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How to beat mom guilt when you work from home

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Mom guilt. It seems like every mother I know struggles with guilt. My oldest son was born the week I started teaching college courses online for a local university. I had to learn to navigate being a new mom at the same time I was learning a new job. We were staying with friends and family in another state while we waited for his adoption paperwork to clear and we had permission to take him home. My new job didn’t allow for time off. And so, I worked in the moments between some of the most important moments of my life. It was my first taste of mom guilt.

Why mothers work from home?

Mothers have more opportunities to work from home than ever before. Technology and our interconnected online world have made this possible. You might choose to work from home so you can:

  • Save money on childcare costs.
  • Raise your children yourself rather than them spending most of their time with a sitter.
  • Live a “stay-at-home-mom” life while still working in the cracks of mom-life.
  • Find meaning and purpose outside of being a mother.
  • Contribute financially to your family budget.
  • Work but still be available to your family when you’re needed.
  • Stay in a pajamas and not wear a bra while working (a personal favorite).

Working from home is the best of both worlds! My own mother (a mother of eight), tells me constantly that she wishes that she could have worked from home while she was raising her kids. And if I’m honest, the ability to work from home while raising my kids has been life changing. Knowing that it is life-changing doesn’t seem to quell the mom guilt though.

Working mom guilt

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I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that every mother feels some level of “mom guilt”. It doesn’t matter if you are home all day, at work all day, or juggling both kids and work at home. You will experience some guilt. But working from home is the holy grail of working when you have kids! Right? That doesn’t mean it is always sunshine and roses. When you work from home:

  • You have to carve time out to work. You don’t just get to leave in the morning and be at work for eight hours. You squeeze it in between preschool drop off, walking your kids to the bus stop, grocery shopping, toddler naps, library story time, and basketball practice.
  • Your kids are always around. Which is awesome. I love my kids. I genuinely like to spend time with them. But when you have that scheduled phone call at 1:00pm and your baby decides to skip his nap, it can leave you scrambling. Even if you have a sitter or mother’s helper around to watch your kids, it’s tempting to put down what you are doing to parent or connect with your kids.
  • Your kids won’t always understand why you are working. I try to work when my kids are sleeping or otherwise occupied. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. In those instances, I’ve had my kids whine or ask me when I can play, when I’ll be done on the computer, or something similar. When my kids are upset that I’m working, it’s hard to not feel guilty.
  • You try to do all the things. Working from home is awesome. You can throw in a load of laundry. Clean the bathroom. Read stories to your kids. Be super woman.  Just kidding. Sometimes you’ll have deadlines and you won’t get any of that done. You’ll look around and realize that your house is a mess, your kids are grumpy, and you still have several hours of work left in the day, so you’ll be up until midnight.

Combatting work-from-home mom guilt

Knowing that you have mom-guilt isn’t the same thing as learning to fight it. You may not always be able to control your situation. Quitting your work-at-home job isn’t going to make your mom-guilt disappear. For most moms, quitting may not be financially possible. Instead, work with what you’ve got. You can quell your work-at-home mom guilt when you:

Be kind to yourself

Cut yourself some slack in the housekeeping department. I know a lot of working moms. I know a lot of stay-at-home moms. In general, their houses are cleaner than mine. Not because I’m a slob, but because my kids are in my home most of the day making messes and I don’t have the time to follow them around the house, cleaning up after them. The idea that I’ll be able to keep things looking spic and span all day long is a joke. Instead, I choose the tasks that are most important to me. I always do the dishes every night. I sweep up a giant pile of toys and crumbs and crayons every afternoon right before dinner prep. We clean bathrooms and do laundry on weekends. Those things help me feel like my home is calmer, even in the chaos. Cut yourself some slack. You can’t do everything.

Think positive

Re-training your negative thoughts has immense power. I don’t know about you, but I have this tendency to latch onto the first negative thought that runs in my brain. Thoughts like:

  • “I’m neglecting my kids because they have to play alone while I do this conference call.”
  • “My kids are going to grow up feeling like I was never there for them because I’m always on the computer.”

These thoughts are my natural tendency, but they don’t have to be the final word. I’ve had a lot of success in quelling a lot of mom guilt by turning those thoughts around. Instead you can say things like:

  • “My kids are learning to play independently because I work.”
  • “Someday they will know what it means to work hard.”
  • “They know I love them because I am always there for the important things.”

ask for help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you work from home. Last summer I was feeling overwhelmed by my kids, the house, and my work. I had four kids 6 and under, and I was riding the struggle bus. I decided that it would be worth it to hire a mother’s helper for about 10 hours a week throughout the summer. It was the best decision I could have made. My work flourished. My kids got to play with an amazing babysitter. None of them complained about having a sitter. In fact, they asked when she could come back because she spent time doing fun things with them. I had time to work and catch up on things that I couldn’t do with the kids around. It was a win-win. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether that means getting a babysitter or hiring a housekeeper.

Say “no”

There is a frustrating phenomenon that happens when you work from home. Everyone assumes that you have an unlimited amount of time because you are home. That lady on your block that needs a sitter for her sick kid, she’s going to ask you to watch him for the day while she goes to work. Your sister-in-law will ask you to go to lunch every Tuesday. The PTO will ask you if you can join so you can help plan the fall carnival. It’s inevitable that someone will want your time. Learn to say “No” to the things that don’t serve you. It’s good to help others or spend time with loved ones. But these things aren’t good if it means you will fall behind with your work and are stressed with your kids. Don’t be afraid to say “No” when you don’t have time or energy.

Be present

Find ways to work when your kids are busy. I try my hardest to work when my kids are sleeping, at school/preschool, or at a friend’s house. If you are constantly working while your kids are awake, it’ll just frustrate everyone. You won’t be present. They’ll act up. You will rely too much on screen time to pacify everyone (which just makes my kids monsters). When you choose to work at home, and parent at home, it means you are choosing to give up some of your free time. To me, that means I read less books and sleep less than I would like. Get up before your kids or stay up after they are in bed. It’s not fun, but it’ll allow you to spend more time with your kids during the day.

Time block

This is perhaps one of the most effective ways that I’ve found to get stuff done. I am a scatterbrain. If I don’t focus my time, I halfheartedly work and halfheartedly parent all day long. It’s miserable. Instead, schedule blocks of time when you work and blocks of time to be present with your kids. When you are working, work. Alternatively, when you are with your kids, be with your kids. Put down your phone so you’ll stop checking your email. Play with them. Laugh. Read books. Put your whole energy into the thing you are doing at the present. Don’t try to be two places at once.

Guilt as a working mom is inevitable. When you are a work-at-home mom it is ever present. Don’t let guilt sucker punch you in the gut. You can find ways to minimize the guilt you feel as you work from home. It is possible to be good at what you do, and a good mom. Even if it doesn’t look exactly the way you think it should.

How do you combat working-mom guilt? Do you have any tips to share for kicking guilt to the curb?

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