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Working Women and ‘Mom-Guilt’

‘Mom Guilt’ is an all too familiar feeling for working moms everywhere. Could our evolution play a part in it? Is it really valid or is it a figment of our imagination?

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Why we feel guilty spending time away from our children.
Why we feel guilty spending time away from our children.

When my son was growing up as a toddler, there would be times I would long to take a break. If I did get that break, I would spend that time worrying about my child or feeling guilty or both. And this is commonly referred to as ‘Mom Guilt’, an all too familiar feeling for working moms everywhere. Other women I spoke to could relate to this, even stay at home mothers. They experienced it when they needed to leave their child to go somewhere out or do a short travel.

I have tried to rationally reason and reduce this guilt by taking care of all practice considerations of care and safety, but somehow even after 8 years of parenting, it’s still there.

Feminist conversations encourage us all (women) to think like a man! Would a man feel guilty if he took a break from the kids, they ask? No. Then why do we?

Where does the mom guilt come from?

It comes from our evolution.

When we were hunter-gatherers, women stayed very close to kids physically when men went hunting. The reason women had to stay close physically, is because if you let the child out of sight, that could mean your child got eaten up by the sabre toothed tiger.

We talk so much about how the hunter-gatherer brain affects our modern-day behavior, our fight or flight responses, our stress trigger systems. But not much is said though about how that brain affects our modern-day parenting behavior.

As we evolved, the more we, women, enjoyed our ‘me-time’, the more our ‘hunter-gatherer’ brain thought about the danger we might be putting our child in. And that is how our mom guilt manifested.

Every time we are not physically with our offspring, our brain tricks us with worry. THAT’s WHY, men do not feel this guilt, because their brains never evolved to worry, it evolved for hunting and providing for the family. Because they are not used to worrying about the child, many working men feel less of a ‘guilt’ when they stay away from the child.

So, what does it mean for us?

It means “Mom guilt”, is here to stay, evolutionally.

Rational part of your brain knows that if you leave the child for a few hours (or even days), he or she is in no real practical survival danger. But your emotional part of the brain, is always stronger.

Even though many leading research bodies have proven that mom guilt is a sham, only when I understood the evolutionary reason behind this ‘feeling’ is when I felt a bit more confident in letting it go.

What should we do instead?

First, Identify and label it. Understanding where that guilt feeling is coming from makes it easier to deal with.

Secondly, work with it. Remember, it’s evolution. That it’s your brain doing what it’s best trained to do for thousands of years – to ‘survive’. Make decisions by thinking consciously, rather than being swayed by mom guilt.

Awareness, acceptance and overcoming it will take practice, sure, but it does get easier. It is the only way to let it go and take away its power on us.

Carl Jung said, “The biggest burden of the child is the unlived life of the parent.” Don’t let the mom guilt stop you from living your own life.

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