When I worked in the corporate world, commuting 45 minutes each way to an office building overlooking a beautiful pond and landscaped walking path, I could not wait to have more flexibility and work remotely. For a few minutes in the morning and again in the early afternoon, on Sunday evenings as I was preparing for the week, I would be overcome with the guilt of not being home with my boys, with feelings of sadness that I was working instead of playing with them. I would daydream about the day I would be able to pop out of my office for lunch or a quick snuggle. I would quickly push it out of my head because “the man” said I had to be in the office, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Fast forward a few years, and I am working remotely. My boys are cared for in my home, and I am living my dream. There is only one problem; it doesn’t always feel like my dream. Somehow, that guilt I used to experience several times a day has spread into every transition throughout my day. I feel guilty for starting work in the morning, when I hear my boys playing mid-morning, when they scream out for me before lunch, when they beg me to stay after lunch, when they are watching TV before nap, when they are yelling because the don’t want to nap, when I hear them wake up and giggle through the house, when they get fussy before dinner, and when I have to slip away to finish working after they fall asleep.
Sure, I have the flexibility to pop out at any one of those moments, and I often do. The guilt comes in when I don’t. I am choosing not to. It’s not someone else telling me I can’t; it’s me. It’s not because I can’t pop out; it’s because I don’t want to. It’s not because of some arbitrary rule or deadline; it’s because mommy didn’t work hard enough yesterday and has to keep working. It’s my choice and my fault that I’m sitting at my computer instead of playing with my boys. At least that’s the way it feels. I am choosing this over them, and it constantly breaks my heart.
Working from home is incredible, and I am so blessed to be in this position. Absolutely. I know that. But, it does not change the fact that the mom guilt I experienced before pales in comparison to what I experience now, and I was completely unprepared for it. Although mom guilt will likely always be a reality, there are strategies you can put in place to alleviate some of that guilt while working a j-o-b, chasing your dreams, or taking a little time for yourself.
Schedule Your Time
One cause of guilt is not being present. When I am with my boys, I’m thinking about the next task I have. When I’m working, I am wondering when I will get to spend time with my boys, and if it’s enough. Scheduling your time is critical because that way you know you have time to complete each of your top priorities in a given day, week, month, etc. By taking time each week to schedule when you will work, play, exercise, have quiet time, socialize, and do the administrative, household tasks each week, you can be confident that each activity has dedicated time. Your mind is free to focus on the task at hand instead of trying to rush through it or otherwise not being 100% present.
Of course there are times when you can and will want to just pop out for some special snuggles or to kiss a skinned knee. Absolutely take that time. Scheduling your time is about creating peace of mind, clearing distractions, and allowing mind to engage in what you are doing at the moment. It allows you to set aside your “mommy”, “entrepreneur”, or “employee” hat for just a moment and focus on the one you are wearing. The reality is, we never really set those hats aside; we simply stack one on top of the other, and that’s okay.
When you don’t schedule your time, you aren’t sure when you will have time to do other tasks, so you often end up trying to multi-task. This looks like checking email while your child is doing homework or drafting a document while your kids are playing with cars. Instead of giving them your full attention, you are trying to “make up” time. Again, not being 100% present results in severe mom guilt.
For this reason, it is critical to set boundaries for yourself. Work only during the allotted work time. When it is play time, only play. Even if it’s boring, even if you technically could be doing something else, even if it feels like a complete waste of time. Remember that these are the moments where your children are learning where they fall on your priority list. This is when they learn that they can talk to you about those tough subjects and that they have your complete attention. They aren’t going to have to interrupt you to get some time with you. In whatever you are doing, give it 100% of your focus.
Establish Reasonable and Clear Expectations
In life, our to-do list is rarely empty. There is always a task that could be done. Even though we schedule two hours to work on a project, it may take significantly longer than that to actually complete it. When we schedule our time, it is critical to define clear expectations of what you want to get done during that chunk of time. Chances are, you aren’t going to finish an entire project. What part of that project are you going to complete? What do you need to accomplish in order to feel good about the progress you made, will allow you to complete the overall project on time, and allow you to mentally set that aside until the next time you pick it up?
When we don’t have reasonable and clear expectations, we are always left feeling behind, which leads to “You kids need to hurry up and finish breakfast so mommy can get back to work”. Rather than enjoying our play time, we are rushing it so we can “catch up” on what we missed. We don’t really know if we are behind or ahead because we haven’t actually mapped it out. As long as there is an incomplete task on the list, we feel behind, and that is a terrible place to be.
Get Out of The House
Hold the phone. Did you say get out of the house? After saying how you spent your life trying to get back in your house?
Yeah. I know. Sometimes, though, you just need to get out of the house. Take your computer to a coffee shop or rent a coworking (also called co-working) space for a day. Sometimes, getting out of the house knocks the mom guilt out for a few hours. You don’t have the visual and auditory cues that remind you that you are a mom first. Yes, we all know being a mom is our top priority, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still have dreams or need to pay the bills. It does not mean that we believe being a mom is not important. Mom guilt will tell you that every time you choose to do something over being with your kids that somehow you are actually choosing that thing over your kids, as in placing it at a higher priority. That sounds ridiculous, but our brains play that game all day long.
As a side note, we use the word “choose” like we actually have a choice. Flexibility is an illusion in that sense. Yes, in some cases we could choose to work all night long and spend all day with our children, but that isn’t a realistic option. Working during the day is, in essence, not really a choice, though we often refer to it that way. Again, that’s the mom guilt talking. Leaving the house helps shut it up for a moment.
Getting out of the house stills your mind, clears the distractions, and allows you to focus. When you can focus and get your work done, you are better able to spend quality, dedicated time with your kids later. You are actually doing everyone a favor by leaving, so go get that latte, grab the cozy corner table, and drift away in the land of productivity.
Enjoy the Journey
Life is a journey, not a destination. Remember that every activity is simply moving you farther down a path. There are few instances of completion in life. A major project is simply the start of a new direction. Getting the kids to clean the toy room is simply a blank canvas for another mess. Scheduling your time is simply a step toward well-being. These aren’t destinations; they are steps in a direction. Stumbling doesn’t mean you have failed; getting it right doesn’t mean you have succeeded and can move on to something new. It is a state of constant refinement, growth, and finding what works for you. Every day that you take a step in the direction of your goals, you become stronger. It takes time, but you will one day look back at where you are now and realize how far you have come.