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let’s all have less mom guilt, shall we?

Oh Joy for Target - Behind the Scenes

Oh Joy for Target - Behind the Scenes

I've recently spoken at a few conferences, and I always get asked about how to deal with feeling guilty about being away from your child as a working mom. Now, let me preface this by saying that "mom guilt" is an epidemic that every mother I know seems to feel often—whether they're stay-at-home-moms, working moms, or any kind of mom—we (unfortunately) feel bad for something. While I certainly struggle with it too, here's something that recently helped me feel a little less guilty…

As a mom who runs my own business, my work never really ends and sometimes my work crosses into personal time. Even though I try my best to keep the two worlds separate, it's not always possible. Earlier this year, we were shooting images for the Oh Joy for Target Fall and Holiday collections coming out this year. I try not to schedule any meetings or really important work things on Wednesdays (because that's the one day a week that I don't go into the office and I stay home with Ruby), but one morning, I had to bring her to the Target shoot location on one of our special Wednesdays.

Oh Joy for Target - Behind the Scenes

When she woke up that morning, I told her that she was coming with mama to a photo shoot for Target. She knows what photos are and she knows the store Target, but she didn't really understand where we were going. Once there, she got to see beautiful displays being set up with Oh Joy product, and she got to meet the talented stylists, art directors, photographers, and all the creative and interesting people that help make these images come together. The best part was showing her how once a scene was set up, the photographer would take a picture of it, and the image would come onto the computer screen, and then we would decide which one was the best one. For a two year old, she got to see a process in action that she wouldn't have understood with words alone. We left and went on her usual day, and I didn't think much about it until the next morning…

Oh Joy for Target - Behind the Scenes

She woke up and said, "Mama, are we going to the Target photo shoot today?! That was so fun!" At first, I thought maybe I had exposed her too much to a world that wasn't a typical day for anyone—let alone a kid—to experience. But then I thought to myself, how cool is it that my daughter gets to see her mom living out one of her dreams? And she gets to experience how parts of the process occur. While she's not old enough to understand it completely, whenever we go to Target now, she sees my photo on the display, and she says, "That's you, mama!" and gets excited to find "the stuff Oh Joy made". It's a pretty cool feeling to get to show Ruby that even though I don't get to be with her all day, everyday because I am working, the work that I do is something I truly love, and I want it to be inspiration for her to find that for herself someday.

So if you're a working parent, please remember that working doesn't have to have a negative connotation to kids and represent the times that their parents are away from them, but it can represent something exciting—accomplishing goals, building dreams, having a life outside being a parent, and lots of other things that none of us should feel guilty for. You're showing them what's possible in the world and at the end of the day, you're bringing home a more nourished and more fulfilled version of yourself.

P.S. Here's my keynote speech at Alt Summit last month where I mention this example if you would like to see.

{Photos by Casey Brodley for Oh Joy}


  1. My parents were entrepreneurs (still are) and I used to get so mad about little things, like when they turned our “vacation” into a work trip but as I got older I began to admire that they didn’t have the typical 9-5 jobs like other parents. If my mom was late to pick us up I used to tell the lady if she made a comment that my mom was always late, “my mom has her own business, she’s not a housewife!”. Ruby will definitely have a unique childhood but she will grow up to be so proud of her mom and dad!

  2. My husband and I are planning to start a family soon, but our fist “baby” is our small business that we started together. I’ve been trying to figure out what a working mom would look like for us and this has been very encouraging. Thank you!

  3. It’s wonderful that you are able to share your professional world with Ruby and make her a part of it. Sometimes its not the quantity but the quality of time one spends with their kid that makes a diff. Kudos to you for doing a great job at work and home!

  4. yes to no more mom guilt and yes to no more woman guilt, either! i think as women we always feel guilty about something-working to hard, not working enough, neglecting friendships, spending money, the list goes on-then, once we enter motherhood, it skyrockets.
    this is a very important message for us all! Thanks, Joy! And hope you enjoyed your time in Philly (my home 🙂 ).

  5. I love this. And you’re absolutely right. I don’t remember either of my parents’ jobs as “time they were away,” but rather as the cool things my parents did. It helped that, like Ruby, I got to go see my dad teach and my mom be a nurse, so I had some idea of what it involved. Most important, I saw that it fulfilled them.

