Most working moms experience worry about guilt spending. There are three easy ways to avoid it.
This is a guest post by Angie Picardo, a staff writer for Nerd Wallet.
Whether you love your job or hate your job, finding a healthy and stress-free balance between working full-time and raising a family is the real world’s version of mission impossible. Unfortunately, even though the last 60 years have brought unprecedented changes to a woman’s role in the workplace, very little has shifted with regard to the expectations placed on a mother. Mothers are supported and often encouraged to keep their career-oriented goals but at the same time, there is a stigma around the dynamics (i.e. longer daycare hours) that make this possible.
Quality Over Quantity
What’s most upsetting about this stigma is how biased it is toward the quantity of time versus the quality of time spent with a child. Because according to Aletha Huston, a University of Texas psychology professor, “the amount of time that mothers spend with their children does not seem to be that important; it is the quality of the interaction” that counts.
And studies have been conducted to support this notion. Surveys of working and non-working mothers have shown that mothers who work appreciate the time they spend with their family more than those who spend all of their time at home. As one woman surveyed states: “there’s a minimum amount of time your child needs with you but there’s also an upper limit – where you stop being the parent you want to be, when you’ve had it with fussing and spilt milk.”
It’s too simplistic to say less time with parents means less healthy development for children. Actually, the children who suffer most are those whose parents ignore, misunderstand, or belittle their needs.
Guilt Guilt-Free Spending
So don’t feel badly about guilt spending (i.e. buying things for your children to make up for lost time). But do make an effort to spend money on things that show you’ve been listening and prove how much you truly care for your child.
For example, let’s say your daughter is in the school choir and she has a performance coming up where she has a solo. A week before the performance, you find out you have a mandatory work event to attend. Sound familiar?
The guilt kicks in and your instinct might tell you to go out and buy something to make up for your absence. But if you say “sorry I can’t see you sing but let’s go buy some new clothes next weekend,” it can often come across as an empty gesture. Your daughter might be thrilled she’s getting new clothes but does that really show your support for her as her caretaker? Or does it just give her control over you by giving her the impression that you crave her approval?
The way to get around this isn’t giving up guilt spending altogether. It’s simply shifting your approach and connecting the “gifts” to the time that you’ve missed. If you have to miss your daughter’s choir performance, try taking her to see a musical to make up for it. As opposed to just buying her some new clothes or another gift, this gesture will show her that you do acknowledge and care about her interest in music. Yes, it is still “guilt spending” but it also sends the message that your absence at her show doesn’t mean you are ignoring how important singing is to her. And you still want to be involved in that part of her life any way that you can.
This is also a great way to make sure your “guilt spending” is less of a replacement for quality time and more of just a rain-check. Directing your “guilt spending” on family-fun activities makes sure you’re matching the time you’ve missed with time you can enjoy together in the future.
Happy Parents, Happy Kids
Of course, there’s no magic wand that can wipe away the maternal instincts that make you wish for more time with your child. That’s what makes us human. But we can learn something from the psychologists who have studied child development. Their studies have shown that the biggest indicator of how a child will fare emotionally, socially, and academically is how the parents are doing in their own lives.
So do your children a favor and put yourself first.
Angie Picardo is a staff writer for NerdWallet. Her mission is to help consumers stay financially savvy, and save some money with the best online checking accounts.
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