I recently fulfilled my annual obligatory field trip with my son's class. Each year I attend only one and it marks the beginning and end of my involvement in his school. This time, my son's friend sheepishly admitted to me that he thought our nanny was my son's mother. Many moms would wince at those words but I laughed and realized how comfortable I am with my role as a full-time working mother. Our nanny makes a great surrogate, and I feel no guilt about my early-morning meetings, the occasional business trip or even my lack of culinary skills. Not even a bit.
This wasn't always the case and, statistically speaking, many women feel torn with their dual roles. A 2009 study from the U.S. Pew Research Centre showed that a large percentage of American men and women believed that the ideal scenario for young children is a mother who works part-time or not at all.
Why do mothers who work outside the home feel this guilt – and why don't working father? The prevailing logic suggests that if a mother works full-time, it hurts their children, but that theory falls short. A comprehensive report by the American Psychological Association (APA) analyzed research conducted over the last 50 years on the impact of full-time working mothers on children and concluded that the kids were no more likely to have academic or behavioural issues.
Working mothers are often healthier and happier than their stay-at-home counterparts, a 2011 study by the APA found.
With this sort of evidence, it's time to put an end to working-mother guilt. When better to do this than on Mother's Day?
In Finerman's Rules – CNBC TV personality Karen Finerman's recently published book of business "secrets" for her daughters – she urges women to let themselves off the hook by giving themselves permission to fall short on some of their ideals. She doesn't cook, doesn't clean and doesn't care about it. "Figure out what it is you do a half-assed job at, or hate, and let it go," she writes.
Petra Kuret, managing director of management consulting firm Accenture Ltd. in Vancouver, acknowledges how difficult it can be to let go of guilt. She believes that it helps if you have insights about what your priorities are at different points in your professional and personal life.
"Give yourself permission to make the other things a priority or focus at a later time," advises the mother of a nine-year-old son and six-year-old daughter. "I find [women] are hardest on ourselves [and unable] to let go of the guilt, be comfortable with the decision we have made and move on."
Some of Ms. Kuret's ease with her dual role derives from the perspective that parenting has helped her professional life. For example, being customer-focused, shares many similarities with being child-focused, she said.
Getting rid of your guilt carries many benefits, but most importantly it allows you to enjoy your professional choices and actively embrace your ambition.
"I've always been ambitious, which should not be seen as a dirty word when associated with women," said Lisa Kimmel, general manager of public relations firm Edelman Canada in Toronto and the mother of a nine-year-old son and a seven-year-old daughter.
"As a mother of a young daughter, in particular, I think that it's important to demonstrate to her that you can find it rewarding to be both a mother and a successful professional. When she asked me recently why I couldn't be her nanny, I explained that, when she's older, if she so chooses and finds a career about which she is passionate, she'll also want to make time for both," Ms. Kimmel said.
Jennifer Witzel's children also sense, and share, her enthusiasm for her career. The vice-president of taxation at Bank of Nova Scotia in Toronto said her 10-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter think it's "cool" that their mom is a vice-president, even if they think that means she works with U.S. President Barack Obama.
Ms. Witzel drew her own inspiration from strong female role models, including her grandmother, who along with her husband managed one of the first convenience stores in Canada, located in Kitchener, Ont., in the 1950s. Working outside the home was as much a part of her grandmother's life as baking or playing cards with her grandchildren, she recalls.
"Although my career slowed down a bit when my children were younger, the lessons learned from being a parent have propelled me further along my career path than I would have gone had I not had children at all," Ms. Witzel added.
So instead of falling victim to the guilt-induced marketing opportunity presented by the commercialization of Mother's Day, I suggest honour your mother with the following words: You are doing everything just right.