Taking care of oneself to overcome mothers’ guilt

Family care burdens continue to weigh heaviest on women, especially mothers, with a negative impact on employment: of the 42,000 resignations of parents of children aged zero to three in 2020, 77.4% involved mothers (National Labour Inspectorate).

And yet, data from the Lifeed Work-Life Observatory show that mothers, if acknowledged and valued by companies, can make a positive contribution in the professional sphere, drawing specifically from the skills developed through the parental experience. 82% of the mothers involved in Lifeed courses discovered that they were stronger than they thought and that they possessed skills they did not think they had. Leadership skills are also higher among caregivers, especially new parents.

How, then, can the life experiences and skills of mother carers be harnessed in companies? This was discussed during the Caring Company Digital Talk Mothers’ skills transferred to the workplace promoted by Lifeed and moderated by Chiara Sivieri, Lifeed Customer Executive, through the testimonies of managers from leading companies

The Lifeed Life-Work Observatory analysis showed that 80% of mothers feel they always put their own needs and desires second, because they experience time for themselves with conflict and a sense of guilt.

Self-care trains six skills

Motivations? There is a lack of a culture of self-care, which is seen as something optional, not as a priority and not as something that generates productivity. Self-care is perceived as a selfish action, a whim or something sterile. Almost all mothers (98%) experience the time devoted to self-care as time taken away from something else considered more important: care of the family, the home or work. For fathers, this perception emerged in 65% of cases (33% less than for mothers).

In addition to this, there is a more practical reason why mothers are so reluctant to take care of themselves: the lack of time, reported by more than half of the mothers (55%), means creating a hierarchy of priorities where self-care ends up in last place compared to tasks and needs that are considered a priority. Lack of time is also reported by fathers, in 30% of cases (-25% compared to mothers).

But data from the Lifeed Work-Life Observatory show that time devoted to oneself and to self-care – understood as an integral part of daily life – not only improves wellbeing but also trains six fundamental skills in mothers, which are also useful in the world of work: initiative (88%), innovation (65%), attention (54%), stress management (45%), self-confidence (25%) and relational skills (20%).

Taking care of oneself is an altruistic action

Caring activities (for children and the elderly) are mainly the responsibility of women, who cover several private and professional roles at the same time. In the absence of state-provided services, corporate welfare can be a very effective solution for taking care of caregivers, says Sabina Tarozzi, Head of Welfare Programmes at UnipolSai. This means building care at different levels: family, social, corporate. To do so requires a paradigm shift around the sense of guilt linked to caring for oneself, which, according to Tarozzi, is actually an act of altruism because it allows mothers to feel better and have more energy to devote to others.

The key is therefore to work on overcoming stereotypes, transforming selfishness into altruism. In order to have the strength to ‘put it all together’, mothers must first take care of their own personal well-being. For Tarozzi, even so-called creative idleness generates skills and well-being. Having corporate tools that favour work-life synergy is of fundamental help in bringing out the richness of the parenting experience. Not separating the dimensions of mother and professional as two ‘silos’ makes it possible to increase well-being: to achieve this goal, a virtuous circle of work-life synergy must be activated.

In UnipolSai’s corporate welfare, parenting and caregiving are the two pillars of care. The aim of the services and tools made available to employees who are parents and caregivers is to legitimise caregiving, free of guilt, to lighten the burden and allow people to thrive.

Overcoming guilt and making oneself dispensable

Altruism related to self-care can also be defined as a ‘kind selfishness’, says Martina Borsato, Data Strategist at Lifeed, explaining that mothers are often rewarded for sacrifice, but this causes them to lose part of their identity. Developing the right level of awareness of one’s roles helps to create a network of family alliances (for example, making more room for fathers), but also social alliances (from the children’s teachers to the nanny) and professional alliances with bosses and managers who are able to enhance motherhood.

When all this is accomplished, mothers no longer feel indispensable and this taking a ‘step back’ eases the burden and stress, while ensuring a healthier system that can function without them.

As Alice Brioschi, Publishing Editor of books such as Non sei il tuo senso di colpa (You are not your guilt) (Prospero Editore), points out, the negative culture around this issue accentuates the problems and guilt of mothers, who simultaneously fulfil other ‘energy-consuming’ roles related to jobs, friendships, passions or other interests.

Using the right words also serves to change the paradigm on this topic, having the courage to bring out the negative feelings associated with being a mother, because motherhood cannot always be considered a positive experience.

Time for oneself frees up energy

Giving voice to the feeling of guilt, making it clear by sharing the experience with other mothers, is helpful in overcoming it. According to Francesca Martino, Coordinator of WeWorld Spazio Donna Milano, it is important for mothers to be able to carve out space and time for pleasure in their lives because this makes them more motivated, creative, productive and focused. This also expands their perception of space and time and allows them to have more energy.

In order to carve out autonomy, it is necessary to build a support network around them, not least because the consequences of the pandemic have exacerbated the negative situations of mothers who were already in difficulty. Identifying their resources and bringing them to the surface, according to Martino, makes women feel more competent: working on themselves, focusing on personal care, is the key to recognising their own value and making it flourish.