Right after I became a mother, I was lucky enough to be able to spend the first seven months at home getting to know my baby, bonding with him, and adapting to motherhood. After those first precious months went by, I found a job and started pursuing higher education by taking some college classes. I knew I would be a working mom, though sometimes I felt guilty about it.

I’ve earned my degree since then, and I’ve never stopped working. Sometimes I held two jobs, while other times I worked one main job to bring in enough income to support us. I’d be lying if I said that I enjoy working all the time and don’t think about spending time with my son instead.

But if the tables were ever to turn so I could stop working and become a stay-at-home mom, I don’t think I would ultimately be happy deep down.

When I look back, some mornings were hard as I pleaded with my son to get out of bed and then dropped him off at daycare when he didn’t want to go. But as a single mom at the time, I didn’t have a choice in the matter. Even if I had wanted to stay home and parent him full-time, I couldn’t.

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Getting Rid of My Working Mom Guilt

I’m married now, but I’m still the primary earner in our household. My income makes a big difference and contributes to our overall lifestyle.

These days, my son still has a hard time waking up in a pleasant mood on weekday mornings. But when he does wake up in a good mood and walks past me getting ready for work in the bathroom, he always says the same thing: “I like what you’re wearing, Mommy.”

This is followed by my favorite daily affirmation from him: “I love you. You’re the best mommy ever.”

I thank him graciously because he can never say those phrases too many times. They will always warm my heart. When he goes off to school and I go to work, I no longer feel guilty for being a working mom.

My son still adores me and thinks I’m the best mom ever, even though I work more than 40 hours per week.

So why can’t I cut myself a break and adopt that same mindset?

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The Pressure on Mothers

As moms, we’re often too hard on ourselves. We try to be everything to our kids. We want to wipe every tear, correct every mistake, and console them for every moment they experience any sadness. In reality, that just isn’t possible.

The pressure to spend so much quality time with children is far greater for working mothers than it is for working fathers, according to a study from the University of Maryland. These feelings of inadequacy and guilt can greatly affect the mental health of working moms.

Tips to Combat Working Mom Guilt

The study actually suggests that working moms focus on other responsibilities — like earning more money and managing the household — and do so guilt-free because the amount of time they spend with their children actually has little to no impact on their academic or psychological success.

“The most powerful thing you can do is to be a good role model, both as a parent and as a working woman,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist author of The 10 Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make Before Forty.“If your children are doing well in school, are mostly content at home, and will talk to you about what’s going on in their day, you’re probably doing a good job.”

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Quantity vs. Quality

In my opinion, it’s always been more about the quality of time versus the quantity of time that you spend with your child. Because I work both outside and inside my home, I cherish the free time I get to spend with my child that much more.

I focus on productive and meaningful things that we can do together to make the most of our time.

Not only do my work responsibilities allow me to appreciate this free time I have, but they also contribute to both my overall happiness and the quality of my family dynamic. Being a parent is no doubt the best and most rewarding job ever, but I also love that I’m able to hold a valuable role outside of my family and to pursue other aspirations and passions through my work.

The Importance of Your Work

I’m very transparent with my son when it comes to explaining why I work and how we all benefit from it. Contributing to my family’s lifestyle by earning income puts food on the table and clothes on our backs. It also creates more options and possibilities for our finances.

My goal is to be able to provide experiences and opportunities for my children that I didn’t have myself as a child.

Money definitely isn’t everything, but if I can help my son attend college without taking on student loans, or if I can cover unexpected expenses on his behalf without compromising my strong bond and good relationship with him, that makes this mom delighted.

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Fathers Feel the Pressure, Too

The traditional division of labor is fading in the modern American home. With today’s dads expected to equally participate in housework and child-rearing, we asked them whether they also feel guilty as working parents.

  • “I do sometimes feel guilt about not helping my wife when she is having a rough day with the kids,” says Josh Ladick, president of business contract solution firm GSA Focus. “But I know that as a sole provider, I cannot help in these ways all the time. The best I can do is be thoughtful about setting aside special time away from work to be with my family.”
  • “I work from home, and it’s hard for me because I see all that my wife does for our family,” says campaign manager Adam Jacob, who works for industrial appliance firm. “On days where I’m busy with work, and she’s doing everything alone, I feel terribly guilty. I feel bad when I see her changing diapers and hear her dealing with crying kids while I’m laughing on a conference call in the other room.”
  • “Even if you’re the primary breadwinner, you can’t help but feel as though you could be doing more,” says Mike, a father from New Jersey who declined to provide his surname.

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Dynamics in Same-Sex Couples

Queer couples, too, feel the strain of a traditional, one-breadwinner household.

“I know it’s good for the kids to have a mom who can be there for special events during the school day, but I’m never the mom who gets to do that. I’m pretty much … the dad,” says Roseann Henry of Psychology Today, who previously documented her child-raising experiences as part of a lesbian couple.

These testimonials prove that striking the balance between one’s career and one’s family affects all parents — not just working moms in straight relationships — and that it’s difficult to do both in a way that doesn’t create feelings of guilt.

Additional reporting by Connor Beckett McInerney.