How To Deal With The Mom Guilt About Going Back To Work

Published by This Indulgent Life on

Are you feeling guilty about going back to work after your maternity leave? You are so not alone. Whether you get 2 weeks or 2 years most moms, even the ones that LOVE their job and want to return, feel some guilt for doing so. So how can we tackle the mom guilt about going back to work?


I was supposed to have 8 weeks. 8 not 6, 8… I had counted on that 8 weeks, I had prepared myself for getting 8 weeks. And then 5 weeks in I learned I would only be getting 6 weeks and 3 days. I was shocked. I was furious. I was heart-broken. I realize I’m still luckier than many others, but the law just didn’t seem fair! It wasn’t my fault that my son decided to be two weeks late. I wasn’t the one that wanted to start my maternity leave 2 weeks before my due date! So why was my son, my 6 weeks old baby boy, being punished?! I wasn’t ready, he wasn’t ready. I was going to miss everything!!! He’s going to see our helper more than me! Cue the mom guilt about returning to work…

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How To Deal With The Mom Guilt About Going Back To Work

I don’t want you thinking this will be a quick fix, because it’s not. Mom guilt is real and comes in many forms and at many different times. But hopefully with these tips you can overcome mom guilt more effectively. Did you know there’s even a term for this transition period?!

The Fifth Trimester

Author Lauren Smith Brody coined the term when she went through the transition herself. She did a survey and found that 75% of women she surveyed wished they could have had longer maternity leaves.

Working moms guilt | This Indulgent Life | the fifth trimester by Lauren Smith Brody

Courtesy of The Fifth Trimester by author Lauren Smith Brody

Step 1: Identify Why You have Mom Guilt About Going Back To Work.

   How to Overcome Mom Guilt When Going Back to Work | This Indulgent Life | Postpartum guilt | End of Maternity Leave  What is it specifically that is making you feel guilty? This may be hard to pinpoint, and it’s often more than one thing. For me and many other women it’s feeling like you’re going to miss everything, especially all their “first” milestones. As well as feeling as if you’re gone too long and never get to see your baby except while they’re sleeping or the weekends. I’m gone, working and commuting, 12-14 hours every workday. Sometimes I’m gone before he wakes up and I would come back when it was time for him to go to bed, or worse… after he went to bed.

          Basically you feel like you’re missing EVERYTHING!

Other moms have been known to have guilt for other reasons including:

  • Having to do overnight trips
  • Not being the one to teach their child
  • Feeling like they’re not the ones raising their children
  • Being scared over the quality of childcare they’re getting at daycare or even with a nanny… There’s a reason nanny cams have become big hits!
  • if their child is being fed properly or being given another kid’s milk (this happened to my mom with my brother, she was able to laugh it off though)
  • Feeling too tired when you are home for any meaningful connection
  • Missing school events and field trips (yes this comes later, but lord knows us moms think that far ahead!)
  • Not having time for PTA, Girl Scouts/ Boy Scouts, dance, sports….. (see above)


Yup, there seems to be no escape from mom’s feeling some sort of guilt.


Step 2: Decide which feelings are based in reality. Are you really going to feel less guilty doing the opposite?

Stand proud| How to get over mom guilt when going back to work | This Indulgent Life | post partum guilt | maternity leave guilt | working moms guilt

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash

     Drop anything that is not an immediate issue, like school plays, you have a while before needing to worry about those most likely and even if this isn’t your first kid and your older kids do have school plays, that’s still a one-off worry that you can deal with when it happens. Another one that isn’t real: I’m not raising my son, someone else is. Of course I’m raising my son. But of course I’m not the only one, and no matter if I was working or not he’d have other people in his life that help to make him who he is. So that’s another worry i can release.