  6. I’m so glad you shared this post, joy… It’s everything I’ve been thinking about and working through lately.
    I was raised with a stay at home mum who was very vocal about believing that was the best way… So I guess I subconsciously grew up thinking I would do the same.
    Now I’m in my thirties, married and considering a family, but we run our own husband and wife design business, this won’t be how raising a kid looks for us.
    I’m inspired by all the amazingly talented ladies who work to do both and what amazing effect this is going to have on a generation of little boys and girls who see that women who have worked hard to gain skill, grow their own business and career is something that doesn’t just get cast aside when you give birth. I know so many talented people to whom that’s the ultimate plan, and I can’t help but feel sad at the waste of that talent in the world.
    I really believe and hope that it will be beneficial to our future kids to see us doing and creating amazing things. To see that anything is possible and that you are a whole and inspiring person as well as their mummy.

  7. I just recently became a working mom as I had my baby boy, Camden, almost four month ago. I cried the entire first day and much of the first week. Now, it’s a bit easier and I have learned to understand the importance of me going to work to take care of my family. Living in L.A., it makes it virtually impossible to own a home and have a single income. Although I dream of blogging for a living so I can stay home with him, I also welcome the break to do something for myself and speak to adults. It’s reassuring that I am doing something I love and one day Camdie will see that his mom works hard to contribute to his happiness. Thanks, Joy, for always being an amazing mama inspiration and congrats on baby #2!

  8. Thanks for the inspiring words! As both an eager soon-to-be mama (any day now!) and a driven academic, it’s refreshing to be reminded how our ambitions and accomplishments can enrich our relationships with our children.

  9. I don’t have any kids myself, so I can only image how heavy that feeling weighs on a lot of moms. Growing up, my single mom raised my sister, brother, and I while working two jobs. I’m still not really sure how she did it, but we never for a second resented her for it (okay, maybe sometimes, but not that I can ever remember). Which, I think can really go to show mothers that even though it’s tough, you’re teaching your children something important. My mom taught us that we should always work hard and that sometimes you have to put aside things that you want for things that have to be done. I think those lessons alone have helped make my siblings and I better people.

  10. I’m a stay at home Mom who feels guilty for NOT working. It goes both ways here! My son is growing up seeing that I work at home and take care of him, his brother and sister and that’s all he sees. I try to do other things for him to see that I’m capable, but I don’t know if he buys it. I fix things that break, I use power tools in front of him, I have lots of house projects, but I’m not sure it’s enough for him to believe I can “work” too. I choose to stay home because the money I would bring in is only a little more than what we would pay someone to take care of them. It’s just not worth it. I agree with Lisa, above, women feel guilty for a lot of things and we just need to stop!

  11. Wow! What a truly original take on the “mom guilt” work/life balance highlight reel that keeps playing over and over again online. I’m not a parent yet, but I worry about this because I hear about it all. the. time. This lifted my spirits and brought a fresh perspective to this. It’s almost like an antidote to guilt. Every time we’re (moms) feeling guilty use that energy to show your kids what you do, why it’s important and why you love it.
    Kudos to you Joy for being such an inspiring example and for sharing it with the world.

  12. Oh my goodness! This was so encouraging. I have felt guilty so many times, and I never really thought of it this way before. It makes total sense though. Kids love to get involved, and it must be so exciting to be a part of what mommy does. Thank you for sharing!

  13. Totally agree Joy! I battle mom guilt in many ways. One way is what you say above, that hopefully I’m inspiring my daughter by being a successful working woman who can support a household. I think it’s a good lesson for her to feel like she can do anything she wants to do too! But something else I always remind myself is that as parents (even working parents!) we spend a lot more time with our kids than past generations. So even though we work we are actually with them more than our parents were with their parents. Sometimes I think what we modern working parents need more of is alone time or romantic time with our partners. I think this gets sacrificed sometimes because we want to spend as much possible time with our children.I know I do this, but it also means I haven’t been willing to give up a family night in favor or a date night in a long time even though i know my daughter benefits from her parents having a strong relationship. I’m working on that.

