Don’t Get Guilty, Get Even (Guest Post)

One of our fellow working-mom bloggers wrote today’s guest post. Her name is Katrina Alcorn, and her blog is Working Moms Break (“for moms who can do it all, but wonder why they should”). She writes intelligent, personal posts about important topics for working moms. Please check it out — but first read her guest post on guilt. Susan

Almost all the working moms I know (and a good number of the stay-at-home moms) struggle with guilt. Now that I’m blogging about it, I’ve heard from hundreds of women and men (usually women), who worry they aren’t doing enough for their kids, or their careers. Or both.

Deep down, most of us know we’re doing the best we can, but for some reason, we can’t shed the guilt. It comes and goes as it pleases, like an alcoholic ex-boyfriend with a house key.

Part of our problem is that we’re so busy, our world can get very narrow. We think we’re the only person on the planet who’s not coping. This must mean there’s something wrong with us. We don’t talk to each other because we don’t want to whine. No one likes a whiner. So we suck it up and work harder.

It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that looks like this:

I had a big wake up call two years ago. After pushing myself way too hard for way too long, I literally had a nervous breakdown and had to stop working.

I spent a few months being a complete wreck, which I won’t go into here. When I was once again fit for company, I began a one-woman quest to understand what happened to me. That journey has involved a lot of soul searching and generous amounts of therapy, as well as more journalistic pursuits, such as reading the literature on women and work, and talking to other moms.

You know what I learned? There are things I could have done to make my life easier and I probably could have set firmer boundaries between work and home.

But I also learned what the experts on labor trends have long known: The U.S. is an increasingly hostile place to live for millions of working moms and dads. Allow me to share a few facts:

  • The U.S. workweek is the longest in the industrialized world.
  • The U.S. has the highest percentage of full-time working women of any country in the world.*
  • Career and income penalties for part-time work are dramatically higher in the U.S. than other countries.
  • The U.S. is the only developed country that does not guarantee paid maternity leave.
  • Most jobs in the U.S. aren’t made for people who take care of children and yet, most mothers (more than 70%) work.

Is it any wonder so many of us feel so overwhelmed?

The next time you feel get caught in this vicious cycle, I’d like to offer two radical notions:


I know that doesn’t make you less busy, or less overwhelmed. But perhaps it will make you feel a little less guilty.

And if you’re not burdened with all that guilt, maybe you’ll be more likely to advocate for what you need at home and at work. Maybe you’ll more motivated to vote for people who want to make life better for working families, or give money to an organization like MomsRising (no, I don’t work for them) which is advocating for the kind of policy changes that would make our load a little bit lighter.

Here’s the bottom line: Until we see our situation for what it is, we will continue to hit our heads against the wall and blame ourselves when we get bruised.

Katrina Alcorn is a former journalist, now writer and web consultant based in Northern California. She writes regularly about the perils of working and raising children at Working Moms Break. You can also find her on Twitter: @kalcorn.

*Source: Sharon Lerner, “The War on Moms: On Life in a Family-Unfriendly Nation,” 2010, p. 149

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