There are a seemingly endless number of things that are difficult about being a mother — giving birth, sleepless nights, being needed so relentlessly at all times — but one of the most challenging parts psychologically has to be the guilt. Whether you're mom to one or a whole brood, whether you work or stay at home, the one thing we all seem to share is the feeling that we just aren't doing motherhood the right way. But in a recent interview with InStyle, single mom Mindy Kaling spoke about releasing herself from mom guilt, and, well, you don't have to be a famous actress/writer/producer/goddess/superwoman to majorly relate.
Kaling became a new mom in December after giving birth to her daughter, Katherine, and though she did take a brief maternity leave to adjust to parenthood, the fact that Kaling also happens to be totally killing it right now professionally means that it wasn't long before she also had to begin to grapple with the guilt that seems to have become an inevitable part of parenthood these days. Kaling's solution? She told InStyle that she's "had to learn to release [herself] from mom guilt at least a couple times a day."
Given how busy Kaling is most days, her approach makes a whole lot of sense. In addition to serving as co-creator and executive producer of the new NBC series, Champions, Kaling is also part of the star-studded cast of the upcoming film, Ocean's 8, and in April she told TODAY's Hoda Kotb that her daughter "bleeds over into all parts of [her] life" — so much so, according to E! News, that she often ends up finding herself staring at photos of her daughter during business meetings.
As wonderful as it obviously is to be so in love with your new child though, that can also be the very thing that makes returning to work so difficult. While Kaling could once devote all her energy to her career, she now needs (and wants) to give her daughter a good chunk of that energy, while still maintaining some semblance of the life she used to have and love (sound familiar to anyone?). But while few of us may have the glamorous Hollywood career (and Hollywood salary) that Kaling does, her advice is totally sound. She told InStyle,
I’m also learning to feel better about asking for help, whether it's from family or hiring help. It’s not profound, but I love my career and I don't want to make myself feel bad about pursuing both. Just cutting myself some slack has been very helpful for me.
That might be easier said than done, especially if actually affording help is in itself a major challenge. But the main idea is one that pretty much all moms, regardless of their circumstance, can likely benefit from. Maybe a full-time, live-in nanny isn't in the cards, but if there is a way to go a little bit easier on yourself, then that might be worth a try. And that goes for moms who don't work outside the home as well — can you take an evening off to do something just for yourself, without apologizing? Is there something you've been stressing about that you can let yourself off the hook for? (The dishes in the sink, the never-ending laundry pile, the fact that nothing about your life even sort of resembles the baffling all-white aesthetics of those picture-perfect Instagram moms?)
In fact, Kaling explained to InStyle that one of the things she loves most about playing her Champions character, single-mom Priya, is that it gives her a chance to remember that she doesn't have to feel bad about everything she might be doing "wrong." Kaling told In Style:
I love playing Priya because she’s not perfect, but she has such a strong bond with her son J.J. I think it’s funny that she admits to being incredibly lax with him at times. And as a very busy single mom myself, I wanted to have a character that has a healthy attitude about it, like ‘I'm not going to get everything right.’ Or ‘I have to work, so something's got to give.’ I know I’ll have to miss some things that I wish I didn't have to miss with my daughter too. But I like that I’m able to play a character that's like, ‘You know what? The kid will still be fine.
Given the intense pressure often placed on women to somehow magically balance everything in their lives perfectly, that's a pretty refreshing perspective. And honestly, it seems like a healthy one, too. After all, as much as moms might worry that the time they spend away from their kids due to work obligations might be affecting them negatively, a 2015 study from Harvard Business School found that, actually, it might give them a really valuable boost. The study found that adults who were raised by working moms were "more likely to have jobs themselves, [were] more likely to hold supervisory responsibility at those jobs," and were more likely to earn higher wages. Men raised by working mothers were also "more likely to contribute to household chores," and to spend more time in caretaker roles.
That doesn't mean, of course, that women who stay at home aren't also offering their children something invaluable — far from it — but it does at least suggest that the internal guilt struggle many of us have about whether we're doing the right thing continuing in our careers is totally unnecessary. And the sooner we can allow ourselves to care less about that, like Kaling has, the better.
At the same time, letting go of working mom guilt won't magically absolve any of us of all the countless other things we tend to worry about regarding our children's wellbeing, mostly because the expectations placed on women and mothers are already so high. But it is at least a really important step. And hey, if Mindy Kaling, queen of everything, can somehow manage to ease up on herself, perhaps the rest of us can, too.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.