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An advocate of Ashoka’s “Start Empathy” Initiative, Jill Salzman is currently growing her third entrepreneurial venture, The Founding Moms, the world’s first and only kid-friendly collective of offline meetups and online resources for mom entrepreneurs. Read more »
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Got guilt? It's an epidemic. And we've all been there. Rushing out the door after dropping off your preschooler to get to work on time? Check. Late for a meeting because of a sick child? Check. Determining that you want to be a stay- or work-at-home parent and second-guessing yourself when you meet someone who chose to do the opposite of you? Check.
You can fight it. You can feel terrible about yourself. Or, you can take an active role in extinguishing the pain and suffering that comes with parenthood guilt. The Wall Street Journal has reviewed the "dependency dilemma" that exists in American families and Psychology Today has explored the topic of guilt in the context of "serving the cherubs" that are our American children. ABC News has even reported on the "external blame and recrimination that seems to bombard working mothers on a daily basis." Nonsense, I say.
The secret to living a life guilt-free? Make a mental shift that aligns with your parenting beliefs. If you understand that your kids only know their world, and that world includes Mom at the computer more frequently than their friend Harper's mom, it’s okay. They’re not living Harper's life. The constant comparison to other parents is akin to staring at your competition while trying to build a business. It will only feed your guilt and negativity. It will get in the way.
You can be an example of empowerment to your children. You can show them that they, too, can have a strong work ethic. If you’re focused on your iPhone or spend an hour at the computer while they do their homework, it’s not a sin but a blessing. And mostly, it’s just your children's way of life. Going over all of the associated pessimistic views—self-centered, absorbed, negligent—won’t do you any good. My girls have said things to me like, “Time to finish e-mailing, Mom,” and “Are you going to go work now?” Do I feel badly? Some days. Do I stare at their little faces when they say those things and realize that it’s not out of self-pity that they ask those questions but is simply an expression of their own actual lives that they’re living? Indeed I do.
Need a few suggestions to begin living a guilt-free lifestyle?
Incorporate the kids. Talk to them about what you do. Whether you work at a bank, you're self-employed or you're a home-based parent, including your children in a conversation about what you do is massively beneficial for all parties involved. Many parents assume that their children are too little to understand or that they have no interest in what their parents do. Au contraire, mon frère. Your actions are already setting an example for them; if you explain verbally what you do, too, they will not only understand but they may help you out. (And if you ever need a Stapling Intern or a Paper Sorting Employee, they may even offer to work for you.) The best - and possibly the only - way to cultivate empathy is to share your ups and downs with your children. Feeling guilty or overwhelmed? They may sense it, and you may be inclined to discuss it with them. What better than to have a brainstorming session about how you can work together? Bring out the changemaker in you. Pledge to be really present - at meals, during homework time, or even during quiet time in your home. While you don’t have to go all the way, becoming more of a transparent parent can help your relationship with your kids to flourish.
Create a schedule that helps you help yourself. Guilt often stems from disorganization in your day. Parents are very good at piling on chores, duties, errands, meetings and playdates. This leads to exhaustion, stress, confusion and--you guessed it--guilt. Carve out a day or two a week that you won't overbook yourself -- and schedule that time as if it's a meeting. Put it right into your calendar. You can then use it as head-clearing time or downtime with your children.
Stop listening to outsiders. Remember, the game's about quality, not quantity. Peer pressure exists, and it can get bad. There was a time when I succumbed to so much social pressure that instead of staying home with my firstborn 3 out of 5 days a week, I threw her into daycare so that I would be able to attend more work meetings and look better in the eyes of my peers. I was not ready. And in retrospect, my work colleagues would have been absolutely fine with my absence in those early months. Had I known what I know now, I would have kept my firstborn out of daycare several more months than I did.
My favorite moments that reinforce how normal "working mommies" are in my household happen on Saturday afternoons when my toddler plays with her friends. I overhear her instructing her playdate to sit behind her in her toy car, and then she asks, "Do you wanna play Let’s Go To The UPS Store?” Priceless.
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