Mother’s Guilt

As some of you know, in addition to being a wife and mother, I am a first year law student.  As of this moment, I have completed 3 exams, and will take the final one this Wednesday.  I feel accomplished, but most of all I feel extremely guilt.  

I feel guilty because I have worked extremely hard all semester, but at the expense of spending time with my children.  I feel like my actions were selfish, not because I did not spend more time with them, but because I am happier than I have been in a few years.  I feel like my happiness was to their detriment.

Mother’s guilt is a very strong emotion, which many mothers feel at some point during raising their children.  This feeling is not reserved only for working mothers.  A mom could feel guilty simply for going out to dinner with friends, even if they stayed home all day with their children.  At this moment, I feel guilty because I have neglected my children for the past 4 months, just so I could do well on 4 exams.  

Although law school is stressful and time consuming, it doesn’t negate my love for my children.  I have to constantly reset my brain each day to make sure i do my best to show my children I love them, and that I want the best for them.  This task proved very difficult throughout the last 4 months.

Although my brain is telling me that my children a mother who is happy and excited about life, therefore they are happy as well, I can’t help but think about whether or not I should be a stay at home mom who is there for my kids when they get off the school bus.  Am a being selfish in my own quest for excellence at the expense of my children’s growth?

How do mothers in the world feel about mother’s guilt?  Do you feel a mother who did not previously complete their career goals, should wait until their children are older before they work toward their dreams?  Should they work toward their dreams while raising their children?  Do you feel that such a strong emotion is different for each mother, and should not stop a person from creating their own happiness?  Tell me your thoughts.


9 thoughts on “Mother’s Guilt

  1. First – thanks for the post. In the midst of my own law school and pregnancy drama, I have been so out of it for administering this site.

    Second, this entire post is singing my song. Being in grad school for the entirety of my kid’s lives has often resulted in me feeling like the worse mother ever. A selfish person who is pursuing my own dreams, perhaps at the expense of my kids. But I know this not to be true.

    These may all be unjustifiable justifications. But I’ve made peace with them. One, the first semester of law school is unlike any other semester of law school. You are learning the lingo, the pace, and the uniqueness that is the study of law. Every semester after this one gets easier. It may not seem like it now, but it’s so true. The first semester is meant to stress you out and psyche you out. Please believe me.

    Two, the vast majority of women with children in this country work. Kids turn out great, not so great, or downright awful. But I doubt it has anything to do with the employment status of the mother. What is so very important is the quality of the time you do spend with them. I learned that being on the internet when I was with my kids was much more detrimental to them than the time they spent without me, but with other people who cared for them. My kids have never had a problem hearing, “Mommy has to work.” And they are only 6 and 4. But what they could not stand, and could not understand, is Mommy being home, sitting in the living room, with her laptop open and ignoring them. Even if it’s just a 1/2 hour before they go to bed, reading to them or simply talking about their day, my kids remember those moments. And so do I. Whatever time you want to have with your kids, being in grad school makes your time flexible. Find that half hour every day, and make it count. Make that a priority.

    Lastly, I would be a miserable SAHM. I suspect you would too. I think too many women try to compartmentalize career and family. Many women wait until after they’ve had a career to have children, only to find out it’s really hard to do so, and being an older parent has its own drawbacks. Others have children, thinking that there will come a time when the kids seem independent enough to start a career, but that time doesn’t come. Kids fill whatever space you give them and become accustomed to whatever life they live. I don’t believe we have to sacrifice our happiness for our children, because very rarely do you see unhappy moms with happy children. I’ve never seen it. I was happiest as a child when my mother was happy. I have so much of a better time with my kids when I am happy. We must not let mommyhood define who we are.

    Just my two cents 🙂


    1. Thanks. I recall a post you submitted a few months back, and I totally agree. My earlier emotions stood out so much, and I felt compelled to express what I am sure many women feel. Your response was spot on.


  2. I find when I have a conundrum, I look to the intent. My working hard was to provide for the children AND be a good mother. I gave my best to both and lost the guilt about one when I was doing the other. Another facet of ‘mothering guilt.’

    However, it was my brother who touched me with these words to my children after their father died:

    “If you ever need a point of reference for someone who gets up every single time she is knocked down; to do her best for all of those around her, but especially her children, look no further than your mother.”

    I have never forgotten it.


