PARENTS

Mommy Guilt: Time To End It For Good!

05/05/2015 03:27 EDT | Updated 05/05/2015 03:59 EDT
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At some point, many moms will wrap up their maternity leave and return to the work. Whether they have hired a nanny or are facing teary drop-offs at daycare, mommy guilt is sure to set in for many.

So how do we best survive (and get rid of!) the working mom guilt? Let's begin by understanding what guilt is anyways.

The psychology of guilt

Ready for an "aha" moment? (Just a warning, you might not like what you're about to learn about yourself.) First off, please know that all emotions are produced subconsciously.

Most people think emotions come from external situations and that we are simply passive victims while our emotions highjack us. In fact, the opposite is true.

We actually manufacture our feelings to suit our purposes. We choose how we want to feel -- but it's happening quickly and out of our conscious awareness.

Let me explain it more concretely using the example of feeling guilty: We want to feel guilty because it serves a purpose. What could that be? Let's use the case of Dorothy.

Dorothy felt guilty for not visiting her aging mother who was in a nursing home. Feeling guilty about not visiting enabled Dorothy to continue her choice not to visit while still feeling like she was a good daughter, after all she felt so darn guilty about it!

So here is the logic she conveniently arranged:

1. If "good: daughters visit their aging mothers, then the opposite must be true: Those who don't visit are "bad" daughters.

2. Therefore, daughters who don't visit their aging mothers but who feel guilty about it are still able to claim "good daughter" status.

3. Without the guilt they would have to accept that they were a "bad" daughter (according to their beliefs).

Aren't we so smart?!? Now you know the psychological underpinnings of feeling guilty. It basically allows you to have your cake and eat it, too.

Let's apply this same mental logic to "working mom" guilt. If we subconsciously believe "good" mothers stay home and care for their children, then the opposite must be true. If we aren't home to care for our children, then we're a "bad" mother. Therefore, mothers work, but we feel guilty for doing it. This feeling of guilt allows us to stay in the "good" mother category.

So how do we get rid of this guilt? We need to challenge our faulty logic.

Working vs stay-at-home mom debate

The debate on working versus stay-at-home mothers is an old debate. I am not taking sides on this polarizing issue, I'm just applying feelings of guilt to this parenting situation. The same exercise could be done for stay-at-home moms who feel guilty that they are not contributing to the family finances by not working.

Trying to consciously understand how guilt works will help us all reduce it. Remember when you are feeling guilty:

1. Moms are neither "good" nor "bad" they are just people trying their best.

2. Good and bad are dichotomous and judgmental terms. They imply we are being rated and judged. How tiring and anxiety producing.

3. Accept that we are all humble humans doing what we can at the moment with the resources we have. No one is trying to ruin our children or act badly.

4. Some moms have poorly developed parenting skills. Some work and some stay home -- that's not the delineating factor.

5. No one knows the all reasons behind your unique decision to work or stay home. Trust that if you are okay with your choice, your children will manage, too. If you are torn, they will feel your tension and be less emotionally settled about it.