Sarah Lux-Lee is the founder of Mindr. When she's not creating opportunities for new parents to learn and grow with their littles by their sides, you can find her at the swings with her almost two-year-old, Ella.
It’s been a really exciting time for Mindr. Our team is growing (welcome, Rebecca!) and we’ve been busy bees working on what comes next for the Mindr community. We’re building some amazing partnerships (check out our upcoming collaboration with the masters of dining with pipsqueaks, Nibble + Squeak) and just around the corner we’ve got another history-making event to follow our recent afternoon at the United Nations (watch this space). But all this activity comes at the cost of time I can’t spend with Ella, and so something I’ve been thinking a lot about is mom guilt.
The thing with mom guilt is that once it lodges itself within you, it can’t help but multiply. The tiniest seed of an idea that there must be something wrong with the decisions you’re making, the priorities you’re following, or the parenting approach you’re adopting, grows branches that reach into your workplace and your home, and the quiet spaces for reflection in between. If you’re like me, they tend to flower at the end of a long day, when you should finally be taking the opportunity to rest but instead you worry about whether you’re getting it right.
Although it’s a burden most of us carry quietly, none of us is alone in feeling it. “Spend five minutes talking to any new working mother, and you’re almost sure to hear the word guilt,” says Lauren Smith Brody, founder of The Fifth Trimester consultancy and author of the book by the same name. “I surveyed and/or interviewed more than 800 of them—CEOs and hourly workers, adoptive moms, single mothers, and traditional, married moms, too. The G-word came up again and again.”
This coming Tuesday, I’m appearing on a panel for the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers community about the intersection of parenting and ambition. Also on the panel is psychotherapist Erica Komisar, whose book Being There suggests that a mother’s physical absence from her child (for example, due to work or further study) in the first three years of life may trigger mental disorders for that child later on. In Erica’s view, the intense mom guilt that this approach inevitably triggers is a good thing. “Women who feel guilty—it’s a ‘signal’ feeling, that something’s wrong, that they’re in conflict,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “If they go talk to a therapist or deal with the conflict head-on, they often make different choices and better choices.”
At Mindr, we take the view that new parents need options, not guilt. We create opportunities for people to learn, grow and connect with their little ones by their sides, whether they’re staying home or back at work. We believe fulfilled parents make for happy kiddos, and that investing time in our interests, goals and ambitions as adults – and letting the next generation see and become a part of that journey – can only strengthen our relationships and make us better parents and role models.
We believe fulfilled parents make for happy kiddos, and that investing time in our interests, goals and ambitions as adults – and letting the next generation see and become a part of that journey – can only strengthen our relationships and make us better parents and role models.
But of course, that doesn’t stop me feeling guilty. So what can we do to help make the guilt subside? Here are some of the things I’m trying – but I’m still figuring it out, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Be strict (with ourselves) about screen time
I’ve found that the more time I spend being “productive” on my phone, the more guilty I feel. My constant connectivity and accessibility means I’m never fully working (hi, photo of my friend’s adorable cat!) and I’m never fully switched off (oh look, an email, I’d better respond immediately!) Difficult as it is to disconnect (and to manage expectations about my availability), I’m trying to put my phone away both during quality time with Ella and during intense periods of concentration on work. It’s a pretty new thing and I’m a self-confessed phone addict so I’ll let you know how it goes.
Don’t evaluate yourself day by day
If you’re anything like me, there’ll rarely be a day when you get everything right. Some days I’m concentrating so hard on work that I’m not fully present even when I get home, and other days I launch myself so fully into the swing-side laughs that I let a deadline pass accidentally. Find a period of time that works for you, and check in with yourself to see whether you’ve struck a balance over that whole period. Lauren Smith Brody suggests evaluating about every three months; for me, it’s a shorter period of a week. If by the end of the week I feel like I haven’t focused enough on Ella, I try to make the weekend all about family time. If we’ve had some great adventures together that week, I allow myself some hours of weekend work to catch up.
Remember how much they appreciate the little things
For me, mom guilt often leads to feeling like a grand gesture is required. I’ll scour the local listings for something really special to do with Ella, and feel frustrated if I come up blank. Friend and founder of the Beyond Mom community, Randi Zinn, is great at reminding me to think little – going for a walk, sharing a tasty treat, or being silly at the park are important moments of connection and shouldn’t be overlooked.
So those are some things I’m working on. How do you manage your mom guilt? And for the dads in the house, do you feel guilty too?