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How To Deal With Working Mom Guilt

Aug 20, 2021

Burnout is a term you’re likely not just familiar with but have experienced yourself. Being a working mother seems an inevitable recipe for emotional burnout, one that leaves you depressed and hopeless. 

Working mom guilt is a specific phenomenon that describes the emotional stress mothers experience when they can’t spend enough time with their children. This can lead to self-doubt, incessant worry, and low self-esteem.

We’re going to take a look at how to deal with working mom guilt and ensure every moment spent with your child is fulfilling.

How Does a Working Mother Affect a Child?

A significant portion of working moms' guilt comes from a fear of harming their child's overall well-being. 

Fortunately, increasing evidence has shown that the psychological and emotional health of a child is not significantly impacted by having a working mother. These studies are built on the data that said working mothers make sure to organize their time effectively and go for a quality over quantity approach.

It is perfectly acceptable to talk to your kids about your work. It’s easy to say, “I have to work to pay the bills and put food on the table,” but is this really the message you want to give to your children?  I feel it’s essential to explain the fulfillment we get from our job and the contribution I make to society as a physician. 

Does that mean you have nothing to worry about? Not quite. 

Burnout occurs when you expand more of these energies than you replenish over an extended period. Replenishment can happen during work, but mainly it occurs away from work while doing activities that bring you joy and inspiration.”

What Are the Effects of Working Mothers on Family Relationships?

It’s common for working mothers to worry about how well their family holds up in their absence. 

According to the Pew Research Center, families are better off economically when there are two working parents in the household. On the other hand, working mothers often shoulder the burden of working and taking care of the children. This can lead to difficulties maintaining a proper work-life balance, affecting everything from relationships to mental health.

Related: Why Are There So Many Surveys?

You don’t have to tackle being a working mother alone. Deanna Larson MD is dedicated to empowering women with the lifestyle changes and emotional growth needed to achieve their goals.


How to cope with working mom guilt?

When a quarter of women aren’t allowed a promotion due to balancing working and parenting, it’s no surprise why so many feel guilty.

Am I failing my children? Will I miss out on future job opportunities if I take too many breaks from work? If you’ve asked these questions, it’s time to take your life back into your hands. 

It’s incredible what a little planning, a positive attitude, and some coaching can do to alleviate working mom guilt. 

Organize & Set Up Reminders 

Nobody likes feeling scatter-brained. Get comfortable setting up reminders on your phone, especially with early timers, so you don’t have to scramble at the last second. Make sure these have loud alerts so you can hear them anywhere in the house.

Split Responsibilities 

A common trait of working mothers is trying to do it all. Whether it’s delegating weekly chores to your partner or asking a friend to babysit on the weekends, it’s time you started splitting responsibilities. I don’t want to start a war between the sexes, but to give you some statistics for clarity, 50% of male physicians have a stay-at-home partner, whereas only 9% of female physicians have a stay-at-home partner. Women physicians tend to be the “default parent”. By this I mean, the parent who gets the sick calls from the school, does the family organizing, and knows what size shoes everyone wears. 

Self Care / Put Yourself First 

Yes, sometimes you have to say no! Self-care isn’t always bubble baths and wine nights. It also means letting someone else shoulder the responsibility for once. This can also look like sleeping for an extra hour in the morning or taking more frequent days off.  Throughout the generations in my family, the wife/mom has traditionally been the martyr who put themselves last and took care of everyone else. For example, I want to show my daughter that it’s not only okay but important for me to have hobbies and activities of my own. It is not selfish but valuable to take care of myself. It actually makes me a better mom. 


It’s hard to relax when you always feel behind on your duties as a mother. The APA has emphasized that chronic stress has only gotten worse lately, which has a profound impact on your ability to take care of your children. Unclench your jaw, take more frequent breaks, and remember it’s okay to ask for help. Sometimes, for me, it feels wonderful to help another working mom out. Instead of criticizing or judging, try to hold another woman up and remind them that they are doing the best they can.  Sometimes the people who are the most critical of others are secretly doubting their own parenting. It’s amazing what a kind word from another working mom can do to brighten someone's day. 

Re-examine Your Values 

Your values are the foundation of who you are as a person. They include (but aren’t limited to) how you treat people, how you treat yourself, and how you view the world at large. Consider writing down in a journal several qualities you admire in yourself, as well as a few qualities you want to strive for this year. I think it is important to decide what memories you want to create for your family.

Do you want them to remember that the house was always spotless or that you put your phone down and did something fun or even just talked and spent time together? We often get hung up trying to plan the most expensive and memorable vacations when really the moments we remember are the small ones. What kids need is to feel safe and loved and that you’re present in their life.

Follow Your Own Rules 

What’s the point of setting up personal rules, then not following them? If you have a hard time keeping up with your regimen, start with fewer rules. This can look like delegating one chore a week, then later delegating three once you’re comfortable. If you need to, ask a friend to hold you accountable! Most importantly, give yourself the grace that you are doing the best you can. As a female physician, I often fall into perfectionist mode, which can lead me to be very hard on myself.

It’s important to recognize the little voice in our head that constantly tells us we’re not doing it well enough. When you hear that inner voice telling you you’re not “good enough,” realize that you are commonly the hardest on yourself. We need to be mindful of this and learn to be kinder to ourselves.

Sometimes I find it useful to combat negative self-talk by pretending I am saying it out loud to my best girlfriend in the same situation. Would I really tell her that she is failing or being a bad mom? Of course not. We would never say out loud to another person the hurtful, negative self-talk we tell ourselves every day. We need to learn to have our own back, give ourselves more self-compassion, and learn to be our own best friend.  

Let Go of Negative Thoughts

The spiral of negative thoughts can grip us in a whirlwind and pull us under before we even know what’s happening. Learning how to reduce working mom guilt is practicing thought work. The first step is recognizing the negative thoughts. Most people are unaware that 85% of our thoughts every day are negative. This is a genetic code that has been passed down in order for our brain to keep us safe.

Our brain is always looking for danger and hence generates fearful, suspicious, and sometimes even untrue thoughts. No one decided to have a child to spend their life and thoughts feeling guilty and negative. Think about the feelings you wanted when you thought about having children, I bet none of them were guilty. I bet you wanted to feel love and pride and wanted to raise them to be the best version of themselves. 

Talk To a Professional

You’re far from the only one to deal with working mom guilt. Reaching out to Deanna Larson is a proactive step you can take on your personal journey.

“Life coaches specialize in helping you identify your goals, recognize your hindrances, and work out strategies to achieve everything you'd like. Of course, you could do this on your own, but having someone knowledgeable and dedicated to holding you accountable will make things happen faster and with more consistency.”


Working mom guilt is a mountain: like any mountain, it can be climbed step-by-step.

Today’s working mothers are working longer and harder. This is not only impacting the work-life balance of their family but their mental and emotional health. Getting started on a more fulfilling life begins with asking questions about what you need and, just as importantly, what you want.

Tackle your personal mountain with an empathetic shoulder. Deanna Larson MD is a board-certified physician and life coach ready to help you start improving your life from the inside out.

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