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On that day in the office, I was a 10 on a scale of 0-10. It wasn’t the good kind of 10, however. My boss asked if I had gathered the information that she asked for two days ago. I hadn’t. At that moment a huge wave of guilt threatened to drown me. I was failing in all my roles. On a scale of 0 being no guilt and 10 being lots of guilt, I was a 10.
What I didn’t know was that guilt can be good even though it feels terrible. I didn’t know to pull the feelings of guilt toward me, instead of pushing them away, so I could make them work for me.
Working Mom Guilt and Energy Drains
As a working mom, there aren’t enough hours in the day to balance work and life. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed with guilt on any given day. It seems near impossible to fill all the roles you play well.
You’re not alone when you feel like you are failing all the people you care about most. When you feel you’re not doing enough or being enough.
Guilt zaps emotional energy in a heartbeat, making it difficult for your mind to focus on the tasks that need doing.
You put your head down and keep pushing forward, day after day, week after week. Thinking if you just do more, you won’t feel like you’re falling short in every area of your life. Hoping you can keep feelings of guilt at bay.
But, doing more just drains additional mental, physical, and emotional energy.
Making Guilt Work for You
What if there is a way to make guilt work FOR you?
There is, and it’s a game changer.
Instead of pushing the feelings of guilt away, pull them towards you as an alert to negative thought patterns or opportunities to motivate healthy change.
On the day I felt sure I failed in all my roles, here’s what I was thinking:
- As a mom, I didn’t volunteer to go on the 3rd-grade field trip and my son was disappointed.
- As a wife, I didn’t respond enthusiastically about my husband’s suggestion that we get a babysitter and go out to dinner, just the two of us.
- As an employee, I didn’t meet my boss’s request for information in a timely manner.
- As a friend, I didn’t check in with my pregnant friend who was on bedrest.
- As a daughter, I didn’t return my mom’s call from last week.
A big long list of I didn’t …
Flipping the Script About Guilt
To flip the script, I needed to ask if my feelings of guilt told the whole story or could they serve as an alert to a negative thought pattern.
By focusing on what I DIDN’T do, I failed to acknowledge what I DID do. For example,
- As a mom, I talked with my son about plans for his birthday party.
- As a wife, I ran errands that my husband didn’t have time for.
- As an employee, I handled several curveballs of unexpected requests.
- As a friend, I texted a funny cartoon about motherhood to my friend on bedrest.
- As a daughter, I chatted with my dad during my commute to work.
While all the roles I played were important, I held myself to the highest standard of fulfilling the roles in exactly the ways I thought everyone wanted, all the time (aka perfectly). Instead, I needed to hold myself to a reasonable standard that allowed impromptu priority setting, knowing that not everyone or everything would receive my attention.
Using Guilt as a Healthy Motivator
I could also use guilt to help me find opportunities to reaffirm my priorities and realign my actions. By embracing the negative feelings, I could assess if I was unintentionally setting my priorities without consideration of my core values.
While being a working mom is a top priority, so is nurturing my relationship with my mother. I would want to know if she was going through a difficult time and needed my support. (Since I didn’t even listen to her voicemail, I don’t know if she needs anything). I could use the feelings of guilt to temporarily realign my actions by borrowing some time with my kids to call my mom and offer support.
Next time you feel guilt creeping in or threatening to engulf you, do the following:
- Pause and stop pushing the feeling away.
- Get curious. Question what the guilt is trying to tell you.
- Is it a sign that you are focusing on what you didn’t do instead of what you did do?
- Can you use the feelings of guilt to help reaffirm your priorities and realign your actions based on your core values?
Wrapping It Up
The one thing you need to know about guilt is that it can be good despite feeling so bad. In Rising Strong, Brene Brown writes, “Guilt gets a bad rap because the emotional discomfort it causes can be a powerful motivator for change.”