I know, I know, we’re all working mammas. Today I’m talking about the guilt that moms who work outside the home struggle with on a daily basis. As a side note, I actually believe that SAHM life would be way more difficult than my 9-5 (which, let’s face it, is a misnomer of how many hours we work). I feel like half the time on the weekend I have no idea what to do with my toddler, and it was worse when she was a baby. But that’s not the point of this post.
I felt terrible the entire first year after I went back to work and put my daughter in daycare. She was sick so often, I was struggling to pump enough ounces, and I always felt like I was missing a major milestone. I did actually miss her first steps, cue tears.
However, I did push through and now have a few tips for how to battle working mom guilt. You’re never going to feel 100% amazing about missing things with your kiddo, but you have to trust that you’re making the best decision for yourself and your family.
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Commit to your Career
Commit to not making any major decisions about your career in the first three to six months after you return from maternity leave. You’re dealing with a TON of stress during that time. The fifth trimester and return to work combined with the fact that you’re still healing from childbirth and probably dealing with the postpartum hormones.
It’s not a great time to be making big scary life changes, which include quitting your job, changing your career, or throwing in the towel on all of it (trust me, I thought about it). If you commit to your career before you return to work, it won’t prevent the guilt but will help alleviate some of it by enforcing a time limit.
At some point, you will be having a craptastic day, and don’t know how you’ll force yourself to drop off that baby. It’s then that you’ll have your date in the back of your mind. You just need to get through the next “x” months. It won’t get rid of the guilt but may help ease your mind a bit. It also allows you an “out” so you know you’re not able to cross that bridge yet mentally.
Get to know your caregiver – really well.
The better you know your caregiver, the less worried you’ll be leaving your little one with him or her. This is probably the most difficult in a daycare setting, but it’s definitely do-able. I always asked questions during drop off and pick-up about my lady’s day, and if there was anything I should know.
In our nursery, there was the option to message the room, so I’d send messages if she wasn’t feeling well or hadn’t eaten or slept well the night before. I also went over almost every day to nurse at lunch. It was easier for me than trying to pump and I wasn’t sending milk they’d have to waste if she didn’t drink it.
This gave me a lot of extra time with her caregivers that first year. I know this isn’t an option for most people, but if your daycare has an open door policy, stop by when/if you can during the day on a break. Especially at first, this gives you access to the caregivers when they aren’t overwhelmed with morning instructions and drop off.
If you have a nanny or in-home daycare
Interview and ask the hard questions up front. I have a list of questions to ask your caregiver in the resource library. Submit your email below for the password, and you’ll get immediate access for FREE.
It’s important to make sure your nanny or a small daycare is the right fit. This person will solely be responsible for your child, so you’ll need to be comfortable. You need to get along with this person well, and they should fit seamlessly into your life. If you feel your wishes aren’t going to be respected or your values don’t line up, look elsewhere.
It’s a lot easier to get to know a 1:1 care provider more quickly. Spend a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day asking questions about your child, the caregiver, and feel free to message or ask for updates throughout the day.
Don’t worry – your baby still loves you the most. I know this crosses your mind frequently.
Working moms focus on quality time versus quantity
Since your caregiver will be spending most of your baby’s waking hours with him or her, you’ll need to make sure you get quality bonding time in when you’re able.
This is a tough one, but hear me out.
Let the laundry wait.
Do the dishes later.
Clean the counters and pick up toys another day.
You’ll only get these snuggles, hugs, and cuddles for a short while. This is coming from a reformed perfectionist. My house used to look like it could be realtor ready at almost any time. Now, not so much.
I HATE piles of laundry, and I don’t think I ever left a dirty dish in the sink until I had a kid. But you know what? I only get an hour or two with her every day when I’m not getting ready, showering, eating, etc.
In that time, be present. Focus on the quality of those few hours you do get, and don’t worry about the fact that you’re at work for most of the other hours. So much of that time is spent with your baby on a changing table, being fed, or asleep. Truly treasure the moments you have so that the time apart isn’t as hard.