  14. We often feel mom guilt because we compare ourselves to other moms. I try to not have mom guilt by remembering that every choice has its pros and cons. I’m a WAHM (work-at-home mom) who loves the flexibility of being at home and being at home with my baby. But when friends tell me how “lucky” I am, I acknowledge the upsides, and also mention the downsides too. I’m often doing chores with my baby as an activity (so I can work during nap time), I miss going to an office and being with colleagues, and I have a super long to-do list, etc. I’m doing what I think is best for my family, my extended family, and myself, and am remembering that God’s grace will cover my mistakes. This helps me not feel guilty when I see the upsides of other moms who make different choices than me.

  15. hi joy! i don’t have kids, but what an awesome and inspirational perspective and example to set for and share with ruby. i love it. thank you for this post!

  16. So well put! Though I would love to spend all day, every day with our little guy, my work fulfills a different set of needs that make me a better balanced person and I believe ultimately a better mom. Regardless of whether or not we work, stay at home or some hybrid of the two, the best example we can set for our children is to show them the happiness in our lives and doing what we love. The other best example we can show them is support for everyone, regardless of what their decisions are.

  17. Great post. I’ve been at both sides (working and at home), mommy guilt never goes away. We just need to cut ourselves some slack. Chances are we’re much less critical of others. Ruby must love to her mom’s place of work :).

  18. good for you. i don’t have kids, so take this with a grain of salt, but it’s my belief that quality is more important than quantity.

  19. As the main breadwinner of the family, I have to work full time. But I also like to work. I have always liked it. For a long time (and even still sometimes), though, I felt guilty about “liking” work because that was time spent away from my son. Your post is right on–showing my son that hard work can be rewarding and fulfilling and something you enjoy is nothing to feel guilty about. Thank you for writing about something all us moms should remember.

  20. Thank you Joy! I needed to hear this today! and yesterday…LOL! Thank you – this is being saved to refer back to again and again! I was feeling guilty for working hard on my blog Girl Nesting…and then on top of that I’ve been a fashion model for the past 20 years- it’s my career that I have built over time and love and still enjoy! I was just feeling a bit guilty… “is this o.k for me to be loving what I do still? Away from Zoë?” Of course it is! I’m a better momma if I’m a happy & healthy momma… and that means having my own life as well as being there for Zoë. It’s funny, just typing it out I still feel guilty…but “enough already with the guilt” :))
    Thank you for this important reminder 🙂
    Jahaila @ Girl Nesting

  21. Thank you for this. As a photographer and also working a 9-5, lately I have been feeling like I am missing out and depriving my Lil of special “us” time pursuing the photography work I love while working the stable day job. It’s exhausting and I needed to read this and look at it from another perspective. Growing up, my family owned a fishing store, so many weekends and vacations were spent there, playing in the upstairs loft or being shooed out the door to go buy an ice cream or bike to the beach nearby. It wasn’t a typical upbringing but it was a good lesson in working hard to give your family the life you want them to have.

  22. Aw I had a little tear in my eye reading that! How awesome for Ruby to see you living your dream – hopefully she will have an equally rewarding career one day.
    When I was a child, my mum went from stay-at-home-mum to starting a charity from home (now a fairly high profile one), on which she worked pretty much endlessly and still does. Witnessing her finally finding something she was great at and on which she thrived was a real joy and inspiration to me. I’m sure Ruby loves the fact that you love what you do too.

  23. I am so happy to see this post from another mama. I love my career and when my little asks me why I (or her Dada) go to work I tell her about what we do, how we love it and how we hope she goes after what she loves when she grows up. We never say we work for the money (and I work in non-profit, so that would be a lie anyway, ha!) but instead make it about the contribution that we are making to our community. Big ups to no mom guilt!

  24. YES! So true for me as well. I run my own interior design business and only spend Wednesdays with my 2 yr old too! I also try to avoid work stuff while she’s awake (I do end up working while she naps) but I’ve brought her to furniture installations or quick client site visits while a carpet installer measures and we hash out final details. She’s had a blast and the clients have been great about having her there. She makes it more fun even though it’s a bit challenging managing her while in a professional setting, but I love hearing how Ruby enjoys it and has fun. It makes me feel better about Eleanor getting exposed to those experiences. Especially since I have a home office and don’t leave the house to go to a traditional office like her dad does.
    Thanks for the perspective, as always.

  25. I loved reading this post. I think you’re such a great family and Ruby has the opportunity to learn a lot from the people who love her.

