Parenting: The guilt felt by working moms

Many working mothers experience guilt for for not being with their kids all day. Research says there\'s no need for the worry. (Thinkstock)
The guilt many mothers feel

Randi Martin | November 15, 2014 10:49 am

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WASHINGTON — Does leaving your children behind as you go off to work cause them to suffer? They may miss you, but studies show they do just fine.

According to clinical psychologist Elaine Ducharme, many moms think, “My baby really needs me. Am I hurting them?”

But the reality is, as long as they’re left with a good daycare provider, they’ll be all right, she says.

Studies show that children with moms who work during their early years do just as well as children of stay-at-home moms. The most up-to-date research, out of the University of London’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies, found that children of working mothers, born since the mid-’90s, do not differ in behavior and social skills from children of stay-at-home mothers.

The study, headed up by Heather Joshi, pointed out that changes in maternity leave, a greater availability of quality childcare and flexible work hours combine to make it easier for working moms to achieve a balance between work and family.

“It’s quality time, but in some degree, quantity as well,” says Katherine Reynolds Lewis, a journalist and writer on work and family issues. “And for each family it is a different balance.”

According to Pew Research, today’s moms work more hours outside the home than they did 50 years ago. But they still spend more time with their children than mothers did in the 1960s, and twice as much as today’s dads, Pew reports.

Bethesda, Maryland pediatrician Dana Kornfeld says the guilt stems from love.

“Guilt, I think, is still somewhat more hard-wired into the maternal psyche,” Kornfeld says.

Guilt aside, Lewis thinks working moms set a good example for their kids.

“Look at the things your child is getting because you work: They’re getting a role model; they’re getting exposure to other environments and other care-givers; they’re getting the confidence that they will be OK without their mom being there every single second of the day,” she says.

So, working moms: Are you feeling less guilty now? How do you deal with your guilt? Let us know in the comments section of this story, on Twitter or on the WTOP Facebook page. Until then, a local parent talks about her mommy guilt.

Juggling mommy guilt
Gina Brown

“Mommy, what about tomorrow? Can we ride our bikes tomorrow?”

I shrug my shoulders and delicately imply “maybe.”

I mentally go over the checklist and think …

Well, it might be possible for some bike-riding time after camp and work. If I can wash the camp T-shirt with their favorite swim suits and towels, and grill the hot dogs and hamburgers for dinner, while making lunch for tomorrow … maybe.

Wait, did I pack the bug spray and sunscreen? I can’t get one more email from their camp counselors telling me I forgot something. And I said I would send cookies for the field trip. I need to make cookies.

OK, what time is it? The sun is going down, but let’s run outside and capture a few minutes on the bikes. I wish we had more time, but we’ll try again tomorrow.

I’m a working mom. My hours don’t change because school is out for the summer. But summer months should be easier on working parents, right? There isn’t any homework to do. The sun stays out longer. How hard could it be to get ready for camp the next day?

As I read the email asking for volunteers to accompany the children to the Baltimore Aquarium, I look at my work calendar. I can’t miss that meeting. I’m leading the discussion. Maybe I could reschedule it. Nope. It was hard to nail down that date.

Everybody is taking time off this summer and this was our only day we could meet. I wish I could see those dolphins with the kids — they light up every time the dolphins jump out of the water. Maybe somebody will take a few pictures for me.

On Saturday, we’ll have a playdate in the morning and then go to Glen Echo so we can take in a production and get on the carousel. Then I’ll see if friends can come over Saturday evening. Hopefully, they’ll forget that I wasn’t on that trip to the Aquarium. Gosh, I hope there weren’t many other moms on the trip.

It’s balance, right? Why do I feel so unbalanced and horribly guilty every time I drop them off? They seem perfectly happy to join the other campers, but is there some sort of resentment growing towards me that I can’t see?

When I pick them up from camp, they can’t wait to tell me what they did all day. And I am always eager to find out if they learned a new swimming stroke or picked up a new camp song. So, I wonder: If I didn’t work, and they didn’t go to camp, what would we talk about at the end of the day? Perhaps the old adage — absence makes the heart grow fonder — applies to working moms and kids too.

And whenever I get the chance to bring them to my office, they get so excited to see what mommy does all day. At their ages, it just looks like I play on the computer all day, but somehow, my guilt is immediately assuaged when they say, “Mommy, I want to be just like you when I grow up.”

Editor’s Note: Gina Brown has always viewed the world through a comedic lens. By day she does partner marketing for a very large nonprofit and by evening, her quick wit and knack for storytelling has her penning a book of Gina-isms and performing on stage. She is a divorced mom to two school-age girls, both of whom provide constant fodder.

Follow along Gina’s twisting path at, @ginanicolebrown and Gina Brown Comedy on Facebook.

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