Working Mama Guilt

How to avoid the temptation to compare yourself, on both the work and home front.

Working Mama Guilt

Becoming a parent was most definitely unlike any other experience I’d had to date. Other than knowing some basics of taking care of kids from my teenage babysitting years and watching (from a safe distance) a few friends and colleagues enter the world of new parenthood, I didn’t have much real-life knowledge of how it would go.

To fill that gap in relevant reference points, I needed information about how the rest of the world did things. Like coping with baby reflux. Heading back to work on no sleep. And sterilizing pump parts. So I did the inevitable: I compared what I was doing to how others around me were managing.


Sometimes, these comparisons proved to be really helpful in teaching me new tricks of the trade. Benchmarks can, of course, be useful tools.

But other times, these comparisons served to make me feel pretty crappy: I was pretty excited about that 4-hour stretch of sleep my baby got. Until I learned that my friend’s son who is the exact same age slept 12 straight hours. I thought I had returned to being a productive employee. Until I had to miss an important meeting because my baby was sick, and all my other colleagues were there. I thought my baby was developmentally on track, but a friend’s baby was walking by 8 months. And when I walked past all my diligent coworkers’ offices to get out the door at 4:30pm to get my baby from daycare, I felt like a pretty big slacker.

I’m five years into the parenting thing, and reframing unhelpful comparisons is still a work in progress for me. I’ve learned, however, to start asking myself how I truly feel about something, rather than whether I’m on some sort of “right” track or not. And last year, one of the mamas in the Mindful Return E-Course taught me the manta “comparison is the thief of joy” – which I now remind myself of daily.

Here’s my advice:

If you feel like you’re somehow falling “short” – remind yourself that “short” is a word that implies a comparison to something else. Then ask yourself: is the comparison to your own expectations? If so, perhaps it’s time to adjust them, just as everything else in your universe that now involves keeping another human being alive has had to change.

Or, is it the comparison to what “everyone else” is doing? Or perhaps what so-called “society” says you should be doing? If so, it’s time to turn inward and stop making those other people the yardstick.

As useful as comparisons and benchmarks can be, they shouldn’t dictate to us how we feel about ourselves. A (male) colleague recently lamented to me that despite loving his job, he feels “behind” in his career, because he started in one direction, changed paths, and is now a few years older than most of his work peers. I felt compelled to ask him: you’re “behind what?” “On whose schedule?”

If you truly can’t give up comparison, my recommendation is to find some people who inspire you – perhaps on the calm, or balance, or creativity, or daring front – and compare yourself to them. Not for the purpose of falling short – but for the purpose of learning from them those qualities you aspire to.

Working mamas often struggle with the comparisons and guilt in both “sides” of their lives. So here’s what I suggest for each angle:

  • If having a hard stop at the end of the work day leaves you feeling crummy, choose to compare your quality of work to that of someone you admire, not your end-of-day leave time to your single co-worker.

  • If you find yourself envying the playgroup your stay-at-home mom friend is involved with, befriend other working mamas – perhaps at work or through your childcare. And truly BE with your little one when you are home. The being present piece is what really matters.

  • Either way, repeat this mantra often: I am enough. And believe it, mama.

I do leave at 4:30pm to get my kids nearly every day. And I’m intentionally on a 60% schedule at work. I may not be “keeping up” with others, but this pace works for me.

To use comparison for good, I now dare to ask: Can I be as thoughtful as she is? As committed to being healthy as she is? As gracious and empathetic as I just saw him be to his team? It is much more fun to be inspired by – rather than feel threatened by – other people.

Image source.


In This Article

    You will always be their safe space, mama

    You are their haven. Their harbor. Their sanctuary, their peace. You are comfort. Deep breaths. Hugs and back rubs. You're a resting place, a nightmare chaser, a healer. You are the calm within their storm. You are their mother.

    To your child, you are safety. You are security. You are where (out of anyone or any place), they can come undone. Where they can let it all out, let it all go. Where they meltdown, break down, scream, cry, push.

    Where they can say—"I AM NOT OKAY!"

    Where they can totally lose it. Without judgment or fear or shame.

    Because they know you'll listen. They know you'll hear them. That you will help piece the mess back together.

    Keep reading Show less

    The one thing your family needs to practice gratitude

    And a tradition you'll want to keep for years.

    Gracious Gobbler

    I think I can speak for well, basically everyone on planet earth when I say things have been a bit stressful lately. Juggling virtual school, work and the weight of worry about all the things, it's increasingly difficult to take even a moment to be grateful and positive these days. It's far easier to fall into a grump cycle, nagging my kids for all the things they didn't do (after being asked nine times), snapping at their bickering and never really acknowledging the good stuff.

    But the truth is, gratitude and appreciation is the kind of medicine we need now more than ever—and not just because the season is upon us. For one thing, practicing gratitude is a scientifically proven way to boost our happiness, health and relationships. More importantly, we need to ensure we're cultivating it in our children even when things are challenging. Especially when things are challenging.

    I'm ready to crank the thankfulness up a few dozen notches and reboot our family's gratitude game so we can usher out 2020 on a fresh note. So, I've called in some reinforcements.

    Enter: the Gracious Gobbler.

    Keep reading Show less

    The important safety tip parents need to know about sleep + car seats

    Why you might want to plan for more pit stops on your next road trip.

    When we become parents we don't just have to learn how to take care of a baby, we also have to learn how, when and why to use all the different kinds of baby gear.

    Keep reading Show less