When you do a lot of reading about working parents (like we do), there are a few topics that surface consistently, and one of them is guilt. Interestingly this word is rarely associated with working fathers. But it is common to read about working mothers who claim they are racked with it. I find this surprising and confusing.
It's not that surprising (at least to me) that some people want working mothers to feel guilty. I get it, and I've met those people. Some people fear change, like the changes that have been occuring over the last 50 years as mothers' work has transitioned from home-based work, to less work (think washing machines and dishwashers), to paid work outside the home. Apparently those who are bothered by these changes want to either slow the pace of change or stop it completely so they try to convince mothers that it is somehow wrong when they strive to make contributions beyond the home and family. (Unless it's volunteer work. Apparently everyone admires volunteer work.)
Dictionaries vary slightly when it comes to defining the word "guilt". For the purpose of this article, I prefer the definition found in the Cambridge English Dictionary; "a feeling of worry or unhappiness that you have because you have done something wrong, such as causing harm to another person".
I get that some don't like change and want to discourage mothers from pursuing careers. Maybe they want to justify their own choices. Maybe they can't see how a mother's career, just like a father's career, can provide benefits for the children she is raising. Or maybe they don't like the fact that the presence of women often changes a work environment.
But here's what I don't get; why do women waste time wrestling with these crazy and out-dated judgments? Given all of the research that shows that women who pursue careers often raise kids who become capable, happy adults (and sometimes the most capable, happy and fairly paid when they pursue careers of their own), isn't it crazy to feel guilty about working today?
Some claim that a mother shouldn't work if her spouse makes enough money to cover necessities for the family. And I've never (and I mean never) heard anyone claim that a man ought to cut back the hours he works if he makes more than enough money to cover his family's necessities. I've also never heard anyone suggest that a father shouldn't work if his wife is able to support the family (although I do know of a few men who abondon their careers when this is true).
If we're going to stop associating the word guilt with working mothers, and please, let's do this, mothers need to lead the way. If you are a mother (or father) and truly feel guilty about working (meaning you actually believe that you are hurting someone via your career) quit your job! A feeling of guilt implies you know you are doing something wrong and you shouldn't be doing it. So don't do it!
Otherwise, don't let people scam you.
Pointer to fascinating research about parenting and judging parents
When our kids were growing up they flew alone from Denver to Detroit every summer to visit their grandparents in the Mitten State. They took their first trips when they were seven and eight and were so intent on going alone, they insisted on being there different weeks. Maximizing a rare chance for some undivided attention was probably their primary motivator.
Most of our friends and co-workers knew about the ritual, and I distinctly remember the time one of my co-workers, my manager actually, told me, "I would never let my children travel alone on a airplane." Apparently she wasn't impressed with our attempt to foster a strong sense of independence in our kids while ensuring some quality time with Grandma and Grandpa. Instead, she thought we were putting them at great risk. And I assume she thought the risk was greater than any potential reward.
This memory was triggered recently when a friend pointed me to an article written by Tania Lombrozo that was published on the NPR web site in 2016. It's called "Why Do We Judge Parents For Putting Kids at Perceived - But Unreal - Risk?" and references research* published in the open access journal Collabra. The article and research provide really fascinating, and sometimes surprising, information about how we perceive various risks parents take, and it draws attention to some thought provoking ideas like the following:
Working parents need to make a lot of deliberate decisions about childcare, and this article makes it clear that society judges those decisions ... sometimes harshly. And sometimes unfairly and ignorantly. This article will get you thinking, hard, about making decisions that will help your children both short-term and long-term. It may build your confidence in terms of decisions you've made or are making. Or it may cause you to question some decisions. Either way, it'll make you think.
File this story under "Fresh Thinking". And at least try to skim the article. It's really fascinating.
* More about the research: It included a series of clever experiments written by authors Ashley Thomas, Kyle Stanford and Barbara Sarnecka. They found evidence that shifting people's moral attitudes toward a parent influences the perceived risk to that parent's unattended child. Learn more.
Pointer to research results published by ScienceDaily
When our kids were in school, we knew a couple who were highly respected parents. Imagine my thrill when I learned that they limited their very smart and very talented son to two (or was it three?) extracurricular activities at a time. While other parents were bragging about the hours they spent shuttling their kids from activity to activity, these parents confidently let people know that they thought some reasonable limits were best for their son.
Their confidence set the example I needed to let go of any concern I had that my own kids might be falling behind because they weren't overbooked and in constant motion. It was really helpful and comforting information during a time that I needed more help and comfort!
If you would appreciate knowing that your kids don't need to be booked 24/7, look no further than this article published by ScienceDaily: Are your children overdoing it? Too many extracurricular activities can do more harm than good. It summarizes results from a small study in England and points out that "a busy organized activity schedule can ... potentially harm children's development and wellbeing." It may provide the info working parents need to better manage their time and protect their sanity.
Originally Published: May16, 2018 | Last Updated: Jun 11, 2018
Being a working parent is a challenge. After reading the book The Hate U Give recently, I'm reminded that it's even more of a challenge for some parents, like those depicted in the book. This young adult novel was a book club "assigned read" and one that I feared would be a difficult one. But it was just the opposite. While the subject matter is heavy and revolves around a police shooting of an unarmed young man, the story is told in a way that is compelling and well-rounded. Along with the very difficult situations, there is love, laughter and teen-aged silliness (and angst).
Even though the book is targeted at readers much younger than me, I found it compelling, relevant, and very worthwhile. It made me realize than one person's idea of struggle just may be another's idea of privilege. If everyone in the US (at least) read this book, I think we might have at least a little less strife and a lot more understanding of each other.
Submitted by Jim Haselmaier
My wife and I had careers that involved a lot of interaction with people who live outside the US. At one point, my wife was leading a team that included five employees in Mexico and one in India, and she invited them to come to Colorado, where we live, to do some strategic planning. While they were here, we invited them over for dinner. She turned the evening into a "team building activity" by having everyone prepare dinner as a group - featuring foods from Mexico and India. (Since she doesn't cook, and I was busy, I appreciated her creativity in terms of getting food on the table!)