Being a bad mother– the “guilt trap” - Emerge UK
Main menu

Being a bad mother– the “guilt trap”

Over the last 5 years we have coached senior women and run women’s programmes around the world. This has resulted in our model Elev8te, the 8 Traits of Successful Women, our development programme RISE and our Empowered Women’s Development App.  At the end of each programme we collate impact statements and we will be sharing these alongside a series of tips for women.  If you would like to hear more tips then download our App now or contact us for details on the RISE programme.

In this blog, we look at some of the challenges that mothers face in the workplace and how they manage their guilt when returning to the workplace.  On our RISE Women’s Development programme, this is often a major discussion for those women who are trying to juggle the demands of families and working.  We don’t doubt that men who have families and work also have issues but it is a fact that today women are still generally perceived as the major carer in a family unit and therefore this presents a very real issue.

So, it appears that, as women, we can’t win, if we are a mother that works, we are perceived as “not caring about our family’ and if we are a working mother we are perceived as “not caring about our career’.  I use the term “workplace mother”, as it annoys me intensely when a woman says that she stays at home with the children and people respond with the statement “oh so you don’t work then”. A mother who stays home to look after her children and the house works harder that a fair proportion of people I have seen in the workplace who cruise through their day chatting to colleagues, going for cigarette breaks, having long lunches and spending hours on the internet. The nonstop demands of looking after a young family can often be far more intense than being in the workplace. On our model the 8 Traits of Successful Women the 5th trait is Self-Sustainability and this is the hardest one for mothers in the workplace, coupled with the guilt that many women we work with feel.

As a mother of 2 children who were only 18 months apart and who started a business when the second was 8 months old, I can really relate to this.  I spent the first 7 years of motherhood feeling guilty.  What was the guilt? Guilt that I wasn’t a good mother, a good manager, a good worker or a good wife – I felt that I wasn’t totally effective in any area of my life, I felt I was just getting by.  People would judge me and openly tut, muttering about how I had taken too much on and how my children would suffer from me being away so much and wrapped up in my career.  This haunted me through my children’s younger years as I had no benchmark and no idea if this was true.  What if I was permanently damaging my children by working?  But, if I didn’t put a concerted effort into working, we would struggle for money and I would lose the momentum I had built up with my clients? This cognitive dissonance made it really difficult for me to relax into either role and I had no colleagues at work or friends who could help me to work through this torturous maze of emotions.  Until, when my children were 7, I had a revelation. We were having a deep conversation about their childhood and they told me I was a really good mother which caused me to have a complete paradigm shift.  They had no recollection of all the times I had missed a sports day or been home late.  All they remembered was the good times we had spent together.  Suddenly I realised that young children had no concept of time and how long you were spending with them, proving they had been well cared for and happy with the people looking after them they were just delighted to have your attention.  So here is the lesson I want to share with all mothers – it is not about the number of hours you spend with your family it is about how present you are when you are with them.  An hour spent truly mindfully is worth more than 4 hours spent distractedly listening and keeping one eye on your emails on the phone or taking calls.  That is what they will remember. If only I had learnt this earlier in motherhood – the anguish I could have saved myself. This is the benefit of affinity groups in the workplace or developing cohorts of women who can support each other.

On the RISE Women’s Development Programme, we talk to many mothers who echo these feelings and are locked into a vicious cycle of exhaustion and guilt and we work on being able to say “no” so that they can actively prioritise what is critical to them at this point in their life.  Organisations need to really support women in the workplace. Often, and particularly in early days of returning they will feel under confident and want to prove that they are still as effective as before their maternity leave. Therefore, they will feel nervous about discussing their feelings of guilt or letting people know that they are overwhelmed.

Some of our forward-thinking clients have put a lot of effort in supporting women during their transition from pregnancy back into the workplace.  With one client we have developed a webinar for managers that takes them through all four phases from announcing the pregnancy to preparing to eave to whilst they are on maternity leave and returning to work.  As soon as the other to announce her pregnancy the manager downloads the webinar which is full of hints, tips and important information at all stages.  It reminds them of the sensitivities of the transition, (a few hints on what to say and what not to say) and ensures they prepare effectively for their return to work. We also deliver 3 coaching sessions to each direct report, before they leave, during maternity leave and when they return so that they have an outlet to discuss this.

So, ladies, ditch that guilt and remember you are really doing your best and your best is more than good enough.


Gillian Jones-Williams, MD, Emerge

Image source: Google

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Contact Us


54b High Street, Fareham, Hampshire
PO16 7BG

Find Us

About Emerge

Established in 1997, and since then we have seen year on year growth and success in the national and global development market. We are proud of our client base and delighted that our growth has been based almost entirely on referrals from our satisfied customers...

Read our anti-slavery policy

Follow Us