You’re not a bad mama because you work

Here are five ways to help you get through that guilt.

You’re not a bad mama because you work

I recently got this email in my inbox, from someone who was feeling like a bad mom. Why? Because she’s a working parent.

I keep telling myself I am enough and that I am making the choice that’s right for me and my family by continuing to work with (now two!) kids. However, I sometimes feel judged by those closest to me for that decision, particularly a few female family members.

I know they mean well and perhaps are biased by their own experiences having decided to stay home with kids and work once they were older, or to work part-time. Although I can rationalize this, I still can’t shake the guilt and the feeling of being judged as a “bad mom.” —Working Mama Feeling Judged


Dear Working Mama Feeling Judged,

Oh, mama. Everywhere we turn, and no matter who we are, we can find evidence that we are all, indeed, “bad moms.” We’re doing too much of this. Not enough of that. One way or another, we’re ruining our children. And failing as parents.

I’ve never been a fan of all this judging. And I’ve always hated the mommy wars. Today, I’m here to offer empathy. A hug. Some stories. And five concrete suggestions of things I’ve done that have helped me get my own head in a better place as a working mom.

First, learn the history and the research

In my own struggles with this question, I took great solace from learning that so-called “alloparents” have been critical to child rearing for pretty much all of human history. I learned the term “alloparents” from Brigid Schulte’s amazing book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play when No One Has the Time.

Here’s a good introduction to the idea, from the book. For context, Brigid is interviewing Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, an evolutionary anthropologist, and they’re discussing Kung women in the Kalahari Desert in Africa, 2,000 years ago:

“The whole idea that mothers stayed at camp and the men went off to hunt? No way! These women were walking thousands of miles every year with their children. Or if it was not safe, they were leaving them back at camp.” She pauses to drive that point home: Sometimes mothers left their children back at camp. The children were with their fathers, older siblings, grandparents, relatives, and other trusted, nurturing adults- people Hrdy calls “alloparents” (“allo” means “other than” in Greek). “It’s natural for mothers to work. It’s natural for mothers to take care of their children,” she says. “What’s unnatural is for mothers to be the sole caretaker of children. What’s unnatural is not to have more support for mothers.”

I also recommend you pick up a copy of Avital Norman Rothman’s wonderful essay collection entitled The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality. In the book’s Forward, Christy Turlington Burns writes that the “deeply entrenched ideal of the Good Mother” is a myth that “creates false standards that set women up for failure, not success, and for judgment, instead of support. It is an attempt to disempower the experience of motherhood. It tells us we are not worthy of our power to create, and that we must conform to narrow ideals of what makes a mother ‘good.’”

“Our collective point of reference for a ‘healthy’ family often goes to a contrived golden era of the 1950s and 1960s, when television shows and magazine advertisements blasted this stereotype into millions of American homes, only perpetuating the Leave It to Beaver fantasy,” says Emma Johnson, in her book, The Kickass Single Mom.

As someone who was raised, in the early years, by a stay-at-home mom, I definitely grappled with the “bad mother” notion when I had kids of my own. I knew I wanted to keep working and that I’d be a better mom if I did so. But I had a lot of fear about transitioning my baby to childcare, and missing his “firsts.”

The daycare world seemed so foreign to me. And the cultural messages told me that working outside the home was somehow going to hurt my kids. Apparently, something like 60% of Americans still believe children are better off when a parent stays home.

We know from research like this Harvard Business School study, however, that this simply isn’t the case. What did the study find?

That women whose mothers worked outside the home are more likely to have jobs themselves. They are more likely to hold supervisory responsibility at those jobs. And they are more likely to earn higher wages than women whose mothers stayed home full time.

Men raised by working mothers are more likely to contribute to household chores. And they are more likely to spend more time caring for family members. Not bad qualities in life, I’d wager.

Finally, though I won’t go into detail about it here, check out the literature on “good enough parenting.” Yep, that’s actually a thing. David Winnicott, a British pediatrician and psychoanalyst, coined the term “good enough mother,” which says, basically, that our children benefit when we “fail” them in manageable ways, so that they can learn to live in an imperfect world. “In short,” says Carla Naumburg, Ph.D., “building our children’s resilience is the gift of the good enough mother.”

Second, seek out examples

Okay, enough with the intellectual piece of this. Now it’s time for stories! I truly believe that storytelling has the power to help us weave together work and home.

