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'Mommy guilt' a fact of life for most with kids

  • Story Highlights
  • Expert: "Mommy guilt" both instinctual and cultural
  • Forcing "quality time" can backfire, he says
  • A child can pick up on parental guilt and ultimately feel like they're the cause
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By Judy Fortin
CNN
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DUNWOODY, Georgia (CNN) -- Caring for a 5-month-old son and a nearly 4-year-old daughter seems like a full-time job for Amy Little, but the Dunwoody, Georgia, mother also works 40 hours a week in sales at AT&T.

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Anna Cate Little, almost 4, hugs her mom, Amy Little, during day-care dropoff.

"I feel burned out, doing too many things at once and get stressed," she says. "I think every mom feels guilty about something and I think working moms especially feel guilty."

A mother doesn't have to work 40 hours a week outside the home to feel that way, says clinical psychologist Mark Crawford. He believes some moms are born to stay at home with their children and others are not.

"Mommy guilt" is both instinctual and cultural, he says. "Our culture looks to Mom to be the person who is there, who is hands on. There is this feeling that 'This is what I'm supposed to be and anything else I do is selfish.' "

Crawford says working mothers who feel an inordinate amount of guilt often try to overcompensate by forcing quality time with their children. These attempts can often backfire. "Any guilt that you carry from home to work or work to home will interfere in your performance in that role and in your satisfaction with that role. So you're really cheating yourself."Video Health Minute: Watch more on the parental malady known as "Mommy guilt." »

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Little says she sacrifices time for herself and her husband to be close to her kids. "With your children, you feel like you want everything to be perfect. You don't want to shortchange them," she says.

Crawford argues that mothers shouldn't have to worry about shortchanging their children because they have a life of their own.

"I think it's being in tune with what are the needs of your child," he says. "I've seen moms who worked who were as involved with their children, knew their children's friends, knew everything there is to know about their children as much as any stay-at-home mom because they took the time to get involved and show interest."

Not only is guilt harmful for couples, but Crawford believes it also hurts children. "A child will pick up on that and they'll ultimately feel like they're the reason that Mom feels guilty."

Little has learned that firsthand with her preschool-age daughter, especially as they rush to get ready in the morning. "I know that she definitely senses that I have guilt, and I've tried to control that to make her morning easier."

Crawford advises mothers such as Little to give themselves a break. He says answering some important questions about their situation can help. "Am I doing something good for me, good for our family and ultimately good for our child even if it means I'm not there at this particular moment?"

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Little is looking for the perfect balance between home and work. Like all mothers, she finds that some days are filled with more conflict then others.

"Those are the days where I feel especially guilty and think, 'What am I doing working?' But other days when we have a good drop-off (at day care) and she waves goodbye to me, I think everything is going to be fine." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Judy Fortin is a correspondent with CNN Medical News.

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