Studies: 65% Of Women Feel Guilty About Balancing Motherhood and Work

In Lithuania, almost 7 out of 10 women feel guilty about combining work and raising children. According to a public opinion poll commissioned by the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson and conducted by Vilmorus, 65% of women admitted that they feel guilty about leaving their young children in the care of others while they were working.

Deeper qualitative studies conducted in Autumn 2020 have shown that the public expectation is that the notion that women should work as if they had no children and raise children as if they had no work is a source of guilt for women.

What Is Not Told by Working Mothers?

To reduce the guilt experienced by working mothers and emphasize the importance of reconciling work and private life, the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson is launching a public advertising campaign, ‘What is not told by working mothers?’ The aim of the campaign is to enable women to combine motherhood and a career in a way that suits them, to promote the creation of family-friendly work environment, and to invite men to become more involved in raising children.

‘Reconciling personal life and professional responsibilities is an integral part of everyday life – we want to form such a common understanding. A modern mother is also an employee who needs the support of society and the right conditions to combine work with motherhood. Of course, reconciling personal life and work is extremely important for all family members; however, due to unrealistic expectations, mothers still face insufficient opportunities for reconciliation and unequal distribution of work in the family, and due to a lack of services, mothers often feel guilty. Successful coordination is necessary for self-realization, healthy and full functioning of people’, says Birutė Sabatauskaitė, Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson.

Working mothers feel guilty because the public agrees they should feel guilty, according to a study conducted by ombudsman in 2020-2021.

‘Reconciling motherhood and professional needs is hard work, so it is normal that there are challenges, anxiety, fatigue, and stress. Guilt should not be on the list of these feelings. After all, raising children and creating conditions for doing so in a healthy society is the responsibility of everyone: the partner, family members, the workplace, and the society. ‘Society, and in particular employers and colleagues, should not only understand and support working mothers, but also actively contribute to the creation of a suitable working environment in which women can feel comfortable, work and perform job functions in appropriate and flexible conditions at this stage of their lives and careers’, comments Margarita Jankauskaitė, an expert at the Center for Equality Advancement.

Work-family Conflict—Women Manoeuvre Between Caring for Children and Other Personal Needs

In a public survey conducted last year, more than half of the Lithuanian population (51%) could not manage to reconcile their personal life and work. Long working hours or overtime often prevent women from raising children and participating in their upbringing, taking proper care of their health, travelling and spending time in nature, as well as spending time with their spouse/partner and other loved ones.

However, when there is a conflict between work and family, women are more likely than men to prioritize their family. For example, 45% of women would not be ready to work longer if they had to give up family responsibilities as a result, such as not taking their child to a club, not going to school festivals, etc., while only 27% of men thought so. 73% of women said they would like to have more time with their family; 56% of men expressed the same desire.

In addition, focus group surveys and individual interviews with working mothers were conducted to discover in detail what women feel when combining career and parenting. The interviews showed that despite the fact that motherhood brings many positive experiences and feelings, everyone had the need for self-realization at work, and the desire to engage not only in motherhood and to be able to combine childcare with work and creativity.

‘Interviews with mothers have shown that combining work (personal self-realization, career, professional development) and raising children and other family issues often causes negative feelings for women, such as guilt, anxiety, stress, fatigue, and sometimes panic, and loss of control over life, the feeling that you no longer manage your own time, doubts about the appropriateness of the decisions made, fear that you will not give your child what is best for him, pressure to be a perfect mother’, says B. Sabatauskaitė.

Working mothers have admitted to constantly criticizing themselves, lamenting they are not good mothers, that they do not take into account exclusively the needs of the child, that they want to work and engage in other activities, that they want to rest and do nothing, and take time for themselves. They also ruin themselves when they are forced to leave work earlier due to family, to ‘skim’ working hours, to take care of family issues during work, etc.

Women talked about the expectations of the work environment, that women should work as if they had no children. There are often preconceived notions that women with children will not be loyal, hardworking, and efficient employees because only children and family will matter to them. Despite an equal distribution of responsibilities between the couple, women bear the bulk of the emotional burden, which is exhausting and reinforces the feeling of guilt.

What Would Reduce the Feeling of Guilt?

The women identified three main things that would help reduce the conflict between work and parenting, as well as guilt that would also be a real help in their environment:

  1. greater involvement of the partner in raising children;
  2. an understanding employer with a family-friendly and flexible work environment; and
  3. more flexible and accessible childcare services and the possibility to working mothers to rest.

Similar results were shown by the Vilmorus survey, where respondents said that the following would help to reconcile work and personal life better: a flexible work schedule (59% agreed), a favourable attitude on the part of employers and colleagues (43%), the possibility of taking longer leave/free days on demand (39%), and available childcare services (kindergartens, nurseries, day care centres) (37%).

Raising Children Is the Responsibility of Society as a Whole

‘We should change society, not women, so that women themselves and the society (starting with the immediate environment—family, husband, relatives, and colleagues at the workplace) would understand that there is everything in the process of reconcile family and work: overdue work, missed festivals and practice of the children, your child being the last one picked from the kindergarten, emails answered at a later time, etc. This is normal and human. At the same time, it is hard and challenging work, which requires support, active involvement of fathers, favorable work culture and means allowing to reconcile family and work in the most convenient way for a person’, says the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson.

About the Campaign

The public advertising campaign ‘What is not told by working mothers?’ shows that modern mothers are very diverse: some can’t wait to return to work, and others are reluctant to work until their children begin to go to school. Advertising on social networks until December will talk about the fact that the modern mother is multifaceted: careerist, motherly, socially active, tired, hardworking, engaged in sports, and has the right to be such without public pressure and guilt.

This article is part of the project “Everybody’s Talking: Work-Life Balance Goes Mainstream”, partially funded by the European Union’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme (2014-2020). The content of it is the sole responsibility of the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Commission.