      For me, the real worry of not being able to control how he’s looked after when I’m not there was alleviated by seeing how much my son enjoyed our helper and watching them together. So spend some time after dropping him off or before picking her up, and out of eye-sight, just listening and watching the interactions. Just don’t go down the rabbit hole of video surveillance. In my experience, those that have it find it harder to let go their guilt of not being there. Trust you’ve done all your research and left all the instructions and then trust your care providers until they give you a reason to do otherwise.


Step 3: Decide what your priorities are.

 mom's priorities | How to get over mom guilt when going back to work | This Indulgent Life | decide what your priorities are and focus on those.    If you really sat down and came up with your 3-5 top priorities for your life what would they be? Would a sparkling clean house be on that list? For some it might, for others, eh. I bet most of us would have spending quality time with our kids on there though. What about your spouse? What about having a fulfilling career? Not everyone is meant to be a SAHM, some people have always wanted to work outside the home and find immense fulfilment in that, AND THAT’S A GOOD THING!

So what are your 3-5 things?


Step 4: Decide on your have-to’s.

    Have-tos in life | How to get over mom guilt from going back to work | This Indulgent Life | 7 steps to overcoming mom guilt after maternity leaveOk so maybe I don’t want to work, maybe it’s not one of my priorities in life to have a career doing x,y,z. BUT we have to eat and live right? So of course this is then a have to. Maybe I don’t need a sparkling clean house, but it does need vacuumed and mopped and dishes done. Unfortunately life isn’t about just priorities, sometimes there are things that we just HAVE to do. What are yours, be honest. I highly doubt attending every church or social function or washing the windows every week is a have-to. It may feel like it, but at the end of the day if it doesn’t get done it won’t hurt anyone’s health. If anything it might improve yours by not doing it all.


What are your have-to’s? Keep it to under 10. 5 is better, but at least under 10.


Step 5: Get Help! The key to giving yourself space to enjoy your kid(s).

       Someone very wise once said to me:

“We sell our time for money, so we can sell our money for time.”

      Cue brain explosion. I grew up in a family where you do everything if you’re able to. Heck my mom is building her own log cabin and even peeling the bark off of whole trees by herself because  “why pay someone else to do something I’m capable of doing myself”. There’s nothing wrong with her doing this, especially since the accomplishment of it all does tend to bring her enjoyment, but truth be told cleaning my own toilets does NOT bring me any enjoyment or feelings of accomplishment. It’s something that is a have-to, but it is not my priority.

Getting help for the have-tos give you more time for your priorities | How to get over mom guilt when going back to work | This Indulgent Life

Photo by Volha Flaxeco on Unsplash


       So how can I achieve my priority of spending quality time with my child when I’m gone 12-14 hours a day and still need to sleep?! I hire help. Of course I know that not all moms are in the position to do this, but see what you are spending money on that is not really bringing you enjoyment or doesn’t even rank on your priority list and see if you can move the budget around a bit. Or is there a service you could exchange for like babysitting?

     Even just having someone come in once a week for two hours can really release the pressure of keeping the house clean. I’m blessed that I live somewhere where help is inexpensive so when I come home, I’m home. I’m only mommy and wife. I’m not housekeeper and chef and CEO and COO, just mom and I can focus on doing my best at that.

    For others, this can look very different, so just figure out what areas you could delegate to your husband, mom, or hired hand to have less have-to’s on your plate and more time for priorities. Even if it’s just subscription boxes like Amazon grocery delivery (Affiliate) to eliminate the time it takes to walk through the grocery store or battle with the kids to just get there. Whatever is going to help you get through the have-tos and spend more time on your priorities.

PS. If you’re in Hong Kong there are many store chains like Park-n-Shop that do online ordering and delivery. (not affiliate)

A side-note to getting help:

This also includes getting help for PPD. This is a very real thing and goes way beyond typical mommy guilt. So please, please, please seek help if you think you might even be slightly suffering from PPD.


