy At Work, Happy At Home

trap #3: Buckling under the weight of guilt

Oh, the mother guilt. Blogs, Web sites, and psychologists’ couches are filled with mothers describing their daily feelings of guilt. Every single working mom we interviewed for this book mentioned the guilt they feel about any number of aspects of their lives. And the guilt begins before your baby is even born. Linda Barnes Gray, a college librarian from Tyler, Texas, and mother of two, tells us: “After reading a number of books, I thought about going without any drugs to deliver my first and then my husband said people no longer bite a bullet for surgery, why should I go without pain medication? He made sense, but so many women (and so many books!) are so adamant about the effects of medication on the baby. In the end, my baby was in distress and I had to have a C-section, so all my guilt was for nothing. And then I picked up a book that had a chapter on breast- feeding with the following chapter about bottle feeding, which was laden with guilt trips about not breast- feeding. It made me pretty angry, since breast- feeding is not for everyone. I believe if it is not good for mom, it is not good for baby, since they can feel our stress.”

All mothers feel guilt occasionally, but ample evidence suggests that working moms face an inordinate amount of guilt, especially from outside sources and most heart wrenchingly, when it comes from children themselves in the form of that dreaded question, “Mommy, why do you have to go to work?” Mother guilt will always exist whether we put it on ourselves or not. Our goal isn’t to eradicate it but to manage it better. Based on the recommendations of the experts, our interviews, and personal experience, we’ve created a

“Five- Step Program for Managing Mother Guilt.”

1. Assess if the guilt is deserved.

Before you make a ruling, remember, by definition, guilt is an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—whether justified or not—that she has violated a moral standard. A moral standard is a pretty strong litmus test, but if you can’t be objective, ask your partner or working- mother friend to make the ruling. Most mother guilt is unwarranted. Chrisi Colabella expressed how many of us feel: “After my daughter Kali was born, I felt very guilty all of the time. I felt like I wasn’t being a good mother, but I also felt like I wasn’t working as hard as I should.” For the record, Chrisi changed her entire work schedule to spend more time with her daughter, hired extra people to cover the missing time at work, and reduced her pay to offset the additional head count. Kim feels guilty that she can’t be the room mother for her son’s class, even though she knows she not only would hate it, but would be terrible in the role. Caitlin gets the “guilts” when she spends one- on- one time with her daughter—even though it means that her son is spending the equivalent time with his father. If the guilt is unwarranted, then let it go. Just like that. If the guilt is warranted, make amends. A heartfelt apology is an easy place to start.

2. Assess your priorities, create your boundaries, and stick to them.

If you’ve set up a four- day workweek to spend more time with your child, then don’t work on your child’s time. And vice versa. If you are telecommuting, don’t play with your child on work time. If it’s important that you take your child to the doctor, then take her. Make up the time you missed from work on your own time. Breaking promises and commitments leads to guilt, so stick to your word.

3. If the guilt is coming from an external source, then stop it as quickly as possible.

Don’t apologize (remember, you didn’t do anything wrong). Explain why the guilt trip that is being laid on you is inappropriate and move on. If you are dealing with habitual guilters (such as Kim’s grandmother, who has done post- doctorate work in guilt- tripping), then minimize your contact with them.

4. Just say no.

Much of our guilt stems from the feeling of letting others down. If we don’t make the commitments in the first place, we can’t let anyone down, and we don’t feel guilty.

5. Forgive yourself.

You will make mistakes. You will be overextended, overscheduled, and overwhelmed. It’s okay. We’ve all been there. Go back to step one. Make amends and try to learn from your error.

Excerpted from HAPPY AT WORK, HAPPY AT HOME: The Girl’s Guide to Being A Working Mom by Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio. Copyright 2009 by Broadway Books. Reprinted by Permission of Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York

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