Can you seek out some examples of other children who go to childcare? Can you find examples of adults who had “alloparents” growing up? For me, two different experiences had a tremendous impact on how I feel about working parenthood:

Story one: I was pregnant with my eldest and happened to be at my in-law's house for a holiday. At the time, I knew I was planning to send my baby to daycare, but I was definitely intimidated by the prospect. So much so that I sometimes wondered if my baby would “turn out okay” if subjected to the wrath of the daycare baby room.

While I was there, a family came over to visit—two parents, and two little kids, both of whom were in daycare and had been from the start. My eyes lit up, and I started asking a million questions. These kids seemed fine. Seemed normal (whatever that is for toddlers!). Seemed well-mannered. And friendly. Well-adjusted. And, perhaps most importantly, seemed to be incredibly well-attached to their parents.

Was that possible? Yes! I saw it before my very eyes. Proof that “daycare kids” could turn out just fine. And that their parents could be wonderful parents, too.

Story two: At one point when my babies were little, a friend of my was talking about her childhood. She happened to mention that she had gone to daycare while her mother worked.

“Daycare was wonderful!“ she exclaimed with a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face. “I can still remember exactly where everything was in each little room. I loved the teachers. The toys. My friends. And I have such beautiful memories of that place.” Wow, I thought, reassured. For me, it was so helpful to hear her reminisce with fondness about her caregiving situation growing up.

Third, consider critical conversations with family members

You mentioned feeling judged by your female family members. Is this based on anything in particular they have said? Or done? I’m wondering if a critical conversation with any of them might be in order, using the formula I set out in this piece, New Parents’ Script for Tough Conversations: 4 S’s to Remember.

Are there any ways you can invite these family members deeper into your own world, to learn more about how it works? I know, with two small kiddos and a full-time job, your bandwidth for extra effort (or drama!) is probably nonexistent.

I’m just wondering if part of their judgment is coming from a place of not knowing how your childcare arrangement works. Or for not seeing examples of the many ways there are to be a good parent.

Finally, I’d say that if their comments are shaming in any way, remind yourself that “hurt people hurt people.” And consider drawing some strong boundaries for yourself around what’s okay and what’s not okay for them to do and say when they’re around you.

Fourth, welcome the guilt

What’s left after you address any specific comments with your loved ones is, of course, what’s happening in your own head. My favorite mantra, which I repeat to myself daily, is, “comparison is the thief of joy.” (Here are the other nine mantras for working mamas that get me through the day.)

Essentially, I’ve learned to welcome in the guilt. Sounds counterintuitive, I know. But it turns out that acknowledging that the guilt is there is way more effective at reducing it than trying to drown it or shame myself for feeling it. By sitting with the guilt, and simply knowing it’s there, the guilt loses its sting. And when the sting is gone, I feel much more empowered to be a kick-ass career professional. And a pretty darn good mom, too.

Finally, gather your working mama posse

Last, I’m thinking it would be incredibly helpful to have a group of working moms to rely on for support. Do you have one already? If your children go to daycare, can you find a way to connect with the other parents there?

For awhile, the other daycare moms and I were going out once a month after the kids’ bedtime for a drink at a local bar. Are there other working parents in your office in whom you can confide? Is there a parent group at your workplace?

If not, can you create one? Are there online communities you can join for support? (Take a session of the Mindful Return course, and you’ll have an alumnae Facebook group of working mama buddies for life!)

What Avital Norman Rothman, editor of The Good Mother Myth, discovered when she started talking to other moms, was that “many other women were just as frustrated and annoyed with this [good mother] myth as I was. They felt as if they were being held up to unrealistic and arbitrary standards. Who created this measuring stick for what is good enough and then proceeded to spread it as gospel? The more I spoke with other moms, the more I realized that the narrative surrounding the Good Mother will only change if we share the realities of our lives and deconstruct the myth, which for too long has been hijacking the hearts, minds, and attention of women across every economic, social, and racial background–some more than others.”

The power of “me, too” is immense, mama.

In closing, always remember, Working Mama Feeling Judged, you are not abandoning your children by working. That’s not the definition of “abandon,” by any means. I know there are no easy answers here, but I hope a few of these suggestions brought you some comfort.

If my experience can serve as a helpful example, please know that my boys, who are now 4 ½ and 6 ½, are more than fine and are well-attached to me and to my husband. And we’ve both been working since they were infants.

I once had a mentor say to me that my concern and worry about whether I was being a devoted enough mother was evidence itself that I was an excellent parent. You wouldn’t be asking these questions if you didn’t care, mama. And that you care says to me there’s no ounce of “bad mom” in you.

Originally posted on Mindful Return.

These are only the vitamins I give my children and here's why

It's hard to say who loves these more—my kids or me.