Choose a care facility (or caregiver) that will send you updates and photos throughout the day or one that has a video monitor option to watch the classroom. This was huge for me.
We used the app baby tracker the whole first year of our little one’s life. It tracks sleep, feeding, diaper changes, and milestones like weight, medicine, etc. Our babysitter used it when I went back to work, and we updated it every day with daycare notes at the end of the day once she’d gone to daycare.
At our daycare facility, they use an app called Tadpoles that tracks sleep, feeding, and diapers. We also get sent photos and notes through the app as well. This was a lifesaver because whenever I wanted to know how things were going, I could just tap the app and see how she’d been doing.
I always knew if she finished a full bottle, how long her naps were, and if she’d had a good or bad day. Although our facility didn’t have a video option, I never felt out of the loop. I always found it much harder when I didn’t know what she was doing, and with Tadpoles, I never felt totally lost.
Give yourself grace to let go of the guilt
If you can’t do it all, don’t. When you go back to work you’re inevitably going to be pulled in a million different directions. You’ll probably need to leave work unfinished in order to get home and see your baby before bedtime.
If you’re slammed one day and can’t get everything in, let it wait until tomorrow. You need to spend that quality time with your baby so you don’t throw in the towel. Give yourself grace during this transition.
Although you may have fallen into the trap of hearing about moms who “do it all,” know that they don’t do it all at the same time. It IS possible to have a baby and a career but in order to prioritize your mental wellbeing, sometimes you just need to put down the laptop and cuddle that baby.
It’s really hard to be a new mom who goes back to work. It gets easier, but if you want to make it to that point, you have to be kind to yourself. If you need to duck out an hour early, or head over during lunch, do it. This phase won’t last forever, but the time and effort you’re putting into your career will.
Make your kid’s stuff a priority.
One of the biggest things I felt guilty about was missing something for my baby because I was at work. Whether it was the Thanksgiving lunch or a “performance” in the classroom, there are events for your child that didn’t exist in your world before.
In my job, we’re in meetings almost all day every day. It’s highly unlikely that I just have a random hole on my calendar that allows me to head out to my child’s school without notice. Even if I have the time blocked, it’s likely something will come up over the time I reserved.
In these cases, you just need to make your kid’s stuff a priority. Unless it was a meeting with one of my VPs or someone we couldn’t reasonably get ahold of, I’ll ask to reschedule things that come up. You don’t need to provide a reason, just ask for a new time.
If you don’t do this, you’ll feel immense guilt over what you’re missing and are likely distracted and unproductive in whatever you chose to stay and do. You’re at work most of the time, you can take a couple of hours a year to be there for your child’s events.
Know that it’s not just you.
When I first returned to work, I thought I was the only one who felt like I was missing a limb by leaving my child at daycare. I saw all these mothers working and they looked totally fine. I didn’t notice anyone else who appeared to think about their baby 24/7. Know that this isn’t true. Almost all new mammas are in the same boat. The struggle is real.
I also asked some of my male colleagues when I’d stop feeling terrible for leaving for work trips and events. Most of them didn’t relate. However, I’m happy to report, that for me, it did stop. I don’t remember at what point exactly but sometime before she was two, I began to enjoy my overnight work trips again.
I didn’t feel the immense guilt of her infancy and I was able to relax while away. This was definitely after I stopped pumping and worrying about those ounces. Obviously, I still love to chat and facetime, but leaving is no longer painful, and I’m actually able to focus on something besides the fact that I left my baby.
You’ll get through this
There isn’t anything I or anyone else can tell you or write on the internet that will make the feeling that you’re letting your kid down 100% go away. Just know that we’re all in it together, and all moms feel guilt. I’m sure many SAHMs feel guilty about not contributing as much to their family’s finances. Many feel as though they’re “wasting” their education. There is no perfect answer to this problem. Whether you’re a SAHM or a mom that works outside the home, almost every single one of us has questioned the decision at some point or another.
I hope that some of the strategies above make you feel more secure with your decision to remain in the workforce and help you with that choice you make each day. Your baby has a great role model. You’re doing the best you can. Help out another mom. We’re all just doing the best thing we can for our family!