6 self-reflection questions for every working mother

“It completely rips my heart open when my baby is reaching for me saying ‘Mama’ and I can't pick her up because I have to go to work. Here's hoping the day goes by fast.”

A Facebook friend posted this status recently, and it tugged at my heart, too. Every working mom I know—whether full-time, part-time, corporate or self-employed—occasionally (or often) feels some level of guilt related to the blend of work and parenting responsibilities.

No matter how flexible the work situation, conflicts inevitably arise. A child gets sick on the day of an important meeting. The preschool Mother’s Day Tea is at 10:30 a.m., smack in the middle of the business day. A meeting runs long, and you must scramble to find someone to pick up your child, because you can’t get to the school on time. An urgent business call comes in at 8 p.m. as you are reading your child’s bedtime story.

Whether you feel a chronic guilt in your dual roles, or just an occasional pang, this post is for you.

Guilt can be a vague and crippling emotion. It can occupy your thoughts, sap your energy, reduce your productivity, and even cause you to be less emotionally available. Yet it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause.

Frequently, it relates to a “should.” For example, I should spend more time with my kids, and less at the office. I should love my kids more than my job, but I don’t. I should bake for my kids’ Valentine’s party instead of sending store-bought cookies.

But often, the “should” is nonspecific. “I feel as if I should be doing something different, but I don’t know what.” It’s worth digging deep to identify the should’s and disarm the guilt. Energy spent on self-condemnation can interfere with getting great work done and being an effective parent.

Here are a few questions to jumpstart your self-reflection. Pick one or two and jot down your thoughts on these topics. You will likely spot some things you can do to make a big difference in your outlook and reduce the feelings of guilt.

What are your goals for parenting, relationships, and work?

Feelings of guilt can crop up when you have a goal (realistic or not, spoken or unspoken) and know that your actions conflict with the goal. Here’s an example: deep down, a single mother might want be a full-time, stay-at-home mom, but reality requires bringing home a paycheck. Instead of feeling guilty, one strategy is to ask, “What would I be able to do as a stay-at-home mom that I’m not currently doing?”  Then, figure out how to build some of those activities into your life.

What or who are you serving through your work?

Your children? A thirst for achievement? A fear of poverty? Your marriage? Your employer? God? Guilt can creep in when you believe you should be serving one entity, but through your actions, you are serving another. Consider this example: You profess that family comes first, but you also have a very strong drive to achieve. You find yourself frequently saying to your child, “Shhh. I need to finish this report. Go play quietly until I get this done.” Two hours later, you still are not done. Your child has complied with your request for quiet, but at what expense? Are you conveying “family first” through your actions? If not, what adjustments can you make to bring your actions in line with who/what you value most?

How present are you with your children?

In 2009, a mom wrote a priceless blog, “The Gift of Undivided Attention.” Read it and reflect on the anecdote she shares regarding the marble run. Zinger. How often is your mind elsewhere as you engage with your kids? What do you need to change in order to become fully present in your parenting interactions?

Do you Relate and Require well?

Relating refers to relationship-oriented behaviors: asking, listening, including, coaching, and encouraging. Requiring encompasses results-oriented activities: creating expectations, focusing on goals, insisting on excellence, setting appropriate controls, asserting your views, and confronting problems.

Just as good managers use both skill sets in the workplace, so do effective parents. In the busyness of navigating work and parenting, it’s easy to rush or even overlook the Relating activities. And out of guilt, some parents avoid Requiring. They want their limited time with their kids to be pleasant and conflict-free, so they skip confronting poor behavior or enforcing expectations about bedtime or media use.

Sometimes, guilt stems from knowing we should be Relating or Requiring with kids more or differently from what we’re doing today. If you manage people at work, consider completing the free assessment at ManagingPeopleBetter.com to look at how well you Relate and Require with your employees. As you answer the questions, think about how the topics apply in your parenting and jot notes about what you can do differently at home.

Do you rebalance your work/life “portfolio” every quarter?

Investment experts suggest looking at your asset mix periodically to make sure your financial portfolio continues to meet your goals. The same holds true for your work/life “portfolio.” A schedule that worked when your kids were in preschool may need revamping as they age. Some moms assume parenting gets easier as the kids get older, but that’s not always the case. You may find the teen years require more of your attention. Also, how well are you taking care of yourself and your relationships? It’s all too easy to say, “I’ll exercise next week after this project is over.” But then something else comes up next week, and the exercise never happens.

Are you or your children experiencing isolation?

Does your schedule have a mechanical task orientation without much time for pleasantries? Are you conveying to your kids that you value task completion and achievement over relationships? Do you make time for date nights with your spouse, Scrabble with your girlfriends, board games with your kids, and community service with your family? Do you ensure that your children have ample time with friends? Or do you regularly reply to their requests for playdates, sleepovers, and hangout time with, “We’ll make that happen soon, but today doesn’t work” (and soon rarely materializes)? Be purposeful about scheduling people time.

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