  26. This is such a great post! As a working mother of two little boys I constantly judge myself and feel guilty of not being able to give them more than 2 hours a day..My parents are doctors and I have always seen my mom balance work and home perfectly. I never remember thinking that my mom never spent enough time with me..Infact now when I think about it today I am so much better at multi tasking and successfully juggle a full time job in the very demanding fashion industry, take care of kids and home single handedly as husband travels for work, and also manage to take kids to swimming/soccer classes, birthday parties/ parks /zoos /museums on weekends! I don’t think I would have that ability to multi task successfully had I not seen and gotten inspired by my mom. This post really made me stop, think and pat my back for a change! Kudos to all moms – stay at home or working! We always depreciate ourselves and never take credit but every once in a while its extremely important to take pride in ourselves and the way we are raising our kids 🙂

  27. u are lucky to have a successful business and u get to do things u love. your advice here is not helpful for most of the working moms out there who work not because they love their jobs but because they have to support their families. Stop giving advice and acting as if u are an expert.

  28. Hi Lilly,
    Thank you for your note. I am aware that my experience is not the same as everyone out there. I also work to support my family, and I have no intention of assuming my type of work applies to all mothers. When I share personal parts of my life, its to create a conversation and to give support. It is not to say that one way is the be all and end all and apply to everyone everywhere. Regardless of why someone works (or if their work is the hardest job of all, raising their kids) hearing stories from other moms helps me (and hopefully those reading this post) to know that were not alone in feeling that mom guilt that is so common.

  29. I love this post – thank you! I hope my (soon-to-be-born) baby girl is proud of me for my work and while I’m very lucky that I work p/t and from home, I do get “taken away” on occasion and I’m worried about feeling that mom guilt.
    This isn’t work-related necessarily but I remember as a kid some of the moments I revered my mom the most was when she was getting ready to go to a fancy event or dinner (sometimes for work) and I got to “help” her get dolled up. The smell of certain perfumes still make me feel like I’m a 7 year old proud of my beautiful mama. I don’t remember feeling like she abandoned me – I just remember thinking that I was proud of her and couldn’t wait until I was a grown up 😉

  30. Thank you so much for sharing this post. As a fresh new mom, I’m enjoying my maternity leave now but know I need to make some decisions before I go back to work. Your post is a strong reminder for me to make sure I’m doing what I love in my career so that I will be proud to share and inspire my little one as well. Balance was hard before my baby came and now it will be even more challenging to maintain. However, I do agree that if you’re fortunate enough to do what you really love, can share, teach and set that as example for your little one(s), then its worth it. I really hope I can carve out this for my own path very soon. Thank you as always for sharing your thoughts + experiences.

  31. Right on. I love taking charley to the studio and having him see what I do for work. I know i always loved going into my parents’ workplaces. I think it’s a really positive experience for him.

  32. I’m in the middle of watching the ALT video, and it is so inspiring! Thank you for sharing! You are very well-spoken.

  33. Very inspiring video Joy. As a freelancer, I miss the community of creative people I used to surround myself with every day. Thanks for the reminder to find that again. And thanks for sharing.

  34. I can really relate to this. I was really hoping that I was going to be the kind mom that just wanted to dedicate her day to her daughter but as it turns out, I miss the creative process & look forward to pursuing my passions and living my dreams. I agree with you, that for our daughters to see us accomplish things may look different than for them to have us at home 24/7 but it can be meaningful and have an impact on them in a positive way.
    There’s no guilt or shame around being our authentic selves and letting our daughters see that.

  35. The other day I needed to finish up client work during my “mom” hours. I gave my little on some paints,paper and water and let her “work” next to me. She was thrilled to be included and has been asking to paint with me every day since 🙂

  36. So glad I came across this post, I love every word in it! It doesn’t matter how many times we try to tell ourselves that it’s ok not to feel guilty, when we are doing our work, but it’s a very good reassurance when we read that other moms feel the same way, but we have to brush it of and continue to do so. I think it’s extremely important the example that we are giving to our children that we have a dream and we work really hard to make it into reality. And at the end it’s worth the sacrifice, because I know that our kids are happier when the have happy parents!

