The Mum Guilt Generation

Striving for diversity is at the heart of what we do at Retail inMotion. Because we want to make sure our employees feel at home here, we need to be able to have tough conversations about tough topics and NOT accept the Status Quo.

One of these status quo topics that I love to challenge is the area of “Mum guilt”.
I really believe that we need to change the narrative we have about work toward our children;
Mum guilt is not only something we feel we need to push down if we want to be seen as a leader, it is also not cool not to have it.

First, why is it de rigueur to not openly speak about it in the first place?
1) Only Mums really understand Mum guilt, there is no point bringing it up to any other audience.
2) As women our mindset should be that we are lucky to be at the table ….thank your stars and don’t ruin it by speaking about the downsides of being at the table.
3) It’s not professional.
4) It’s impossible to be great mums and great managers/ leaders/ employees. Can’t be done, so don’t scratch that itch.

I’m here to challenge all of the above, and I’ll start with a mindset fix that will explain why I don’t get it often.

Mum guilt sucks. Think about who you become when you are full of guilt. What one good thing does your mum guilt do for you?
Are you the best version of yourself – for either the company or the kids?
More importantly (because #youmatter) are you in any way fulfilled or satisfied when you are immersed in guilt?
Imagine you were fulfilled and satisfied, how would you show up at work and at home? What version of you would the company and the kids get?

Why I don’t get it often (note, I am human, I do get it sometimes):

1) Wanting to be with my kid is different to feeling guilty about not being with my kid. I lean into that.

2) Trust – I practice trust in my husband, my childcare, the school, etc. They haven’t let me down yet. Plus, I’m trying to raise a kid who isn’t helpless and can ask for what she needs.

3) I genuinely believe that seeing a mum who is happy about going to work, and who contributes financially to the household as a partner is really good for my daughter. This is not to disrespect work-at-home mums – I truly believe you are the heroes in this tale. See the next point!

4) I am a nicer person when I go to work. Being a work-at-home mum does not suit me. I realised that when I took extended maternity leave. I love being with my daughter, but all day every day without big problems to occupy my mind makes me twitchy and anxious.

5) I compartmentalise well. When I am with my daughter, I am really with her. When I work, I work. Getting more quality into each interaction is a great antidote to guilt. It takes practice. Don’t expect it to happen overnight.

6) Emotions are catching. What are the kids picking up from our guilt?
7) If I ever feel “judged” by well-meaning people who might have an opinion about our family arrangements, I bring out my mantra “happy mummy, happy kiddie”.

If you also suffer from the need to be indispensable at work, you will double your angst. It’s a lose-lose situation. Feeling the need to be indispensable is really a whole other blog, but a simple mindset change is understanding where you create the most value and do that.

With all this in mind, I encouraged my team to bring in their kids recently. Three of us have kids in the perfect age range for a day in the office. My daughter has grown up with Retail inMotion, so she was very keen to “check out” the new members of my team. She acted as host and showed the other little girls the important parts of the building “where we keep the sweets, the beanbag room and the toilets”. I thought it was important for the kids whose Mums are new in RiM, to be able to mentally picture where they go each day. To see that their Mums have a nice time at work, there’s a lot of laughter in our office. They also got to see their mums in full work mode, having meetings, etc.

The girls got two jobs 1) organise the stationery cupboard and 2) look after my little dog. The stationery cupboard looks amazing, and the dog was tired from all the walks and love he got. There was also lots of hide-and-seek, sweets, ice cream, and a nice lunch out. They finished their day by having their own “meeting” – which was super cute. They didn’t want to go home and apparently were full of stories about the great day to the rest of their families.

With all of this in mind and as a small start to changing the narrative around Mum guilt, I recommend that you begin by changing your language. Get really aware of how you speak about work and make some changes. For example, instead of saying “Mummy has to go to work” say “Let’s both go have a great day and swap stories later”. Instead of saying “I’m so sorry, I wish I could be here” – say “let’s both go have some fun, can’t wait to hear about your day later”.

Changing the narrative together means that we continue to give our children the strength to make choices. With choice comes freedom. Whether they want to crack that glass ceiling, work from home as a full-time mum or chose a sweet spot in between, let’s set that foundation for them.

Laura Magee

Laura Magee


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