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Motherhood and Guilt - Are They Inseparable?

By Carol Duncan - 5th July 2010

Here we go, another working mother ranting about how hard it is to be a working mother.  

Fact:  it isn't easy, any of it.  If you're visiting happychild - you already know that!  I love being a mum and I love working.  Trying to combine the two means living with the nagging thought that I'm not giving 100% to either of them.   Or the housework.  Or my husband.  Or my siblings, my father, my friends, my garden, our dogs, the goldfish ... or my job or my kids or myself ... you get the drift.

                   "I would be a terrible stay-at-home mother"

But here's the thing, or at least MY thing.  I would be a terrible stay-at-home mother.  Before children (BC), I used to fantasise about how wonderful it would be to have a tribe of tiny golden-haired children gathered around my feet; we would read wonderful books, bake delicious biscuits, do glorious paintings, visit every park in our town and grow tall and strong and beautiful.  At least THEY would.  Me?  I’d be going nuts.  

I love my children; they are the most beautiful, smart, funny, loving boys imaginable.  Sometimes when I look at them my heart simply wants to explode.  I love their every little achievement, I kiss their every tear.  

So, my question for you is - how do you do it all and deal with the guilt?

I think I am a better mother for being a working mother.  I don't think I'd be much fun to be around if I was a stay-at-home mum.  I am at my happiest when I'm at home in our own little nest.  Being a radio journalist who does numerous interviews every day, quite frankly I get sick of the sound of my own voice.  I get sick of 'the news'.  I get over-connected with people and I long to have a bit of time-out.  That said, I love it, I love my work and I love the stimulation that it gives me.  I know plenty of stay-at-home mothers and I admire them enormously, but I couldn't do it.

Here’s my imperfect theory on this:  it doesn’t matter what you’ve got, how much you earn, how big your house is or how many yachts or staff you might have, you will still experience parent-guilt.  Mother-guilt.  Father-guilt.  Plain old guilt.  My friends and acquaintances cover every part of the socio-economic spectrum and I can’t think of one of them who doesn’t sometimes think they’re not doing enough, or that they’re not getting the balance right – even the ones with nannies, assistants and other staff.  So at the end of the day, how do you determine that it will all be okay in the end?

My radio job is normal working hours, but I also do a little bit of writing on the side.  My 'foreign orders'.  I don't do them for money - just ask the editor of this website - I do them because they're usually about the things that I care a little more personally about, or are simply an opportunity to put into words the things I'm thinking about.  If they're items I'm writing for my personal blog, I'm mostly happy to put them aside and get to them when I can (which usually means once the kids are in bed), but the commissioned items I have a responsibility for.  A deadline.  A client.  Perhaps I'm already making excuses?

I was recently asked to write a piece for a yet-to-be-launched online magazine for a corporate client.  They wanted a family history piece about the family that had founded the company.  When I say 'commissioned', I got brought in at the last minute as a hired-gun-fixer after the journalist who had accepted the job, recorded interviews with surviving family and employees disappeared.  Went AWOL.  With the recordings, which meant starting from scratch with nothing except a surname and a few family myths and legends.  Fortunately, I'm a sucker for my own family history so knew which resources to plunder.  I think I can proudly say I've created a fabulous, fact-based, very plausible family history for them - and none of the older members of the family are alive so there's no-one to argue with any of it!

One night, sitting at my computer with reams of photocopies from my local library and maybe 163 tabs open on my browser as I desperately tried to make the facts fit, Mr 8 plonked a piece of his own work in front of me.  Multiple choice:  "Yes"  "No"  "Don't Hassle".

He was obviously trying not to hassle, but it was clear to me that I must have said, "Don't hassle me with it right now ... " quite a bit during the week that I had my head in that job.  It will happen again, sometimes because I've accepted a job, sometimes because I want to get the thoughts out of my head while they're happening, but thank you for the reminder, Mr 8, you are a wise boy.

