Feeling guilt

This is one of the most heavily discussed subjects for women returning to work. Some women feel none at all and others are literally wracked with guilt from the moment they leave their child with someone else. In between you will find the sometimes WoMos who occasionally feel it. Regardless of where you think you might be on the guilt spectrum, it’s good to face this emotion.

Pretending its not there, and ignoring how it makes you feel isn't worth it. Consider what might be triggering the emotion inside.

Separation anxiety

WoMo Network | The Working Mothers Network | Separation Anxiety Back to Work

A big trigger for guilt in many women is your child being distressed as you leave. There is a label that is applied to this – Separation Anxiety. Watch out for overuse of this word. All children will suffer with some kind of anxiety when separated from their carer, but there are ways in which you can help. This article gives some sensible advice:


The other thing to remember is that babies may tend to cry when you leave but in the vast majority of cases this subsides within a very short space of time. Often it is the mother who is more distressed and if you can, find a coping mechanism for you to emotionally manage this. Your baby will be settled and happy within minutes yet you could be carrying the pain and guilt all day.

If you are finding this hard, set up a plan with your child carer. Whether it is a nursery or nanny, ask them to message you as soon as your child is settled. Or perhaps you can commit to calling when you get to work to be reassured your child is happy and content. Women who found this hard have said that they felt significantly less guilt once they were reassured their child was happy and having a good day.

Most WoMos we interviewed said they sometimes felt guilty for going to work. Try and identify what your triggers are, or might be, and think about this now. Guilt can be short lived or can continue being driven by something. It doesn’t stick around for long unless you allow it.

The dangers of 'should'

Is it that you feel your child is sad, is it that you think you ‘should’ be at home? 'Should' is a word we use very frequently and results in being a big guilt driver. We say it when we are on a diet – 'I should be having a salad'. Should is a word driven by parameters we put onto ourselves and promises we make ourselves. We can only feel guilty if we then let ourselves down or fail to meet the promises we made to ourselves. Be careful of 'should'!

Remember your motivation

If you think you ‘should’ be with your child, remind yourself the reasons you are working. If you read the first section, revisit the reasons and motivating factors you have for working. In addition, consider the benefits to your child of you working. If necessary write this list on a piece of paper and keep it in your purse. Remind yourself when you feel guilty the reasons you are working.

Negative emotion is frequently a choice although it doesn’t feel that way when we are in it. We owe it to ourselves and in this instance our children to find ways in which we can choose to release negative emotions and let them go. Guilt is a negative emotion and can be challenging to manage when working. If you feel you can manage it, remind yourself of the reasons you are working and the benefits to your child. In time your moments of guilt will be more short-lived.

If you are finding it hard to manage, be brave and ask for help. There is nothing wrong with this, many women do and if some external helps means you are able to manage the challenges of being a working mother even better than you are now, the you will have taken a positive and good step to feeling better.

Press pressure

The press is frequently a guilt driver for working mothers. Regardless of the type of childcare you choose you will be able to find positive and negative comments in the press.

In 2013 in the UK nurseries went through a particularly bad period of negative press. An article in The Telegraph took this on and presented the well balanced view that the decision you make for your child is done as a numbers game. You make the best choices you can based on your own circumstances. You can read negative articles relating to working mothers and the types of childcare and these will all help fuel your guilt. 

If you want to find positive articles that support the decisions you are making and relieve your guilt you’ll be able to find these too. The joy of Google is that it can give us back up for any option. Search for ‘benefits of children in a nursery’ rather than ‘reasons children should not be in a nursery’. The latter will feed your guilt, the former will remind you of all the good reasons you have made the choices you have made and the good benefits for your child.

Keep looking on the positive side of your own argument. Feed the good and it’ll grow. Feed the bad and it’ll do the same, and no one wants that! Many WoMos we talk to, talk about work being something for them that makes them happy.

I have a personal desire to work, achieve and continue to grow professionally and a desire to be a working female role model to my boys.
— WoMo Rachel, London. 2 boys, 21 and 7 months old.
You will feel guilty as you will feel like you are missing something but trust your gut – if when you pick up your child they are happy, then be happy too that you have and are doing the right thing for both you and your child/children.
— WoMo Elsbeth, London. Girls 3.5 years and a boy 11 months.


  1. Write down the reasons you might feel guilty for being apart from your child and consider the ways in which you can overcome this emotion? Remind yourself what your motivating factors are for you to be at work.

  2. Write down the positive benefits to your child of you going to work. Keep this list in your purse or handbag to remind yourself when you need to.