Kate Toon is a digital marketing expert, speaker and author as well as the mum to a delicious small human, so she knows a thing or two about nasty old parental guilt. Here are her seven top tips for kicking that beast to the kerb.
It’s late. I’m in my backyard office laboriously tapping out an answer to an SEO question in my Facebook group – from some dude called Barry.
Through the window, I can see my son in the lounge room watching telly on his own. He looks small and a little sad.
And it hits me like a brick in the boob.
I am a terrible mother.
I shouldn’t be trying to build a business; I should be spending time with my son. What is wrong with me?
Another painful attack of #Mumguilt had bubbled up.*
And I had no idea how to deal with it. Sigh.
This was several years ago, and of course prior to that (and since), I’ve suffered a million mum guilt paper cuts. I missed the school fun days due to meetings; forgot the cupcakes while on a business trip; not listened to the story because my brain is abuzz with spreadsheets and deadlines.
But in that time, I’ve also learned some tactics and some mindset shifts that allow me to deal with these icky feelings.
And in this article, I want to share them with you.
Seven ways to tackle parental guilt as a busy working parent
Tip 1: Remember, childhood is a new concept
Okay, one for the history buffs. Back in 1960, French historian Phillipe Aires argued that the very concept of childhood was a modern invention. Up until around 1680, kids were considered mini-adults.
And while I’m not arguing for a return to stuffing six-year-olds up chimneys – I think it’s interesting to consider how much pressure modern society puts on us to ‘parent’.
In most cultures, we’ve gone from sending kids down the pit at age ten, to an hour of parenting after tea time (poshfolk), to ‘go play outside until dinner’, to hands-on, helicopter parenting – in less than a century.
I’m not sure if this is helpful with the guilt, but it certainly gives some perspective.
Tip 2: Reject the notion of ‘quality time’
Redefining quality time helped me a lot. I guess before I became a parent, I considered quality time as baking home-made muffins with my child while simultaneously making a wooden jigsaw and listening to Bach. Or an outing to the zoo with fairy floss, balloons and feeding the monkeys.
But let’s face it, cooking with kids is a nightmare: ‘JUST LET ME DO IT’.
The zoo is exhausting, sticky and the balloon gets popped, and both you and the child have a tantrum.
Often these forced events are a struggle. Instead, I now view all time as quality.
Shopping to Coles – quality. Driving to pick your dog up from the vet’s – quality. Mowing the lawn – quality. Cleaning the loo – quality.
I find kids just want to be with you – they don’t hugely care what they are doing.
Tip 3: Have a schedule
Gosh, I love me a schedule; I think I have a strong project manager gene. Since my son first plopped out into the world, I’ve scheduled a lot.
Schedules help set expectations, for me, my partner and for my child – “Yes, I’m working for the next hour. But then we’ll do something fun.”
Psst: The key, of course, is to keep to the schedule and not let your small human down when something comes up.
Allow periods of light and shade in the day, quiet time and activity time, and remember it’s important to teach kids to self-entertain, self-soothe and deal with boredom, otherwise they’re going to become very dissatisfied adults.
Tip 4: Be seen and heard
My son has been aware that I run a business since he was very small. I talk to him about my day; I tell him about ups and downs (not the really bad stuff obvs).
He sees me typing, packing envelopes, preparing for events, recording Instagram reels (CRINGE, MUM!).
He gets that I work and that’s how we have money, a house and food on the table. He gets that other people don’t have it so good. He sees that I work hard and smart.
Ensuring your children understand that you’re not just trying to escape them, or that you don’t want to be with them, is important. Make sure they get the connection between what you do and what that means for the family.
Tip 5: Get them involved
I think it’s a smashing idea to get your kids involved in the day-to-day of your business in whatever way you can.
Here’s how I did it with my son:
- Age 5 and under: reconciling my XERO (joke!) … he was putting stamps on envelopes and play typing on my computer.
- Age 7-8 – doing all my mail outs.
- Age 9 – completing basic spreadsheet work.
- Age 10 – editing videos work.
He even came with me to a conference I spoke at and quietly played on his iPad for a few hours.
Now, at age 12, he helps me understand the latest TikTok trends, tells me when my business fashion attire is terrible and gives great advice! I feel getting kids involved makes them feel part of this aspect of your life and stops them resenting it.
Tip 6: Separate space
If you work at home, try to create a separate space – ideally with a closable door. So you can create genuine physical and mental separation for your business.
This will allow you to focus more, work faster and get back to your fam quicker.
Tip 7: Insource
While everyone bangs on about outsourcing, I’m a huge fan of insourcing.
Getting my child to help with household chores frees me up to do nice things. My son regularly empties the dishwasher, feeds the dog, sweeps, mops and helps with laundry.
Again, we also do this together; in fact all household chores are done when my kids are around and NOT in work hours.
- They understand there isn’t a house-fairy keeping things clean, and
- I keep my work hours free of distraction.
So there you go, seven simple tips to help overcome parental guilt.
The harsh truth is, it will never go away completely and over the years you will of course regret every second you didn’t spend with your child. But it’s also 100 per cent valid and fair for you to have a life, pursue your dreams, keep your brain perky and enjoy your work.
Oh, and make money!
It’s a hard one to balance for sure. If you have any tips on how to manage it, please pop them in the comments below.
*I’m using ‘mum guilt’ in this article but acknowledge that dad guilt and carer guilt exists too. No one is immune!
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