Science Says There’s Another Reason Why Working Moms Feel So Guilty

by Kenza Moller

If you're a working mom who feels guilty about the amount of time you spend away from your kids, there might be something more than just a busy workload at play: according to a new study, working moms' guilt can often come from their childhood experiences and the way their own parents operated. Apparently, moms who grew up with breadwinning fathers and stay-at-home mothers tend to "work like their fathers but want to parent like their mothers," according to Dr. Ioana Lupu, one of the study's co-authors — and that's a discrepancy that can breed some conflicting feelings.

The study, which was published in Human Relations earlier this week, was based off of nearly 150 interviews conducted with 78 employees at several firms. Researchers compared the employees' family dynamics while growing up with the roles they now held in their own families. And, not entirely shockingly, the researchers found that moms who grew up with stay-at-home mothers tended to feel guilty about their time at work.

What's a little more surprising, however, is that even moms who grew up with working mothers don't always get to escape working mom guilt. "I remember being picked up by a child-minder, and if I was ill, I'd be outsourced to whoever happened to be available at the time," one participant told the researchers, according to ScienceDaily. "It's only now that I've started re-thinking about that and thinking, well isn't that going to be the same for [my son] if I'm working the way I am?"

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, though, most mothers' lives these days no longer fit the "traditional" view society holds of a family (with a breadwinning dad and a stay-at-home mom). In fact, moms are the breadwinners in 40 percent of American homes, and 70 percent of mothers with kids under 18 participate in the labor force.

We may have grown up with more "traditional" views of parents' roles, but those views no longer match most women's reality — and that should be reassuring for working moms who feel guilty about juggling family and work. Slowly but surely, workspaces are starting to change to adapt to that new reality, with more family-friendly policies taking over companies around the country. It's taken some time, but corporations are starting to get on board with the idea of longer, paid parental leave for both moms and dads, the introduction of nursing rooms in offices, and the ability to use flex time or work remotely.

With any luck, by the time the next generation is having children of their own, they'll be so used to egalitarian policies and families of all stripes that "working mom guilt" won't even be a thing.