  3. I agree with the previous replies. I would just add that you’re being a role model for your kids and other young people by pursuing your educational goals. This will stick with them always. Sometimes, we are harder on ourselves than everyone around us. Give yourself permission to do something for yourself, especially if it will ultimately benefit others. Good luck with your last exam!


  4. I would add that not only do many mothers work, but that the idea of women being able to stay-at-home full-time is a relatively recent development. For much of our nation’s history, women were out working alongside men–even if performing different tasks–and this work was an economic necessity. In their absence, children were raised by older siblings and other people who loved and cared for them. Our ideas about women staying at home are social constructions which have more to do with controlling women than anything else.

    I would also ask all of us to interrogate the sources of our guilt. Is it really because we think our kids would be better off with us at home, or because we are socialized to believe that (1) we deserve the near-exclusive pleasure of our childrens’ company; and (2) there really are no other caregivers who would do as good a job as we would? To be honest, I struggle with these questions every day. As for number 1, I genuinely enjoy the pleasure of being around my child, but also find myself feeling like I’m missing something when I’m gone–something that has been given to someone else, and I’m jealous of that. But why not? Why shouldn’t others get some of her magic? As for number 2, I know I’ve convinced myself that nobody can do it better than me (even though the more rational part of me knows this is true in some areas, and not so true in others). Part of this is because quality childcare can, actually, be hard to find, not just outside of the home, but within it–particularly in 2-parent heterosexual relationships, men are not encouraged to be nurturing and sensitive in the ways that allow children to flourish, while also handling the domestic tasks that accompany childcare. Instead of acknowledging this reality and working towards a better arrangement, while also acknowledging the particular competencies that other people do bring that are superior to ours, we merely resign ourselves to believing that we women do it best, and deal with the guilt that follows when we can’t be there.

    Finally, I think LaToya is technically right about the vast majority of women working outside the home, although it should be acknowledged that many women are forced out of the traditional workplace–and, as a result, their ideal job–because their workplace obligations are incompatible with their childcare obligations. They end up working in dead-end jobs that don’t really serve their career aspirations. They end up working part-time, etc. I think this is important to say because it’s crucial to recognize that many women–maybe even most–are not living their ideal work lives, the way in which men are allowed to, and when we just say “hey! women are working,” we gloss over that…

    In any event, I’m sure none of this helps you with your guilt, but it’s just some food for thought. 🙂


    1. Very helpful. I didn’t mention this in my original post, but my husband is actually more nurturing at times. Although I nursed both of my children, he was the one who got up in the middle of the night, even though he worked and I didn’t. Also, I went back to work when my daughter (who is the younger one) was 5 months old. My husband would come home from work, and play with her, talk to her, and nurture her. I am more of the strict parent, and he is the one who comforts them. It is a strange dynamic, but it works.


      1. Just to be sure, I didn’t mean to imply that your partner–or all male partners–are not able to be nurturers. That was what I was getting at when I suggested that we be better at both (1) cultivating what we want from our partners, and (2) acknowledging that they do some things better than we do. 🙂 My husband is a nurturer, too, although I’ve convinced myself that my way of nurturing is better than his. LOL. Sometimes I’m right (he doesn’t always notice the things I notice about why she is interacting with us the way she does), and sometimes I’m wrong (as reflected by her looking forward to her date with him–and explicitly without me–every Sat morning!). I think it’s great that your partner has cultivated that aspect of himself, as well. 🙂


      2. It is great, but it is equally nice to bounce my thoughts off of women who get it. Thanks for this.


  5. If I could just add another thought of two to the chorus: Whenever I begin to feel guilty about the tension between work and motherhood, I try to think of all the men I know who feel the same guilt. When I realize that I don’t know any men who feel this kind of guilt, I get irritated instead, knowing that the guilt is born out of a lopsided perception of parenting and gender roles that isn’t fair. Then, I remember that when I was part of a new mothers’ group when my first child was an infant, the leader told us that what children need when they are infants–cleaning, cuddling, “conversation”–are things that nearly any caring adult can provide. When they are teenagers is when they specifically need parents to give advice and impart value systems to them. I don’t know if that holds true exactly for when children are small, but I think that at least some of what they need when they are small can be provided more than adequately by a male parent. I could totally be rationalizing that last part, but for sure, most mothers I know give the best parts of themselves to their children (and partners?) however they split up the time.
    If neither of those thoughts makes me feel better, I tell myself that children are meant to leave their mothers, and we need to have a whole person left behind when they are gone. That, for sure, is true.


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