Parental Guilt Wasn't Enough. I Felt Work Guilt Too

People say things will change when you have children and, yes, indeed they do.

I was prepared for the sleepiness nights, the seemingly never-ending 'what's that?'s, and 'why?'s that inquisitive children want answered, and even the non-existent social life that would be my new reality - but nothing could have prepared me for the guilt that comes with being a parent.

Another side of the guilt coin

I'm sure many working parents are only too aware of the guilt associated with placing children in childcare, whilst trying to earn an income, maintain a career, and even wanting to be a person in your own right. But there's also another side of the guilt coin: not being the employee you once were.

To explain what I mean, I need to go back in time to 'BK' (Before Kids). BK I was in a role where I was responsible for the technical output for a major project. As with many major projects, deliverables and timescales needed to be balanced and managed. That was okay, as I was the one in control of it all, and even when I was pregnant, it would not be out of the ordinary for me to work sixty-plus hour weeks and to be available to attend every progress, strategy and planning meeting. I worked over the Christmas break and would also agree to shift work and would provide on call cover too. After all, this was my project, my responsibility, and I was willing to do pretty much whatever it took to get the job done.

With hindsight I realise that this was not a healthy work-life balance, but nonetheless, it has, in truth, contributed to my work guilt 'AF' (After Kids).

Ready to get back to work

Fast forward twelve months, and my return to work after my maternity leave, baby nicely settled at the local childcare provider. Parent guilt notwithstanding, I was ready to get back to work. I knew things were going to be - and needed to be - different to 'BK', not least because I would be working in a new role with a reduced number of contracted hours. But then something new and different came along: bugs, germs and an understanding of the concept of a baby's immune system.

I found myself phoning in to say, "Really sorry, but I won't be in today because the baby's ill," or saying to colleagues, "Really sorry, but I'm going to have to collect baby from nursery'. They don't necessarily realise that most nurseries impose a 'three vomits and you're out' rule on the little ones, or that if they go home sick, then that's followed by a forty-eight hour incubation period. I can understand why they do it, but it can potentially really cause you problems at work.

Racked with guilt

Although my colleagues were understanding and said that it was fine, I found that I couldn't quite believe them - and too late anyway, the guilt would kick in. I felt I was failing them; that I was no longer the employee that I once was. Deep down, I felt that were my colleagues to be really honest, it just was not okay with them at all, and that they must surely think I was the weak link in the team.

As time went by, this guilt extended to all aspects of my new working routine. I would sneak out of the office at hometime; I would take work home with me to make up 'my slack'; if ever I couldn't make a meeting that was arranged on my non-working day, or outside of my working hours, I would be overflowing with apologies and racked with guilt.

A light-bulb moment

And day I had a light-bulb moment. Or rather, it was explained to me - and in no uncertain terms - by my mentor that no one actually cared. Not that they didn't care but that it really was okay with them that I had commitments outside of work...because so did they. Arranging meetings on my non-working day* or outside my working hours was not their way of pointing out that I was somehow less of a team member and more to do with it being a genuine oversight on their behalf - and for which they were truly apologetic when this was pointed out to them.

Once this curtain was lifted, I started to notice that other members of the team would also need to work from home to look after poorly children, or leave early to do the school run, or to attend the school play, and so on.

Non-negotiable and guilt-free

I'm not saying that I still don't feel guilty when my work-life balance is out of kilter but I have come to realise that these are the exceptions which everyone experiences at one time or another. So yes, I do still take work home but this is no longer to make up my slack, but so that I'm prepared if I do need to work from home at short notice.

As for my working hours and my non-working day I ensure that they are clearly marked in my working diary to ensure that people understand that at these times I will be unavailable and that that's non-negotiable and guilt free.


Maureen; calls Friday her 'non-working day' but though she's not at her official place of work, it's far from a day-off. "It's actually the hardest working, most tiring - and also most rewarding day - of my week"