Overcoming guilt as a working parent
Words by Sybille Chrissovelini
Deep breath in: “My name is Sybille Chrissoveloni and I’m big time pregnant and have a one year old at home, as well as working full time as a business partner at Ogilvy on an international account…” Deep breath out.
You can imagine then that NABS’ first Working Parents Workshop on how to deal with “the guilt” was just up my alley. Sharon Charlton-Thomson from the Working Parent Company hosted the session, and she was able to deconstruct the myths around guilt. What it is, why we have it, and most importantly how to manage it.
Sharon started by teaching us that there are two types of guilt: healthy and unhealthy.
Healthy guilt acts like a moral compass; it works in a positive way and helps you stop to think, press pause in your mind and make a different decision.
Unhealthy guilt is the little voice in our heads that tells us we have done something wrong when we haven’t, it might be a lie but feels like a truth. The problem is that it can take up too much head space and you can’t stop thinking about it.
Unhealthy guilt is based on what we believe a good parent and a good working colleague should be. It’s the unwritten rules we hold within us. It’s our inner critic– the voice that sets unreasonable demands, that says “you are not good enough” or “you have to try harder”.
By the age of 7 (yes 7!) our personalities are already laid down and our moral compass is set. It means by the time we are in our 30s and 40s we end up with our ‘outer personality’, the one who we pretend to be, and our inner one, the one that tells you, you’re not good enough.
Makes for grim reading hey? But there are ways to tackle this, and the good news is that they seem achievable. Some of Sharon’s top tips in dealing with guilt included:
- Prioritise your guilt into major, moderate and minor ones.
- Get in touch with your true self, rather than the false self who we pretend to be and focus on what values matter the most to you.
- Change “I should do that” to “ I could do that”
- Redefine what is good enough for you. What is a good parent? What is a good working professional like?
- Create a new normal for you. Don’t be too hard on yourself and lower your own expectations.
- Self-care is critical. Working gives us energy and makes us happier and we are better mums, but we need recovery time. Sharon compared it to a fuel tank; it’ll get depleted overtime and needs to be re-fuelled regularly. She also stressed that the two week holiday once a year doesn’t count – you often end up ill, and you are still looking after everyone.
- Focus on quality time not quantity. Focus on the one thing or person you are dealing with. Whether it’s your child or a meeting, be completely tuned in to that moment – don’t multitask but solo-task.
- Contribution should be what you measure yourself with, not time spent on a task. For example, it’s not about whether you stay in the office till 10pm but what your outputs were like in that day.
- Childcare is your no. 1 investment (yes! I rely on my nanny big time!)
- Invest in your relationships, the ones that make you feel good.
- Create good boundaries; decide what to let in and what to let out.
- Don’t hide the fact that you have to go home to your children – do it with pride – you are going to sign-in to your second job of the day.
- Start small; new habits and new techniques take 30 days to establish in your daily routine.
Most importantly, Sharon made it clear that guilt is a fake emotion. It’s something that hides your true feelings behind it, like sadness or anger, but your mind makes it feel real. Whilst stopping feeling guilty will not happen overnight, the tips given by Sharon and NABS really helped to break the issue down into simple, manageable steps. I’m already planning to follow point six next week; I need to re-fuel that tank for sure.
My thanks go to NABS for organising the workshop, I’m really looking forward to the next one.
Find more upcoming sessions here.