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Do You Have Guilty Working Mother Syndrome?

I suffered terribly with guilt as I struggled to be successful in my job and to provide a great foundation for my child’s success. I was the only working mother in my neighborhood when my daughter was born in 1990 and the only one of my “friend group” who elected to return to work after my child was born. In fact, when my co-workers found out I was expecting, most did not expect me to return to work after her birth. But I had worked three jobs to put myself through undergraduate school, attended graduate school at night while working full time and had worked hard to establish a successful career. For me, work was where I wanted to be. I had no intention of staying home.

I respect people who make the choice to stay home and believe we should all make the choices that help fulfill our personal goals. While I desperately wanted a child, I also wanted a career outside of the home. I am fortunate to have a husband who fully supported my decision and has always been willing to do his share of the parenting and help around the house. Many of my friends who left the workforce did so because they did not have this support at home.

Still, as my daughter was growing up I worried about how my choices would impact her. Fast forward 24 years and my daughter is one of the most successful young people I know. She is now in her third year of Pharmacy school. We have had many conversations about the guilt I experienced and the times I was not there for her. What is surprising is she does not remember that I missed any key events in her life. She remembers my being there for the things that were important to her. . I share this because I have talked to so many women who beat themselves up because they are working and cannot be at their child’s beck and call. I think we overestimate the importance of our being at everything that involves our children. We also underestimate the importance of being a great role model for how to work and balance a career. My daughter tells me I have been a great role model for her. She has an expectation that she will have a successful career of her own.

Today 40% of mothers with children under the age of 18 are the primary breadwinners of their families. This is up from 15% when I entered the workforce three decades ago and is a growing trend. Truth be told, our country cannot afford to have educated women leave the workforce. According to a recent study by McKenzie and Co. The women who have entered the workforce since the 70”s have added 25% to the gross domestic product of the US. We are in a global market place today and we need our bright educated women at work. China and India have more smart people—than we have people in the US.

The good news is that support systems for working mothers/families are better than ever. Technology allows us to toggle between work and our personal lives seamlessly. When young people ask me for advice I share these four key things:

1) Set Priorities. Know what you want. If you truly want to be a full time Mom. Then leave the workforce and do it. If you want a career, know what level of success you desire. If you want to be in the C-suite, know you will not be at every event in your child’s life. If you want to stay at work then involve your child (if they are at least age 3) in helping you to determine what is important to them and in helping you to set priorities. You may be surprised that what you think is important to your child—is not. Also, know where you want to be in your career. Too often we don’t plan ahead for the job we ultimately want. Knowing what you want allows you to say no to things that don’t take you down your intended career path.

2) Outsource. At my house, my husband’s idea of a home cooked meal was something I purchased and brought in to the house in a bag and then reheated. There are many services for cooking, cleaning and yes taking care of our children. You do not have to do all of these things yourself. I am amazed at the number of services that exists to support working mothers and how easy it is to tap into these services using the technology we have today.

3) Delegate. This is an area where I have witnessed women struggling the most, and I know I did too. Leadership is all about growing the next generation of talent for your company. The people on your team cannot grow and develop if you don’t turn loose and let them take on challenging tasks. Make sure you are not micromanaging where it is not necessary.

4) Your Health. Women tend to take care of everyone—but themselves. Make sure that as you juggle balls you make the one labeled ‘your health’ a top priority. This is the one we typically drop first. We are so busy taking care of others that we scrap exercise and sleep. Try to put these on your priority list and schedule them in. Taking care of yourself is something you cannot delegate to others and only you and make sure it happens. If you are not at your best self physically, you cannot perform as a super star at work or home.

Our daughters will most likely be raising their families and working. Our sons will most likely have a working wife. Quit beating yourself up and remember that you are a great role model for them on how to balance it all.

- Becky Blalock, trailblazer to the C-suite and author of the best selling book DARE: Straight Talk on Confidence, Courage and Career. For additional information U.S. Women on the Rise as Family Beadwinner, here's an article from the New York Times.

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