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Guilty As Charged: We All Working Parents

A working mother of over 16 years shares the joys and pains of parenting and work to help ease the struggle to achieve work-life balance.

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My male friend was carrying his newborn from his house to a convenience store. It was a short walk and the baby wasn't wrapped up. We passed a group of women who all started to coo at the babe in arms – look, that man is carrying a baby! How cute!

I couldn't help wondering about the reaction if the baby had been carried by her Mom. It might have been - what kind of mother exposes her child's body in this cold weather? Perhaps Mom would not hear the loud whispers, but the awkward looks most certainly would make her feel guilty.

I know this feeling called Working Mom Guilt. It is the most real of all reals in work-life!

It is no surprise that research finds that women tend to feel guiltier than men. My theory would be that social conditioning drives this gender disparity. Beyond the underlying morals and standards at the core of guilt, a sociological view is that the individual tries to live by standards constructed by society.

Working parent guilt often comes from an imagined version of what it means to be a perfect parent or a perfect employee. It is seen in the context of interaction with others. Therefore, we can say that it is culturally and contextually specific.

With all the attention given to the Mommy wars, it's easy to assume that job-related guilt is something only Moms experience. This is not correct. Balancing work and family exert the same pressure on responsible men as well.

Part of being a good parent means financially supporting a family. Doing that (almost always) means having a job or running a business whether you are male or female. Working parent guilt can be experienced differently. Here are some forms it takes:

- Depending on someone else for childcare

- Missing a child's school presentation

- Missing a meeting to attend a child's medical appointment

- Asking for flexible work hours to pick up a child after school

- Negotiating for paternity, or family sick leave

- Accepting credit for performance at work or career success

No matter how guilt plays out for you, it is the most useless kind of emotion. Fear, anger or happiness are emotions that generally motivate and drive change, but guilt is retrospective. You can't do anything with it. Getting over that feeling is not always easy but here are a few tips to try:

- Think about all the things a job is paying for, like school fees, extra classes, or family vacations.

- Delegate work to teammates at work, share chores and responsibilities with the spouse, older children and relatives.

- Know this: there is no such thing as a perfect parent. Do not let the 'shoulds' rule your life.

- Decide the right approach, be open and honest to ask for time off work.

Guilt is influenced by how others perceive us and our decisions. People will undermine and question our lifestyle choices simply because they are different from their own. Ignore them.

What's more important is addressing our individual guilty feelings. To dismantle guilt's power, you must interrogate it. Once we do that, we can stop rebuking ourselves and start living life.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 Igazeuma Okoroba

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