Guilt: A mother’s disease
Riley Harriff, 5, and his sister Maddy, 4, are happy children. They’rewell-adjusted, too, and do well in pre-school. But even so, theirmother, Roberta, feels incessantly guilty.
Riley Harriff, 5, and his sister Maddy, 4, are happy children. They’re well-adjusted, too, and do well in pre-school. But even so, their mother, Roberta, feels incessantly guilty.
“Every day I have times of feeling guilty for working too much, or having to work at all when I see so many stay-at-home moms,” she says. “I feel guilty that I let them watch too much TV.”
Harriff, 37, works full-time as a human resources administrator in Chicago.
“Sometimes I feel guilty because other kids are in dance classes and do sports, while we don’t have the time or extra money to do those things with them right now. The guilt is constant!”
On a rational level, Harriff’s guilt feelings are misplaced — but virtually every mother has them. “Mother’s guilt goes back to biblical times,” says Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University and the author of Einstein Never used Flashcards: How Children Really Learn and Why They Need To Play More and Memorize Less.
“But today’s mothers are expected to do it all, and they don’t have extended family nearby. And the grass is always greener on the other side: stay-at-home mothers want a job, ‘working mothers’ want to stay home, and mothers with part-time work feel insufficient in both roles.”
But working mothers feel guilty more often. “I have one hour in the morning and two hours before bed with my kids, and most of that time is spent getting dressed, eating, and getting ready for bed,” says Harriff.
“It’s hard to feel like you are able to have any quality time with them.”
Though most scientific studies show no difference between children of stay-at-home-mothers and children of working mothers, some reports reverberate in the mother-guilt community. One, earlier this year, showed that children of working mothers gain two pounds more per year than other children.
Another study this year showed that when a mother works outside the home, her child’s risk of having overnight hospitalizations, asthma episodes, injuries and poisonings increases by 200 per cent.
There’s no formula to fix mother’s guilt, says Hirsh-Pasek. “The best mothers are the ones who make peace with themselves. If you don’t have dinner ready on time, don’t say, ‘I failed again!’ See it as an opportunity to teach your child that humans are not perfect and don’t have to be.”