I remember the questions I’d get while pregnant for the first time. Are you breastfeeding or bottle-feeding? Will you have a natural labor or epidural? Are you going back to work or are you staying at home with the baby? The amount of choices and responsibilities that come with parenthood is endless, and everyone with a keyboard or a loud mouth will tell you their opinion these days, which can make you feel like you’re not doing a good job or making the wrong choice. But I promise you- you’re doing an amazing job. The fact that you’re putting so much thought into what’s right for your baby is proof. And just like any human being who starts something new, all mothers simply want validation that they are doing a good job and encouragement to keep going. But let’s face it, whether you’re working out of the house, working at home as a stay-at-home-mom, or working as any form of mom, mom guilt is real.
So many of you have requested a post about how to deal with mom guilt. I’m going to share my experience as a mom, and then how I figured out some of the root causes of my mom guilt, followed by the solutions. And just know, I’m so thankful you’re here, because if you keep reading, you’ll see how much that matters to me. And I hope you leave a comment of your experience, because I’d love for all of us to support each other too.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I was an HR executive. I qualified for 12 weeks maternity leave under FMLA, so I knew my return-to-work date based on my delivery date. Initially, I was so excited to have 12 weeks to spend with my baby boy Landon. But to any non-parent out there who thinks they are getting almost 3 months extra vacation, you are in for a serious wake up call. Like, an every hour of the night, wailing newborn baby wake up call. Because after having my baby, I was barely sleeping. Those days flew by, and as each week passed, I felt the dread build and build as the first day back to work grew near. I would instantly break out in a sweat, feel a knot in my stomach, and my eyes would well up in tears at the thought of leaving my sweet little boy. It was definitely a combination of breastfeeding and postpartum hormones, lack of sleep, and first-time-mom learning curve, but I just could not imagine leaving my baby, who grew inside of me for 9 months and now was completely sustained by me since I was breastfeeding. What seemed like a long time while pregnant, I realized quickly that 12 weeks was not a long time to adjust to motherhood and to help my baby adjust to his new world. My well-intentioned co-workers would stop by my house and talk “work” with me, sharing complicated problems they were having with coworkers or tasks, and I would freeze up. I was not ready in any way shape or form to put myself back into work mode. I wanted to stay in a cocoon with my new baby for as long as possible, and pretend that date on the calendar was years away. How was I going to navigate my stressful career, breastfeeding and pumping, traveling and being overnight away from my baby, and being a good mom?
Those 12 weeks ended quickly. I went back to work the same week my husband tore his achilles tendon, so it felt like I was making this big transition back to work on my own because he couldn’t help get up with the baby at night or help in the mornings because of his injury. Thankfully, his sister came over in the mornings and helped get us all out the door those first few weeks. But I remember every car ride, every minute wasted sitting in traffic the rage would build, mostly internally but sometimes literally screaming at them to move to unleash the anger I was feeling inside. Just play Ludacris “Move” and that sums up how I was feeling in that moment. The mom guilt of leaving my baby was completely and utterly overwhelming and infuriating. Was I making the wrong decision by going back to work? I didn’t have a choice. We needed my job and health insurance to support our family. Yet, I was terrified. I felt like I was failing at being a mom, and that I also was going to fail at my job. I wasn’t sleeping, and I knew I’d be unable to attend certain meetings and wouldn’t be part of important conversations because I’d be stepping out every two hours to pump. I also couldn’t help but wonder, “why the heck is US maternity leave only 12 weeks long?” Most of my international friends often comment on this, as the rest of world seems to have 6 months to a year of maternity leave. But that wasn’t going to change in the moment, so I would try to make the best of situation. And this had been my lifelong dream. I had dreamed as a little girl of becoming a mom, and I’d also dreamed of going to college and being a business woman. I’d worked so hard to get to where I was, and I felt so much passion about the work I got to do and felt I was making an impact. But reality was sinking in. How could I possibly do both?