  37. thanks for this post mama–just when I needed it…
    and I just listened to your Key Note address. First of all YOU GO GIRL. Second, you are hilarious. Third, I love you! <3 xxx

  38. Your post made my day! I started my business 5 years ago, while pregnant with my 3rd child and have felt guilt ever since. I am a mom, first and foremost, but I also love what I do and with time my business has grown and required more of my time away from my little ones. So although it is sometimes a struggle, I do as you do and I take them along for the ride. And you know what I’ve noticed? Pride in my children’s eyes to have a working mom. 🙂

  39. such a sweet post. we are all doing the best we can, and though the guilt is hard to shut out, when you see your babies growing into happy, well-adjusted kids, “despite” the things we tear ourselves apart over… it does go a long way towards squashing the guilt. thanks for the reminder, joy!

  40. I still have an entire month or more before my maternity leave is over and I’ll only be returning to work about 10-15 hours a week and I’m already feeling guilty about leaving my son for a few hours to work. But you’re right – I’m showing him that I can do what I love (bake and be a mom) and that he can too someday!

  41. I’m not a parent, but one thing that I’ve remembered over the past few years was something Rosie Pope (she owns a maternity boutique) said.
    She noted that instead of acting sad about going to work and leaving your child behind (“Sorry kid, I have to go to work so I can afford to buy you toys”) you should instead act like it’s a really fun activity (“Isn’t it great, Mommy gets to go to work!”).
    I think it’s all about your mindset.

  42. I think you are absolutely right. I do not feel guilty about working whatsoever. Even if you are not “pursuing your bliss,” an honest job that allows you to feed, house, and clothe yourself and children is nothing to be guilty or ashamed of. How absurd.
    Work is a human adult condition. There’s nothing wrong and everything right about modeling that for your children.

  43. i loved this! my single mother had her own business and still managed to raise two relatively normal functioning adults. and on top of that, we are proud women who believe in working hard and standing up for ourselves. we used to spend saturdays in my mom’s office and we LOVED every minute of it. we felt special for getting to spend time in her work environment. plus, what kid doesn’t love office supplies?
    this is a great message that i’ll be sharing with my mom and sister.

  44. Ha, thanks mama! Do you like how I had to spell out part of your quote? (Im so used to it now with Ruby I didnt realize I did that with grown-ups too ;p)

  45. I love that! I remember I used to cry when my mom has to go to work and would block the door to try and prevent her from leaving..recently I apologized to her for that cause now I know how it feels! 😉

  46. Hey!! I’m also a home mum, used to work as an export manager, so traveled almost 70% of my time, so we decided as a family that we needed a change… And I just feel thankful and blessed for being able to share every day of my almost 4 years old girl. Of course there might be people who think I’m wasting my time or loosing experiences or not teaching her the values of life, but my heart says I’m ok, my hubby says we’re ok and she is so happy… I’m glad to have been able to live my previous “life” but won’t change it. We are teaching her what effort means, and she knows I’m capable, of course I am, of course we all are. It is only choices, different options but if decided with love, working or not out of home, it is our acts and attitude where the difference is. I guess the challenge here is to feel that we could do whatever we want, and just follow it… Nobody needs to do everything we can, we only live one life, so it would be easier just think that those days just fly and we are lucky enough to enjoy each and every moment. Best!

  47. Thank you for this post! I am interviewing for jobs now after taking time off for 10 months to have my first baby. I’m already feeling guilty about the time I’ll be away from her, but I know in the long run it’ll be for the best for all of us. Excited to get back to work, and showing our little girl that the opportunities out there are endless!

  48. On a day that I’m really feeling the “mom guilt”, it was very nice to read this. Thank you for the inspiring words :).

  49. Exactly! i love your post. No more WOMANS guilt is damn right. I was actually feeling guilty reading the post bc i dont work full time lol. We as women need to support each other and stop labelling our emotions so much and just be. If we work…so be it, If we stay at home….so be it, If i haven’t spoken to my bestie for 2 weeks….so be it. We need to start being the best possible person we are ‘able’ to be and also stop this debilitating guilt because it is driving us insane so unnecessarily. Move love and community spirit to all the wonderful woman walking the best path they can x

  50. I have worked since I was 15. Sometimes two jobs at a time as a single person. My now husband and I are contemplating me quitting my job so I can be a stay at home mom to my two stepchildren and the one we will be having in the future. I too find myself having this silent conversation with myself wondering if I can even do it seeing that I have worked so much of my life and also have a need for that extra income cusion. But when it all boils down, right at the moment I don’t make enough but to pay for the daycare I put my kids in during the summer. I may go halfies and work part time until I get through school. Not once has guilt been a part of this equation. Your kids are who you are because of how you raise them. Its all about how you present work to them and how they soak that in. You are doing a great thing because you are a great role model for your child. You are showing them first hand what life as an adult is like. There will be no surprises when she gets older and will be as independent as you.

