Dear MOB Society,
I am working mother of two. Staying home with my children isn’t an option for us financially, but I enjoy my job. However, I see other moms who spend all day with their children going on play dates, visiting the park, baking cookies…their lives seem so peaceful and orderly, while ours is one frantic dash to work, school, home and all over again. My house is a mess. I’m always forgetting something — last month I completely forgot about my youngest son’s class party!

I feel like such a failure! Can you help?

Feel like a failure because you work outside of the home? The MOB Society's Adelle Gabrielson helps you overcoming the working mom guilt.

Dear Working Mom,

First of all — while it may feel like you are on an island, you’re not. Over 70% of women with children under the age of 18 are in the workforce (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012). There are lots of women out there just like you running ragged, trying to keep up, and who feel like a failure.

When I had my first child, I was alone in my circle of friends to return to work. Even working from home half the week, I was alone. I still carry scars from those early days, drive-by barbs, usually from well-intentioned friends. My worst ever was the sweet, good-natured, kindly friend of the family who, upon meeting me in the parking lot of my son’s preschool/daycare, mentioned that she used to work there herself. “I always felt so sorry for those poor, motherless children.”  I left the conversation in a daze, to pick up my poor, motherless child. Later that day I wrote:

Considering that Mommy Island is, at times, its own Hall of Terrors, how sad that when we find other castaways we immediately put up our dukes? It’s a little Lord of the Flies, isn’t it? Why is it that, instead of banding together to support each other through truly, one of the hardest tasks of all humankind, mothers instead criticize, lash out, and accuse when others’ choices differ from their own?

And then, another mom pointed out to me that the Proverbs 31 woman was a working mother.

She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.

Proverbs 31:16-18 NIV

(Note: I feel like I need to clarify for the record “her lamp does not go out at night” is not implying that this chick never sleeps. We need our sleep! The phrase instead is meant to imply that she has planned ahead sufficiently, just like the wise virgins, and does not run out of oil for her lamp at night.)

Proverbs 31. The pinnacle of a godly woman. How often have I heard from other women that this passage just makes them feel guilty and insufficient?

I’ve always been a working mother. It wasn’t what I really wanted or aspired to, but it was what was required of the life we lived here in the Silicon Valley, and the life I believe we were meant to be living.

The Hebrew word for “noble woman” here is actually “woman of valor” Eshet Chayil which means strength of mind or spirit. Courage in the face of adversity.

If working outside the home and raising kids simultaneously doesn’t require strength of mind and courage in the face adversity, I don’t know what does. Any of you who have lain awake at 3am listening to your child cough and wondered how you’re going to stay home with a sick child AND chair the board meeting, or present the sales analysis, or plan that event the following day know exactly what I mean.

I don’t see Proverbs 31 as a list of unattainable ideals. I see myself and every other working mom I know – striving to care for my family as a mother, a home-keeper and a bread-winning partner in parenting and life. I see a metaphor that celebrates the working and the at-home mother who rises before dawn whether for an infant’s cries or the screech of an alarm. I see the moms next to me in line at the preschool, juggling work and family, being a great mom and keeping their jobs. I see the pursuit of excellence not complacency. The needs of the family before the needs of the mom. I see extraordinary measures sought to balance children, finances, service to church and community.

I see valor all around. In the workplace, in the home. At the park, in car-line, in the grocery store, and in heels and hose lugging diaper bags and car seats through the preschool parking lot each morning.

From one working mom to another, here’s how I’ve learned to survive, and thrive, as a working mom:

Give yourself permission to take off the cape. You are not a super-hero. No one expects you to be one. You do not have to do it all. Buy cookies for the class party, and save the baking for when you have time, and it’s a pleasure to do so, not a punishment. You don’t have to chaperone every field trip, or even attend every class party. Talk it over with your child and pick the ones that they feel are the most important. You are teaching your children an important life-lesson— a work ethic, (and valor!) and they won’t ever forget that.

Set aside time for yourself. Find a Bible study and spend 15 minutes each evening alone with a video or guide book. Staying connected to God will help you stay balanced. Make the time to exercise! Sacrificing 30 minutes of sleep for 30 minutes at the gym is an even trade — the more exercise you get, the less sleep you’ll need. January is a great time to get a good deal on a gym membership. Go on your lunch break, or if you have someone at home to help out, see if they can take turns getting the kids ready for school or daycare a couple of mornings a week.

Here’s a secret — the stay-at-home moms don’t feel any more organized or accomplished than you do. And their houses are messy, too! Kids make messes. Doesn’t matter if you work or stay at home. Don’t compare yourself to other people, and don’t be afraid to ask your kids to pull their own weight. Even a three-year-old can help empty trash cans or sort clean laundry!

Forgive the stay-at-home moms. Try not to be resentful or envious of someone else — the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence! No one ever feels like they are doing enough. Perhaps they are dying to get out of the house just as much as you are dying to stay home. Celebrate the gifts and talents you posses and bring to the workplace. Thank God that He has blessed you and has provided you a way to use them for His glory. It is not God’s will for women to stay home with their children any more than it is God’s will for women to work outside the home — what is God’s will is that in everything, without grumbling or complaining, we do it all for Him.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3:23 NIV

Be at peace. You are Eshet Chayil.

Do you work outside the home?

Do you struggle with feeling like you can’t keep up with all that is required of being a working mom?

What things have you found that bring you peace and encouragement? 

This post is part of our first series of 2014, Hope for the Messiness of Motherhood. Find all of the posts in this series here.

The entire month of January 2014, the MOB Society (for mothers of boys) will be offering hope for the messiness of motherhood as they address real reader's feelings of failure as a mom. Join us!