At first, I had no idea who to turn to for the support I needed. Most of the women friends I had at work, if they had children, did not have newborns. Most had children that were fully grown. They were far removed from my season of life, so I thought I didn’t have a friend at work to turn to. On top o that, my manager and I also had to fight for spaces for me to pump in certain buildings, as I often needed to go to different campuses to have meetings. It was just a mess. And it made me upset knowing there had to be other moms out there struggling like I was, but all I saw on my social media feed were blissful images of stay-at-home-mom influencers, cuddling and walking through parks with their babies. So, I decided I would not be a victim. Mom guilt and anxiety would not win. I would not let these challenges I was facing knock me down. I’d figure this out.
Here’s how I dissected my feelings because I refused to be a victim, and I had to figure out why I was feeling mom guilt to cure it. I’ll explain these a little bit more below, but here is the breakdown:
When it comes to the first reason, I think of that saying “you can’t be what you can’t see.” Well, I didn’t have another person in front of me who was successfully navigating early stages of motherhood, pumping, and a career. Every YouTuber and blogger I’d followed during pregnancy was a stay-at-home-mom, or what I’ve realized now, was doing a lot of work behind the scenes for their blogs/YouTube channels that just wasn’t shared, so at the time, I couldn’t relate. And a lot of the women friends I had at work had taken time off when they had their babies and returned later. I remember hearing a lot, “I don’t know how you’re doing this because I couldn’t do it.”
The second reason was time. I didn’t feel like there was enough time with my baby, or to be successful in my intense career. For the first time in my very type A, perfectionist, organized life, I was not able to manage everything on my plate. This might sound silly as a woman who worked full time outside of the house, but as a wife, I always tried to take care of everything around the home for my husband when we first got married. I did the cleaning, cooking, and laundry, and he took care of the yard. And I felt a lot of pride in that. But after having a baby, and doing extra laundry and cleaning, I felt so guilty asking Adam to do his own laundry. I felt like a bad wife. And when he got hurt the week I was going back to work, I started doing it all at home again, on top of going to the office five days a week and bringing work home some evenings. There were just not enough hours in the day.
A third reason was the foreign transitions my body was going through from pregnancy, labor, postpartum, and breastfeeding. I needed to get in check with my mental health, and just overall health. I was no longer sleeping consistently, which seriously throws you for a loop. Remember, sleep deprivation is a form of torture. Not to mention the hormonal changes during pregnancy and postpartum, and during breastfeeding can leave you feeling totally out of control of your body and your mind. Between leaking boobs, uncontrollable sweating, random breakouts, hair loss, and unquenchable thirst, my body was not the one I’d had the last 27 years of my life any more. It still boggles my mind that there is not more taught in school to both boys and girls about our bodies and the realities of becoming a parent. Anyways…
It all made me feel very out of control, and I no longer felt like myself. And the mom guilt (and wife guilt) I felt on a daily basis had to stop.
When it comes to support, it’s no secret that mom’s need community. I realized there were women all around the world, and we could find each other and have an online community to support one another, so I started one of my own. My first video on my YouTube channel was my first day back from maternity leave, and I started finding other moms to follow on Instagram. And it meant the world when my early subscribers cheering me on. I also was nearsighted and didn’t realized that there were very empathetic moms at work who showed me kindness and understanding when I’d have to step out of a meeting to pump. Those veteran moms at work had some of the best advice because they’d been through what I was going through once, twice, three times, or more. And I could not have kept going had it not been for GG. My gramma (my kids call her GG) would constantly tell me I was doing a great job. My gramma had raised two kids of her own, watched her grandkids nearly every weekend (one of the reasons why we’re so close), so her reassurance meant the absolute world to me. She helped me realized that having a career for me was important, and that caregiving shouldn’t have to fall all on you. Having a caring supportive village to help raise your babies is actually one of the greatest blessings for you and your little one. I am so grateful Landon and Presley have gotten to know her and my Grampa so well.
