The parent guilt or the feeling of not doing enough for your children can be debilitating, especially for working parents. It can adversely impact your overall confidence, output at work and home. Here are some tips which can help you enjoy working without experiencing the parent guilt.
Share your successes and struggles with your children. There was a time when I chose to work overseas without my family with me and I first checked-in with my son to understand how he felt about it. He said to me “Mom I want you to pursue this job as this has been your dream. And if I stop you today, you might stop me from pursuing my dreams in the future”. I got this reply because my child has never been a bystander in my professional life. He has been a part of that journey. He is aware of my dreams, what drives me and the sacrifices I have made. I share with him the larger impact my work has on people and communities. He encourages me before an important meeting or a presentation. He enquires about the well-being of my team and if I am supporting them enough. Kids feel valued when they know that they have played a part in your success and that makes all the hard work and sacrifices worth it.
It is quality over quantity. It’s great if you can spend more time with your kids. But if time is a constraint, then make the time you have with them count. Switch off that phone, make eye contact and really listen to them. Physical presence is very important but psychological safety is more important. So, during the times when you cannot be physically present for your kids, provide them with even more psychological reassurance and let them know that you have their back no matter where you are.
Don’t apologise when you don’t have to. Be cautious of using the words 'sorry' or 'apologies' with your children for something that is important to you. Do not say "I am sorry I have to work" or “I am sorry I have to go to the gym” The words 'sorry' or 'apologies' signal to your children that you are doing something wrong. You are not doing anything wrong by pursuing what makes you happy. Women tend to apologise a lot more to their kids . This leads to further stereotyping of gender roles and is only going to increase expectations and the guilt.
Define your must do’s and great to do’s .My must do’s for my child are- facilitate good mental and physical health, provide a safe environment and inculcate a strong value system that will help him navigate his adult life with confidence. Everything else is ‘great to do’ for me. Attending the parents evening in school is a must do, volunteering for the event is a great to do. You have to define your own must do’s and great to do’s because when you try to make someone else’s goals your goals without the same resources and circumstances- the guilt starts trickling in. This demarcation will help you prioritise your time and resources and because you have a step-up level it will help you celebrate when you are able to achieve something in your ‘great to do’ list.
Stay away from people who ‘try’ to make you feel guilty. I have often have had people question my ambition. At first I used to vehemently justify that I am managing both worlds well, then I went to a phase of owning my ambition and now I just distance myself from such people. It is very important to identify and maintain a distance from people who are constantly trying to make you feel like lesser parents. They may have their own reasons to tell you what they do but you do not have to take home their disapproval of your parenting style.
Make your child responsible for their own well-being. Like in the case of many working parents, grandparents have been a great support to me. However, I often had another guilt of putting so much responsibility on them especially when they finally had the time for themselves. And hence from a very early age I started to coach my son to be responsible for his own well-being and learning. I rarely clean his room. He does it himself. I do not complete his school project for him. I let him face the consequences of his actions. This helps in two ways. You reduce the pressure on your parents and yourself gradually and also your child learns to be accountable.
Don’t be too hard on yourself: I have taken my son to school on a holiday. We have turned up for a birthday party a day earlier. I have begged a store manager to keep the store open for another 10 mins because we forgot to buy school shoes! We all have these moments. Avoid ruminating over these insignificant(and in hindsight very funny) episodes and punish yourself emotionally. I laugh at them along my child. This teaches them not to beat themselves for failing. I openly share my failures with my friends. When you share your parenting struggles you help normalise them and remove the stigma. Now my son now reminds me to double-check the birthday invite before we go to a birthday party and I happily play along!
And lastly- I have loved watching the British sitcom 'Motherland' which uses comedy to highlight the everyday struggles of parents. It made me laugh and gave me some important parenting tips too.