A guide to dealing with mom-guilt for entrepreneurs
Let me start by saying: mom-guilt is a thing. Whether you are a mother to children or pets, or a caretaker to a different loved one: women tend to feel guilty a lot...
This morning was particularly bad for me. When I drop off the kids at daycare, we have this ritual where they hop on a chair in front of the window, and wave at me until I disappear around the corner. This morning however, I ran into another parent dropping off his kids, so I held the door for them. It only took a few seconds, but by then I was already so distracted (thinking about my schedule for the day, a call I wasn't particularly looking forward to) that I FORGOT TO WAVE.
I still get a pit in my stomach thinking about it now. My kids standing on their chair, waving at me. Expecting me to turn my head to wave back, like I always do. And instead, they watch me just walk away without ever looking at them...
I was completely crushed when I realized it. I told my husband and he just laughed and said they would have forgotten about it the second I disappeared out of sight, because they would be so eager to start playing with their friends. And I know he is right, but...MOM-GUILT.
Because mom-guilt is not rational...it sneaks up on us when we're not paying attention.
Let me start out by explaining that mom-guilt makes total biological sense. Us humans started out as hunters and gatherers, and the job description couldn't have been more clear for either gender.
- Men: in charge of immediate survival by providing food and protection.
- Women: in charge of survival of the species by having children and taking care of them.
So if a man were to momentarily forget he had a child, that would be a good thing. It would mean he could focus more on making sure everyone could eat by the end of the day.
If a woman would momentarily forget however, that could potentially mean the child would die. Which would not be very good for the continuity of humankind, so best to build in a mechanism to prevent that from happening (again): enter mom-guilt.
Of course, this is a theory, but it makes sense, doesn't it?
Speaking of theories: this mom-guilt guide starts with another one.
The theory of the hierarchy of human needs by Abraham Maslow, to be exact. (Fun fact: Maslow himself has emphasized that it is just a theory, and there is definitely evidence that does NOT support the theory. But that doesn't stop about everyone who has ever written or said anything about personal development to quote his theory.)
Short summary: Maslow said that humans have a hierarchy of needs.
- First, they need food and water in order to survive.
- Second, they need to feel safe.
- Third, they need a sense of love and belonging.
- Fourth, they need self-esteem.
- And last on the list of needs is self-actualization (feeling inspired, growing as a person, living your purpose).
The theory may not be the best framework to explain adult behavior (which is what Maslow meant it to do), but it a pretty accurate representation of what I learned from years of working with mentally ill people.
It is my belief that we get mentally ill when our needs are not met during critical times (like when we are young children) or for a prolonged period.
So the most important thing you can do to give your child the best opportunities to grow up to be a happy, healthy adult, is make sure their needs are met.
I am sure that you have the most basic levels covered: your children have access to food and water, you keep them safe and you love them. And I am also sure I don't need to tell you that is giving them a head start compared to a large part of the world population, who don't have those privileges.
Mom-guilt antidote number 1: be thankful that your children already have an advantage over many of their peers living all over the world.
I know: you are aiming a little higher than just basic needs.
So let's expand on those needs for a bit. The next step towards growing up as a happy, healthy adult, is becoming securely attached. Adults who were not securely attached as children have an increased risk to develop personality disorders, become anxious or depressed.
For this, we take both safety and love to the next level. The type of safety you need to provide for secure attachment is creating a consistent and fairly predictable environment for your child. This means:
- setting healthy boundaries;
- doing what you say you will do;
- being consistent in your behavior and what you expect from your child.
Here is where it might get a little more tricky as an entrepreneur, especially when you work from home.
A common result of mom-guilt is that we try to compensate our 'neglectful behavior'. For example by stretching boundaries (installing your kid on the couch with the ipad when you need to do a call when you wouldn't normally let them have the ipad that time of day, anyone?). Or by saying you need to go upstairs to do some work, but then deciding to help out with their school project after all, the one time, and not the other.
Of course, doing this every once in a while won't hurt. But 'consistent inconsistency' can be detrimental to a child's self-esteem and how they feel.
Mom-guilt antidote number 2: be mindful of creating a safe and predictable environment for your child, so they can grow up securely attached.
Third, it is important that your child feels heard and seen.
Adults who did not feel heard and seen as children struggle with issues like low self-esteem and narcissism, or the milder 'fear of being seen' (quite inconvenient if you're an entrepreneur in this online world).
Let me start by saying this: it is not easy to make sure your child feels completely heard and seen. Especially if you have more than two kids, it's just not always possible to give everyone your undivided attention at the moments that matter most. But there are a couple of things to be mindful of:
- BE PRESENT! When you do spend time with your kids, make sure you are present. Shut down the laptop, mute your phone, and just be with them.
- Make sure you know what is going on in their world, so you can be physically present for the big stuff. Your child's opinion of what that big stuff is might be very different from your perspective, so listen. If you can't be there, because you're traveling, make sure they know how much you would have loved to be there and that you are thinking of them. But don't make it your drama by wallowing in mom-guilt.
Mom-guilt antidote number 3: be present when you can, and listen.
The top level of the pyramid is about self-actualization.
Ideally, we want our children to grow up to live a life they love. And for that, they need to be self-aware, make their own decisions, live their life purpose. It is important that:
- their parent or caretaker is there for them when they need them;
- that the adults in their lives set a good example;
- and that they get the space to figure out exactly how they want to live their life.
The traditional model in our western society is that the mom is present almost fulltime, in order to meet all those needs. But the saying 'it takes a village' is not just about the fact that children can be a handful. It is as much about that children can benefit greatly from having different people in their lives that love them and take care of them.
In fact, it is highly unlikely that all their needs can be met by just one person.
Think about your relationship with your significant other. I don't know about you, but my husband is pretty amazing, but he is not all the things. For example: having an amazing multiple course dinner with matching wines is in my top 3 of favorite things to do. My husband is a beer-drinker that could eat cheese sandwiches every day for the rest of his life and be completely happy about that. So when I crave a nice dinner, I call up my sister who happens to share my love for good food and wine.
What if you are not meant to be all the things to your children?
What if you accepted that they get some of the most important things from you, but that you get to fill their lives with some amazing other people who can give them other things? Or the same things as you can, when you are unavailable? If you look at it that way: what a gift to give them!
Antidote number 4: fill the lives of your children with amazing people who love them, can be there for them, inspire them, teach them, make them laugh...