  51. i so so so needed this today. i’m like, crying at my desk at work.
    i missed my daughter’s 6 month doctor’s appointment and i like, lost it in the car sitting in traffic on my commute home. i missed her first “army crawling.” while we are so blessed my husband can be a stay at home dad while he finishes school and our goals are to one day reverse roles, it doesn’t make it any easier to be a working mom.
    thank you so much for this.

  52. This is us in 2011 – our son is turning three tomorrow, and our business is half a year older. It’s been quite a ride and I don’t know a lot of parents who are in a similar situation in real life – would love to hear more of your story, Abby! You can find my email on the contact page of my site 🙂

  53. I love this post. The mom guilt is subsiding the less I listen to or care what other people think of my lifestyle, but every now and then I feel guilty when I go to work or when I have to work during family time. It’s just the ebb and flow of life, and kids are more flexible and resilient than we sometimes think.

  54. Hi Joy,
    Love this post and couldn’t agree more with the topic. As a creative entrepreneur and working Mom I do believe there is a good deal of judgment out there from other Moms. But the bottom line is, we all ‘do’ motherhood in our own way. And most importantly, in a way that works best for our unique children and family lifestyle. Running a business and raising children is hugely complex and utterly exhausting at times. But so, so rewarding! And completely exhilarating when the little ones get to be part of the process!
    Let’s all just lift a momma up, not cut her down!! Keep up all of the fantastic work, Joy!

  55. I know that not all working moms or dads can take their kids to work when necessary, but I LOVED going to work with my parents. My mom was an elementary school teacher and would take me to her school when she needed to work after hours, in the summer, or be there for parent-teacher night, and I liked being her helper and playing around in the classroom. My dad was (is) an engineer, and I would occasionally go to work with him on a Saturday, and it was so interesting to me to see an office and kind of pretend to be at work myself. I think it’s great to show kids what working at different jobs is like, and I know I just enjoyed spending time with my parents, even if they weren’t paying 100% attention to me. And if you can’t take your kids with you now and then, it’s still an important lesson: the world doesn’t revolve around them. Parents have to work, and it doesn’t mean they love their kids any less.

  56. It’s fantastic that you can take her to work with you! So many people don’t have that chance.
    Little children absorb experiences like a sponge, so the more high quality design, food, dance, music, etc. that they are exposed to naturally becomes part of their nature.
    Ruby can be your apprentice and learn more from you than she will ever learn in school. Think of great tennis or golf stars or great musicians, many of them started at the age of three. I live in Tokyo and love how culture and design are imbued from birth. Kabuki actors start learning the art from the age of two, and start performing by 3 or 4. I once met a real ninja whose father started teaching him when he was three. Curiosity is actively alive in little kids, so everything can be a joyful learning experience. Ruby told you that herself! Don’t feel guilty at all!

  57. Thanks for posting this. I think it’s a great reminder. I work in film and for me some of the most exciting career opportunities are also the ones that are going to take me away from my family for months at a time. I didn’t even think twice about it before having my daughter, but now I find myself filled with both excitement and dread at each possible project on the horizon.
    At the same time, I want to be the kind of person my kid can look up to and be proud of. I love that I’ve had the opportunity to bring her on set (even if she was asleep and strapped to my chest in an Ergo) and I hope to be able to keep doing that.
    I didn’t grow up in a home where “following your dreams” was something anyone ever talked about and I want my daughter to dream big and feel that it’s possible to make those dreams a reality. But it doesn’t stop the guilt sometimes. Your post is a nice reminder that there is another way to look at it.

  58. Yes. Check out the book “All Joy & No Fun” – it deals with this head on. It’s the first book I read after I found out I was pregnant.


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