And as usual, I'll feel mother-guilt, parent-guilt.  About not being able to be a canteen mum, or attend school assembly, or myriad other things they'd like me to do.  I do, however, feel quietly confident that even if I sometimes feel 'hassled', my boys are better for having a mum who does stuff that gives her life additional meaning and purpose.  And when these two lovely boys stop fighting with each other for a few minutes, turn their loving gaze upon their mum (that would be me), declare that I am the ‘best mum ever’ and shower me with kisses and cuddles … I decide that for whatever I’m doing wrong, I must be doing something right.  

What do you feel guilty about and how do you let it go?  What measure do you rely on to give you the confidence that you’re not making an utter hash of it!?


Comments (5)

CarolDuncan's picture

Hi TropicalMum! I hear you.

Hi TropicalMum!

I hear you. Loud & clear.

A 'happy' mum is the best kind of mum, in my humble opinion.


TropicalMum's picture

Working at Home and Studying

I work as a virtual assistant from home, so that means that I am often working whilst my four-year-old plays quietly/watches TV/plays on the computer. He has come up to me and asked me why I ALWAYS have to work. I explained to him, that I don't ALWAYS have to work. I point out to him the activities he does during the week: swimming, kindy gym, playing with his friends, soccer, family outings etc. I also explain that if I didn't work at home, that I would have to work outside the home and that he would have to go to daycare five days per week instead of the two he does now, or worse, I would have to work at night, like before where I was grumpy all the time from lack of sleep. I then give him the choice of which he would prefer and he sees that it is much better to have mum at home but busy some of the time than not seeing mum at all.

The thing I really do feel guilty about is that I have been studying part-time for all of their childhood so far. I am very naughty and often procrastinate when it comes to assignments and exams, so this means that I don't study during the week and often at times before an assignment, I have to cram the work into the weekend. My husband takes the boys on fun outings while I study, but he says that they are very aware that mum often misses out on these fun days. I know that this is an area where I could improve my mothering by trying harder to do my assignments in plenty of time so it doesn't encroach on weekend family time.

Jodie at Mummy Mayhem's picture


I've always been a big believer that a happy Mum makes a happy child. I once wrote that in reply to a blog post from a woman who believed there are no excuses - all women should stay home with their children and that sacrificing a little happiness of our own should be more than ok. I applauded her for her honesty, but I explained that some women just need to do more, and that no one starts off being a parent knowing for absolute certainty what it's going to be like. That's why I can't stand the whole, "Well, then why did they have kids in the first place?" question, because many people think it's going to be very different than what it is. I know lots of women who imagined they'd become SAHMs, but returned to work, and mums who thought they would return to work after 4mths, but couldn't do it and quit their jobs. Each to their own.

My eldest is 8 and a half too, and I'm yet to spend a night away from my kids - but I'm going with a girlfriend to Melbourne for 3 nights in July, and I'm just a tad excited. That doesn't mean I don't love my kids and don't want to be with them - it's just ok to need time to yourself, and if I could do it all over again, I probably wouldn't have waited so long to do it, and I'd always advise mothers to get some time out for themselves!

Great post, Carol. xx

CarolDuncan's picture

Confession ....

Hi Kim,

OK. Here goes. #1 son was eight and a half before I spent my first night alone ... without children climbing into my bed or wanting a drink or losing a bear or (insert here whatever your kids do in the middle of the night).

It wasn't intentional, it wasn't because I didn't want to be away from them - it just happened that way. But when I become a grandmother, I will try to gently encourage a little respite for my sons and their partners - a little sanity intervention!

All over guilt!

I love what you've written here Carol. It is so true for so many of us. I really relate to this "Trying to combine the two means living with the nagging thought that I'm not giving 100% to either of them. Or the housework. Or my husband. Or my siblings, my father, my friends, my garden, our dogs, the goldfish ... or my job or my kids or myself ... you get the drift."

Every now and then, more often as my 2 boys get older, I'll have a minor breakdown moment where I feel I'm not doing any good at anything! Mum, wife, friend.... Sometimes we just need a little reassurance that we are doing a great job despite the hiccups along the way. Don't they say a happy mum makes a much happier family? If you need to do some things outside the nest, then go for it I say!


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