May 15, 2018

3 Tips For Nurses Dealing With Working Mom Guilt

3 Tips For Nurses Dealing With Working Mom Guilt
Angelina Walker
By: Angelina Walker Director of Nursing Content and Social Media

By Chaunie Brusie, RN

I’ll never forget one of the hardest days of my life as a working mom. I had just returned to work after having my third child, a stubborn baby who refused to take a bottle of any kind. I had been picking up short shifts as I tried desperately to get him to take a bottle.  That particular day, I had been mandated. My quick four-hour shift dragged into eight…then twelve…then sixteen.

Which only meant one thing- my son was starving.

Desperate with a screaming and hungry baby she couldn’t feed, my mom, who had been watching him, called up to the unit begging me to take a break and come feed him. I stood at the nurse’s station crying because I couldn’t even take a break to use the restroom, let alone feed my son. Listening to my son crying because he needed me, and my mom crying because she didn’t know what to do was overwhelming.

How’s that for work-life balance?

The truth is, “balance” as a working mother sometimes means facing some pretty tough situations, from hungry babies to missing school plays or dealing with erratic sleep schedules. And all of that balancing can lead to the common diagnosis that ails so many of us-Working Mom Guilt: Nurse Edition. Working mom guilt as a nurse is especially difficult because you’re taking care of someone else instead of your own family and that’s a tough place to be. Take my scenario for instance, on that particular day, I just so happened to be working in the nursery.  I was making sure other babies were well-fed but not my own. Sigh.

Maybe you haven’t shed tears at the nurse’s station from the most intense mother’s guilt ever for literally letting your son starve (side note: he was fine that day and today, he’s a very strapping kindergartener who can put down three waffles for breakfast, so apparently, it didn’t scar him for life). Odds are, you’ve experienced working mom guilt as a nurse at least once in your career.

It’s almost silly when you think about the fact that we can feel guilty for something as necessary as working, isn’t it? I mean, very rarely do you hear fathers stressing about feeling “guilty” over going to work and “leaving” their children behind. As if earning an income to provide for them is somehow a terrible, neglectful thing. But for us mothers, however, it’s still somehow ingrained in all of us that working = leaving our kids. And good moms don’t leave their kids, right?

Well, I don’t know about you, but not only do I need to leave my kids in order to, provide for them, but I also need to leave them in order to survive them. (Sorry, but it’s the truth.) Guilt over working ultimately will break even the best of mothers and the most dedicated employees, so if you’re struggling with guilt about working, here are some suggestions on what to do:

1. Acknowledge your feelings

Pushing your feelings away won't do you any good and instead, will eventually stress you out even more. Instead, take a minute to sit with your feelings. Ask yourself what your guilt is trying to tell you—maybe use a piece of paper to write out thoughts that come to mind. You can also talk through things with a friend or a partner. Whichever method you choose, try to listen to what your feelings of guilt are telling you.

Are they telling you that you wish you could cut back your hours at work? Are you struggling with what you “think” you should do as a mom vs. what you actually want to do (#pickupalltheshifts)? Are you experiencing feelings of guilt because you need more support at home? We are often rushing so fast through our daily lives that we don’t stop to pause and let our emotions be heard. Our emotions, even the yucky ones like guilt, are a clue to figuring out what we actually need to feel healthy. Don’t push them away before you give them a chance to speak up.

2. Explore solutions

After you’ve given your guilt a chance to speak, it’s time to get down to diagnosing the problem and working to solve it. Are you having guilty feelings for not being home to tuck your kids into bed? Maybe you could work out a FaceTime schedule with your caregiver or partner. Is your guilt more about being exhausted during the day with your night-shift schedule? Would hiring more help so you can get more restful sleep and quality time with you be an option? Or is your guilt telling you there are no good solutions whatsoever and maybe you need to secure a position with a schedule that fits your life better?

It's so, so important (especially if you are a new mom or a mom of littles) that you realize no one stage is permanent. In order to help minimize the guilt, really embrace motherhood and your nursing career, focus on what you need right now, in this season. Maybe that means getting more help with housework or giving yourself permission to enjoy being away from your kids.  Whatever it is, realize that what works for you right now doesn’t have to be forever. Be confident in making the choices that work best for you at the moment and don’t let guilt rob you of fulfillment, your motherhood and your career.

3. Change your words

I believe that as moms, there’s never a simple solution to banishing working mom guilt, if ever. It’s a life-long struggle. But one key strategy has helped me enormously in my own battle with mom guilt, is changing how I talk about my work. Instead of telling my kids that I “have” to work, complete with a sorrowful expression and a tear in my eye, I tell them that I “get” to go to work.

I mean, let’s be real, as nurses, many of us truly feel that our work is a privilege. We know that being able to take care of other people and be a part of their lives in such a significant way is an honor, so why not reflect that attitude to our children?  

In the end, you don’t “have” to be a nurse—you get to be one. And that’s not something any mom should ever feel guilty about.

Chaunie Brusie is a Registered Nurse and a mom of four from Michigan. Find her at

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