When it came to my schedule, I had to make some big choices for my family. I took a new job while I was pregnant with Presley so that I could work from home rather than an office, but it ended up being the same working style as an office, and the kids went to GG’s house 5 days a week so I could work 9-5. Last summer, I made a huge, life-changing decision. I was not going to start a new job in the fall, and instead, I would stay home to take care of the kids and my dad (he has MS and had a bad fall in July, and has been on hospice since the fall). Since I was making steady income from YouTube which had always been like a passion project to me, I decided to just focus on my own business. While I consider all moms to be “working moms,” I also wanted to try out the “stay-at-home-mom” role more because I really craved more time with the kids. I have adjusted my schedule so that four days a week I can be in “stay-at-home-mom” mode, or sometimes I joke “stay-in-the-car-mom” because of all the running around we do to school, speech therapy, errands, etc. The kids go to GG’s three days a week so I can work a 9-5 schedule, but pretty much 5-6 days a week I’m working after the kids go to bed. It’s the sacrifice I’m making to have more time with my kids when they’re little, and still feel like I have a career that fulfills me and that I will have the flexibility to shift the hours around when needed for their schedules in the future. I’ve seen the quote on Pinterest, “Your dream job does not exist, you must create it.” I actually feel like that was so true for me once I became a mom. I’ve created the schedule and the work that allows me to drop the mom guilt. I know my kids are getting loved and quality time with me, but I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing the career woman I dreamed of becoming. So I would encourage any mom to advocate for a better schedule that suits your family. Maybe you could work in the evenings so you can come in later or leave earlier to have more time at home with your little ones. Maybe you need to find a different role in your company or at a new company that will better suit your life. Or maybe you need to start your own business. Or maybe you need to just work as a stay-at-home-mom while your babies are young. Whatever is right for you, this stage is temporary. I cannot believe that in just one year, Landon will be in school five days a week. Once all the kids are in school, I think I could go back to more typical 9-5 hours. For these early years, you’ve got to make it work so you’re happy in the long run.
I didn’t start therapy until this fall, and I honestly wish I’d gone sooner. When I first met with my therapist, I brought up a lot of the “feeling out of control” things because after my dad’s accident, I had a lot of things I needed to take care of for him on top of what I was managing for my family. I’ve used Better Help (I’ll link it here) which is online therapy- and I do a virtual chat with my therapist, and it has given me so many strategies to get through this season. I could not recommend it more. If you need someone to talk to about anything you’re going through in life (because we’re all going through something or have gone through something or will go through something), you shouldn’t feel ashamed about talking to someone and getting the help you need so you can be the best version of yourself.
So the final piece of all this, was figuring out if there was a way to gain a sense of control back. I had to figure out what made me feel like my best self and successful in this season. I realized if I want to be the calmest, happiest, most zen mom, I feel that when my house is tidy and in order, and I’ve got a clear idea of what’s on the calendar for everyone in the family that week, and budget extra time for things that could come up unexpectedly. I’m not rushing around, doing things last minute, messing things up, and forgetting things. And then I don’t have guilt that I’m unsuccessful. This does not mean that every day is perfect (I’ve had to throw that out the window), but the more I can have things done in advance, the better, because as a parent, there are always so many things that pop up unexpectedly that you have to deal with. Staying organized has always made me feel a lot better equipped when those situations arise. I feel successful and fulfilled when I can take care of my family. Also, Adam and I starting having a weekly meeting, and that is a huge win! There is a lot of work that needs to happen as parents, and that helps us to stay on the same page and feel like a successful team. And I’m sure this is no secret if you’ve been following for awhile, but I operate best when my home is clean and in order, so I have the best work environment possible. I don’t expect my house to stay clean. I expect every day there to be toys strewn everywhere, and for crumbs to be all over the kitchen, and for there to be accidents and pee all over the floor (potty training is fun!). So I try to clean as I go, and do quick tidy cleaning routines every day so it feels more manageable. I take pride in staying on top of it as much as I can. It is not always perfect, but again, I know this about myself, so I try to operate in a way that allows me to be the best version of myself. And every time I can make a cleaning video or declutter video, that’s another win! And it makes me feel ever better knowing that I can help someone else get motivation they need to make their space a nice place to call home.
Phew- I opened up about a lot in this post. I hope that it helps you. If you can relate, let me know in the comments. Like I said above, this community has gotten me through so much, and helped me feel so less alone. And I hope I’m able to help you in some way in return. Whether it’s motivation to clean your home or organize your space, or give you mommy tips and advice, I hope you know that you’ve got a friend in me.