If you’re considering re-entering the workforce, get ready to make tough choices and cope with daily guilt.
You’ve made the decision to re-enter the workforce after taking a break to start a family. Going back to work will help with the family budget and it will help you get back on your career path, but this decision brings one more thing you may not have considered — guilt associated with being a working mother.
You’ve probably been told that you can have it all: a great career, relationship and family. But I’m here to set the record straight – by telling you the ugly truth about why women can’t give the same priority to personal life and work.
If you think this article doesn’t apply to you, I challenge you to consider the following scenarios to help you figure out your current priorities:
- You have dinner plans with your family and your boss asks you to stay late to complete a project, which option do you choose?
- You’re scheduled to go away for the weekend but you didn’t complete your portion of the project, which is on the critical path. You are the only one who can complete it, and your team committed to work all weekend to ensure your company hits the launch date. Do you reschedule your getaway to go into the office
Work or family first?
When you choose to go head back to work, you must make a choice to put either your job first or your family first, and then accept the consequences of your decision.
If your career is more important to you, be prepared to spend less time with your children, spouse and friends, and expect to give up your private time and forgo hobbies or exercise.
Conversely, if family is your greatest priority, you can expect work to suffer. You could be passed over for stellar work projects, miss important customer meetings, and be excluded from certain travel assignments and professional social gatherings.
It is possible to work and have a family; however, each decision is wrought with sacrifices and tradeoffs that are unavoidable, and you will grapple with the guilt of sticking to your choice on a daily basis.
When you are at work, you will worry about your family and health. When you are with your family, you will worry about work and getting ahead. You will always have the nagging feeling that you are not doing enough to satisfy both home and work obligations. These feelings will keep you wondering about whether you made the right choices for yourself and can diminish pride in your choice to be a member of working society.
Let’s be realistic
Shelly, a sales consultant for a BioTech company recalls,
“I recently started working again at a BioTech company. I feel a great deal of guilt and anxiety over wanting both a career and a family, and often wonder what will happen to my life if I pursue both. I don’t know how to achieve success being the homeroom mom at my son’s school, supporting my husband and being at the top of my game at work. I feel so guilty about wanting work to be a top priority. I put my life on the backburner to do right by family, but now it is my turn.”
Shelly’s problem is a realistic one that many women who re-enter the workforce face. When women want to make work a priority, they usually discover that they have to change their whole way of life, including their current priorities and attitudes. They soon learn that it is nearly impossible to achieve a five star rating as the primary care giver, volunteer school mom, playmate, housekeeper, wife and working professional. They also find themselves with a host of other gut-wrenching challenges such as:
- Wanting a more egalitarian partnership with their spouse but not understanding how to discuss with him their need for a greater division of household labor.
- Figuring out what to do when the nanny calls in sick and they can’t find a replacement or if the children are too sick to bring to daycare. Will their husband stay at home with the children?
- Fretting over their inability to attend their daughters play during school because they have an important meeting.
Is there a solution?
How does a woman achieve a strong sense of pride and happiness when she is consumed with feelings of guilt because she is constantly forced to make choices between the two things that bring her joy – work and family?
The first step in managing your guilt is to accept your choices and learn to feel good about them. When you are happy, your family will be happy. Other strategies to smooth your transition into the workforce so that you are less likely to feel guilty include:
- Recognizing that your life will be consumed with compromises and negotiations. There will be days when work is the priority and on other days family will be the priority. This is okay.
- Modifying your expectations. Eliminate the phrases “should have” and “ought to” from your vocabulary. They only increase feelings of guilt.
- Setting rules. Know what is important to you and set firm boundaries otherwise your life may get out of control. For example, if family night is every Wednesday, make it a point to never miss it.
- Understanding the need to be more flexible. Without flexibility, everything remains constant and you and your family will cease to grow.
- Refraining from comparing your work/life relationship with others. Some people know how to paint a positive picture and communicate the ideals of their lifestyle while hiding all of the negative baggage.
You can have a career while meeting the demands of family. But you should remember that you must consciously choose to be great at one or the other, feel good about your decision, and accept the results.
Earlier in my career, work was my first priority. Today, family is my first priority and I often struggle with an internal force that pulls at me to devote more time to professional activities. Change is difficult to manage, and implementing these strategies will take commitment and persistence. Make it a point to share your stories with other women so that they may learn about the ups and downs of re-entering the workforce with ease and good feelings.