From Our Blog: 5 Strategies to Ease Working Mom Guilt
This blog post was written by Bright Horizons parent and children's book author, Jossy Lee.
I’ve always been career-driven; I went to MIT and love my job building startups. My professional life has been a big part of my identity. But, when my first child Jeremy was born, my life had a new rhythm and purpose.
My first morning back to work as a mom was unexpectedly emotional. Leaving the infant room at the Bright Horizons center, I couldn't stop the tears. "Am I abandoning my baby to pursue my own ambition?” I thought.
As Jeremy grew, cries of “Mommy, don’t go!” at drop-offs set the tone for many days. I searched for something—anything!—to help me explain to my toddler what I did while he was at school. But I couldn’t find anything.
That's why our family created “Mommy Goes To Work,” a book series celebrating working moms and easing separation anxiety. We tested it with over 100 working moms, including teachers at Bright Horizons. Their feedback helped shape it into a heartwarming tool to calm children in their classrooms after a difficult drop-off.
This Women’s History Month, I’ve been reflecting on my journey through working motherhood. Here are five things that have helped me ease the mom guilt.
1. Choose the Best Child Care
When making a child care decision, my analytical and data-driven husband and I had a long list of criteria. As a scientist, he prioritized classroom details like natural light, square footage, and the number of students. I evaluated the team's training, care processes, and more intangible culture. Bright Horizons went above and beyond all our expectations. At the time, we were working hard to make ends meet, but decided that the investment in our child's education and happiness was important.
Bright Horizons has become more than a school to us, they are family. There's peace of mind knowing our child is getting the best education and care while we pursue our careers.
2. Reframe: Focus on Gains, not Losses
In conversations with working moms, I’ve found we share the same trigger of guilt: the feeling that “I’m missing moments as my child grows.”
I was raised by an amazing stay-at-home mom, so I naturally compared my children's experiences with my own. This meant constantly feeling that I wasn’t there for them enough. I worried that I didn’t prioritize them enough, since I shared my time, energy, and attention with professional obligations.
But then I had a realization. Even if I devoted 24/7 to Jeremy, I wouldn’t have the expertise to create such a robust curriculum—or the patience to guide him through all the enriching activities!
Early childhood education is a profession. My strength is in new venture building and innovation, not childhood education. That self-awareness helped my guilt melt away. I know what’s best for my child is to have the support of early childhood professionals during this critical time of his development.
3. Discuss Work with your Kids
One day, 3-year-old Jeremy asked me about a presentation I was working on. I said, “Mommy’s presentation is like your show-and-tell.” He got it! He started to ask for details about what I'd share, and who I'd share it with. His ability to understand what I do at work in the context of activities he’s familiar with was impressive. The parallels between my day at work and his day at school inspired the main storyline of the book:
“Mommy works on her project. I work on my puzzle.”
“Mommy builds her team. I build my blocks.”
“Mommy does her presentation. I do my show and tell.”
4. Create a Sense of Togetherness
“Together or apart, I hold you in my heart wherever we are.” This ending of “Mommy Goes To Work” was the result of testing insights. The original ending talked about loving each other more than work and school. But working moms shared that the comparison triggered guilt.
We asked why and discovered that what moms and little ones both care about is a sense of togetherness. Knowing that they're in each other's thoughts creates a sense of security.
The expression of “togetherness” can be tangible or intangible. It can be a kiss or letting your children know about moments you think about them at work. On days my boys need an extra dose of mommy, they carry a family photo or a heart I draw for them in their pockets.
5. Find Inspiration from Role Models
Left: An iteration of the upcoming book Mommy Goes To Work at the Hospital
Upper Right: My grandmother proudly holding our first edition Mommy Goes To Work book in front of the hospital where she was the Co-founder and COO.
Lower Right: My delivery room nurse Jenny and I reunited! This time to deliver a book baby for hospital moms and their little ones.
The powerful working mothers who were on this journey before or with me are my source of strength.
The next book in our series, “Mommy Goes To Work at the Hospital,” is inspired by my delivery room nurse, Jenny McGrail. That night in the delivery room, hours before I welcomed my first child to the world, I asked my nurse Jenny about the pendant on her necklace with the smiling faces of her three little ones on it.
“I love my job as a nurse, but it’s heartbreaking to leave home for night shifts and tell my young kids that mommy is leaving to take care of others.” She shared this honest insight with me, which inspired the creation of our upcoming book for moms working at the hospital.
On a personal note, this book is also written in tribute to my magnificent grandmother, Chen Lin Tsai Wei. She co-founded the first hospital in our hometown of Taipei Xindian while raising five children. Today, she would be recognized as the Co-Founder and COO. But in her time, being a female professional wasn’t the norm, so she was known as “the surgeon’s wife.” Women like my grandmother and all the others normalizing working motherhood are my inspiration.
I hope these tips help you ease mom guilt, strengthen bonds, and be the best you can be!
Interview with Jossy Lee, Featuring Lauren Wegner
In an interview with Content Director Lauren Wegner, Jossy Lee shares more about the inspiration behind her book and how Bright Horizons has supported her as a working mom.