Step 6: Step away from the nay-sayers

     Stop listening to the Debbie Downers and Judgemental Judys. Unfortunately, they are everywhere. You will get those who try to tell you your place is in the home and “How could you leave your child with someone else?!” But they would never ask a man that. But even if you stayed at home you’d have a different set of Judgemental Judys telling you that you need to go back to work, that you’re ruining your career and all you worked for. So really you can’t win with these ladies. It’s best just to not even give them the time of day.

 Live your life the way that’s best for your family, not someone else’s.


 At the same time, find your tribe! Find some supportive women who get you and your choices. Even if it’s not in person, but in a Facebook group, it’s so helpful to have others who understand you and your choices.

stay away from the nay-sayers and find your own tribe | How to get over mom guilt when going back to work after maternity leave | This Indulgent Life

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Step 7: The final key to tackling mom guilt- let go of it!

The truth is we all feel guilt. It seems to be a part of women’s DNA. But the thing is we’re not guilty…

  1. 1.
    the fact of having committed a specified or implied offence or crime.
    “it is the duty of the prosecution to prove the prisoner’s guilt”
    synonyms:culpabilityguiltiness, blameworthiness, wrongdoingwrongwrongfulness, criminalityunlawfulness, misconductdelinquencysinsinfulness, 
let it go | How to get over mom guilt when going back to work | This Indulgent Life | post partum guilt | maternity leave guilt | working moms guilt

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

  We are NOT doing something wrong or committing a crime by working, nor are we doing so if we choose not to work. There is no quilt for what you or I are doing. The truth is most women who do stay at home with the kids also feel guilty for doing so, that they should help out more with the bills, that they should be able to cook, clean, and have perfect children because they’re home with them all day, or even that they shouldn’t feel like escaping and going back to work!

The grass isn’t always greener…

    So let the guilt go. Of course it’s easier said then done, but if you are focusing on your priorities and your have-to’s are being accomplished at least the majority of the time then you’re succeeding and that’s something to be proud of not guilty!

How to get over mom guilt when going back to work after maternity leave | This Indulgent Life | "Be fully present at work and at home. Feeling guilty is wasted energy and it will only wear you out quickly." Dawn Sandomeno

3 final tips to alleviating mom guilt when returning to work:

   Remember why you’re doing it.

There are many reasons we go back to work, some selfish, some sacrificial. What are your reasons? There is no right or wrong. Separation anxiety, YOUR separation anxiety, is a very real probability. It helps some to write it down and come back to it in difficult times. Visuals can be even more powerful. Set up a photograph or even a collage of all the reasons why you’re sacrificing this time.


Focus on quality over quantity.

Even if you had 12 extra hours a day with your child it wouldn’t matter if you spent them all doing other things. Even if you only have 30 minutes a day to spend with your baby, make it count. Make those 30 minutes the sweetest minutes of your day. It’s about the quality of the time not the quantity.


You need to put on your mask before everyone else’s

Just like on the airplane, in order to be the most help to everyone else, you have to help yourself first. This means you need to take care of yourself. Whether you call it self-love or self-care it’s important that you do it. Otherwise you’ll feel like you’re running on empty and losing who you were before becoming a mother. For some, work is their “thing”, but for most they still need something else. So don’t feel any guilt for taking time for yourself, you’re a better mom for doing so.


Let me know if this helps and how you overcame mom guilt about going back to work in the comments!


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DEEKSHA TRIPATHI · June 29, 2018 at 2:31 pm

Great post Mary! I ‘m sure all working moms feel guilty most of the times for not being able to give time and attention to their kids which stay-at-home moms can…Thanks a lot for making an effort to make us feel lesser guilty!!

Delashawn Bordeaux · June 30, 2018 at 10:08 am

It’s been 6 years since I have had a baby and I know I want another one but I don’t think I could handle leaving my baby at daycare at such a young age. I’m having separation anxiety and I’m not even pregnant yet.

    This Indulgent Life · June 30, 2018 at 10:26 am

    I know the feeling. I did find the anticipation of going back to work worse than actually going. We tend to work ourselves up don’t we?

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