You haven't even made it to work, and already you know it's going to be one of those days. Sarah's pouting because you forgot to wash her neon purple shirt and today is Glow-in-the-Dark Day at school. Matthew's sitter is sick and you had to scramble to find a replacement. You finally get the kids where they need to be, breathe deeply and prepare to face your day. Turning the corner, you find yourself smack in the middle of a traffic jam. Why did I ever go back to work? you wonder. Life sure was a lot simpler when I was at home.
Sixty percent of all mothers today work at least part-time outside the home. And statistics show that the No. 1 emotion working mothers struggle with is guilt?guilt because you aren't home when the kids get home from school, guilt because your son doesn't like his sitter, guilt because you can't be a room mother.
"Working mothers are under tremendous strain," says author and speaker Mary Whelchel. "We have a lot of people depending on us. If we mess up, everybody feels it."
Whelchel knows about work-related guilt. A career mom since her daughter was 8, Mary is the founder of The Christian Working Woman, a ministry dedicated to helping Christian women apply God's Word to their lives in the workplace. We talked to Mary about getting rid of working-mom guilt.
Let's start with the basics. Why is guilt such a problem for working moms?
Guilt and parenting seem to go hand in hand. Every mother experiences it. We somehow believe if something's wrong with our children it must be our fault. And because a working mother isn't physically present with her kids 24 hours a day, she naturally blames herself even more when there's even the slightest problem.
There's also a guilt that's unique to Christians. I think it's because of the attitude in some Christian circles that working mothers can't possibly be as good at parenting as their stay-at-home counterparts, and that their children can't possibly become well-adjusted adults. There are some pretty strong opinions and a lot of blame being thrown around.
How can a mom know if God wants her in the workforce?
She needs to start on her knees. A lot of women tell God, "This is what I'm going to do. I want you to bless my agenda." That never works. You must go humbly to God and say, "Lord, I want your will, whatever that is. I'm giving you a blank sheet of paper and you can write my orders on it."
Working moms need to make sure their marching orders come from the Lord. Once you know you're where God wants you, you really can get rid of guilt. Take hold of those orders and start marching. Be proud of them.
But, if you have any uncertainty at all about working outside the home, if you've never gone to God in the first place, then back up and seek his will.
Some would say those guilty feelings are a sign that a mom should be at home rather than working.
Maybe, but just because you feel guilty doesn't mean you are guilty. Working mothers assume that every problem their children have is the result of their working. It's just not true. If you stayed home and devoted every minute to your children, they'd still have problems. You need to look closely at your emotions and determine if you're feeling true guilt or false guilt. If it's false guilt, get rid of it.
What's the difference between true guilt and false guilt?
We feel true guilt when we're not listening to God. True guilt is specific: You know why you're feeling guilty and what you're supposed to do about it. It's a matter of being obedient to God. If a mom is working and she knows God hasn't called her to that job, she better get out or she's going to be buried in guilt.
If you've been putting your job ahead of your family, that's true guilt. Is your job short-changing your family? That's true guilt.
False guilt is a vague, cloudy feeling, one that's tough to nail down. It says, "I'm not right. I'm not what I should be." It feels the same and acts on you the same as true guilt, so it's tough to know the difference. It all goes back to those marching orders. If you know you've got your priorities right and are following God's lead in your life, then you can be assured those feelings are the work of Satan, trying to find your weak spot.
Obviously, God wants us to get rid of any false guilt. How can we do that?
The best weapon against false guilt is Scripture. Find a verse that relates to your guilt, memorize it, put it on your screensaver?whatever you need to do to get it in your head. Then, when those feelings threaten to overwhelm you, remember that Scripture.
Let's say you're battling the fear that your kids won't turn out right because you're working. Use a verse like 2 Timothy 1:7, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power ? " or Proverbs 22:6, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it."
The Bible is often used to tell moms they shouldn't be working. How do you respond to that?
The Bible doesn't offer black-and-white directives about whether a mother should work. I do, however, find many principles about priorities. It's clear that women should be responsible for their households and put their families ahead of their careers.
Scripture does offer a great example of a woman who does both things well, the Proverbs 31 woman. She puts the Lord first and then takes care of her family before heading to the marketplace. She knows her calling and obeys.
That sounds good on paper, but working moms can still feel like they're missing out on big chunks of their kids' lives.
You will miss out on things an at-home mom might not, but it doesn't have to mean disaster. If you're where God wants you, you must trust God to fill in the gaps.
It's costly to give of yourself, your time and energy. Time you spend playing a game with your children when you'd rather be taking a quiet bubble bath or time when you really don't feel like going to a school function after working all day. These are very real sacrifices parents must make.
But God has given each of us gifts and talents (1 Cor. 12:4-6). He expects us to exercise these abilities, both in the home and the workplace. Career women can make a very real impact on this world. The Bible says "let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). As a working mom, you can extend the light that shines in your own home into the world around you.
Working moms often worry they're shortchanging their families. What are some practical tips to keep the household running smoothly?
First, divvy up the chores. A lot of working moms try to alleviate their guilt by becoming "super mom." They try to compensate by not asking of their children and husbands what would normally be expected of them.
Listen, you're not doing your kids any favors if you do it all for them. They need to have their own tasks, making their beds, washing the dishes, walking the dog. They need to be taught that the family is a team that works together, with everyone doing his fair share. So sit down as a family and put in writing exactly what you expect from your children.
Second, let Dad take over some responsibilities. This way, kids get twice the nurturing and at the same time see that parenting is a team effort.
Looking back, what have you learned in your life as a working mother?
A working mother can be the mom God wants her to be and her children can have all the attention and nurturing they need. God doesn't expect perfect parents, but he does expect to be No. 1 in our lives.
The most important thing any parent can do is pray. Prayer is essential whether you work outside your home or not. When your kids see you praying, reading the Bible and seeking God's guidance for your life, they'll take these values for themselves. If you demonstrate your commitment to Christ, your children will learn to live for Jesus, too. And that's what really matters when it's all said and done.
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