When I became a mama five years ago, I didn't put too much thought into whether my son was getting the right vitamins and minerals. From breastfeeding to steaming and pureeing his first bites of solid food, I was confident I was giving him everything to support his growth and development.

But then the toddler years—and the suddenly picky palate that accompanied them—came along. Between that challenge and two additional children in the mix… well, I knew my oldest son's eating plan was falling short in some vitamin and mineral categories.

I also knew how quickly he was growing, so I wanted to make sure he was getting the nutrients he needed (even on those days when he said "no, thank you" to any veggie I offered).

So when I discovered the new line of children's supplements from Nature's Way®, it felt like a serious weight off my chest. Thanks to supplements that support my children's musculoskeletal growth, their brain function, their immune systems, their eyes and more, I'm taken back to that simpler time when I was so confident my kids' vitamin needs were met.*

It wasn't just the variety of supplements offered by Nature's Way that won me over: As a vegetarian mama, I'm the picky one in the family when it comes to scanning labels and making sure they meet our standards. The trick is that most gummy vitamins are made with gelatin, which is not vegetarian friendly.

But just like the other offerings from Nature's Way that I've already come to know and love, the children's supplement line is held to a high standard. That means there's no high-fructose corn syrup, gelatin or common allergens to be found in the supplements. The best part? My two oldest kids ensure we never miss their daily vitamins—they are so in love with the gummy flavors, which include tropical fruit punch, lemonade and wild berry.

Nature's Way Kids Mulitvitamin

Meanwhile, my pharmacist husband has different criteria when evaluating supplements, especially when it comes to those for our kids. He appreciates the variety of options from Nature's Way, which gives us the ability to rotate the vitamins based on our kids' daily needs. By keeping various children's supplements from Nature's Way on hand, I can customize a regimen to suit my kids' individual requirements.

Of course, high-quality products often come at a higher price point. But (to my immense gratitude!) that isn't the case with Nature's Way, which retails for a competitive value when compared to the other items on the shelf.

Like all mamas, my chief concern is supporting my children's health in any way I can. While I see evidence of their growth every time I pack away clothes they've outgrown, I know there is much more growth that doesn't meet the eye. That's why, for my oldest son, I like stacking the Brain Builder gummy with the Growing Bones & Muscles gummy and the Happy & Healthy Multi. My 3-year-old also enjoys getting her own mix to include the Healthy Eyes gummy. And both of my older kids are quick to request the Tummy Soothe tablet when something isn't sitting right in their stomachs.* And I'll admit it: I've tried it myself and the berry blast flavor really is tasty!

Although my current phase of motherhood may not be as "simple" as it once was, there is so much to appreciate about it—like watching my kids play and sing and create with their incredible imaginations. Along the way, I've eased up on some of my need for control, but it does help to have this range of supplements in my motherhood tool kit. So while I may not be able to convince my son to try kale, having the Nature's Way supplements on hand means I do know he's right on track.*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

This article was sponsored by Nature's Way. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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There is rightfully a lot of emphasis on preparing for the arrival of a new baby. The clothes! The nursery furniture! The gear! But, the thing about a baby registry is, well, your kids will keep on growing. Before you know it, they'll have new needs—and you'll probably have to foot the bill for the products yourself.

Thankfully, you don't have to break the bank when shopping for toddler products. Here are our favorite high-quality, budget-friendly finds to help with everything from meal time to bath time for the toddler set.

Comforts Fruit Crisps Variety Pack

Comforts fruit snacks

If there is one thing to know about toddlers, it is this: They love snacks. Keeping a variety on hand is easy when the pack already comes that way! Plus, we sure do appreciate that freeze-dried fruit is a healthier alternative to fruit snacks.

Comforts Electrolyte Drink

Comforts electrolyte drink

Between running (or toddling!) around all day and potentially developing a pickier palate, many toddlers can use a bit of extra help with replenishing their electrolytes—especially after they've experienced a tummy bug. We suggest keeping an electrolyte drink on hand.

Comforts Training Pants

Comforts training pants

When the time comes to start potty training, it sure helps to have some training pants on hand. If they didn't make it to the potty in time, these can help them learn their body's cues.

Comforts Nite Pants

comforts nite pants

Even when your toddler gets the hang of using the toilet during the day, nighttime training typically takes several months longer than day-time training. In the meantime, nite pants will still help them feel like the growing, big kid they are.

Comforts Baby Lotion

comforts baby lotion

Running, jumping, playing in sand, splashing in water—the daily life of a toddler can definitely irritate their skin! Help put a protective barrier between their delicate skin and the things they come into contact with every day with nourishing lotion.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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