“Most women are not thinking about ‘having it all’, they’re worried about losing it all – their jobs, their children’s health, their families’ financial stability – because of the regular conflicts that arise between being a good employee and a responsible parent,” observed Ellen Bravo, director of the Family Values @ Work consortium.

This is a great point to consider and one that opens our latest guest speaker – Nicolette Rubinsztein’s book Not Guilty: Balancing a successful career with motherhood.

Parents At Work CEO Emma Walsh recently interviewed part-time CEO and author Nicolette about why the guilt factor is still an issue for working mums.

It was an interesting discussion with a number of hot topics explored.

As a mother of three young children Nicolette told her story of how she navigated her way through caring for her family yet still managing to be a successful woman in a high level leadership role – part-time no less.

Readily admitting that it wasn’t always easy Nicolette also confessed that she didn’t feel quite the same guilt as most working women do today.

Nicolette explained the concept of Rushing Woman’s Syndrome and put forth the question that is asked by many a modern woman today – how can we have it all without the marriage breakups, anxiety, and extended illnesses – which, as statistics are showing, are rapidly on the rise?

Guilt means having committed or implied to commit a crime or offence. What offence exactly are working mums committing for them to feel so guilty? Time away from children and partners? Time away from work? Not getting everything done or done exactly how they’d like it? Not meeting others expectations?

Of course there are no silver bullets.As Emma and Nicolette explored we need a holistic approach. Guilt can fuel so much of the anxiety, overwhelm, frustration we feel in a day so it’s really important we catch it early as it has the potential to spiral into deep seated resentment and hurt. At the end of the day we are enough – not just doing enough – but actually are enough. We don’t need to try to be better, simply live in a way that supports your health and wellbeing and the flow on effect to everyone around you will change the guilt game forever.

Tips that can support working mums (indeed all of us) to not feel so guilty are:

  1. Let go of getting it right all the time – it you don’t let go of perfectionism it creates a perfect opening for guilt (amongst other things) to slip in. You’re human, accept it and learn from whatever mishaps that occur. Some days you may not even get to the must-dos. Remember, tomorrow you get another chance.
  2. Build self-worth – not by identifying with what you do (i.e. mother, career woman, expert task master etc) but rather – from the quality in which you care for yourself. Guilt can’t enter if you truly value yourself as a woman and are are not attached to the tasks-of-life you are doing.
  3. Avoid getting sucked into the mouse wheel of ‘to-do-lists’ where you end up trading off your relationships. Know when to say yes and when to say no. You can’t do everything and if you work part-time it doesn’t mean you need to work twice as hard as it will only make you feel more stressed and anxious overall. In fact, you will be more productive if you are clear about what it is you can and cannot achieve at work and at home.
  4. Watch for early signs of stress and anxiety – usually guilt has entered before these two step in but our physical body and our children’s behaviour are both barometers for indicating when stress has taken over. Take a breath and appreciate something about yourself. Address the stress by asking what it is you can change and what conversations do you need to have to work with these feelings your having.
  5. Talk to your manager and your family about your guilt – they may be able to work with you to alleviate some of it.  Put forth a proposal for what may work better and whatever you do don’t wear the ‘I’ll just do it’ hat – it’s a recipe for a life long affair with burden.
  6. Remember requesting flexibility is a legal right these days. There’s actually a law that provides some structure for how employers can approach work-life balance for their employees. You don’t need to feel guilty about asking for it – everyone – parent or not, has this right.
  7. Know your value and take ‘sacrifice’ out of your vocabulary. You are not sacrificing career over family or family over career if you are following what you truly want and need so watch your own mind game gremlins are not playing with you. You are a role model for both your children and colleagues alike if you manage all your responsibilities with care, integrity, purpose and enthusiasm. There is no sacrifice for anyone if you live in this way.
  8. Prioritise self-care – when we feel nurtured from the inside we are far more honouring of ourselves and others throughout your day. This means you are more likely to have a deeper connection with people in each moment – be with your children, colleagues or clients. Small moments of true connection are far more meaningful and rewarding that lots of time buzzing about trying to get everything done or pleasing everyone. We all need time for repose or rest in our day.

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