Work-family guilt as a straightjacket. An interview and diary study on consequences of mothers' work-family guilt

Lianne Aarntzen*, Belle Derks, Elianne van Steenbergen, Michelle Ryan, Tanja van der Lippe

*Corresponding author for this work

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Working mothers often experience guilt when balancing work and family responsibilities. We examined consequences of work-family guilt with an interview study (N = 28) and daily diary study (N = 123). The interview study revealed that as a result of work-family guilt, parents tended to either reappraise the situation (e.g., emphasizing financial importance of work) or compensate for their guilt by adapting their parenting, adapting their work, and by sacrificing their leisure. Consistently, the diary study (where mothers completed online daily questionnaires over 8 consecutive days) revealed that higher work-family guilt was related to more traditional gender behaviors in mothers. Specifically, mothers (a) thought more about reducing their working hours, (b) reduced the time they planned for themselves, and (c) planned to reserve more time and energy for their children in the future although no changes in actual parenting behaviors were observed. Moreover, the diary study demonstrated that work-family guilt is associated with lower well-being for mothers. Together, these studies illuminate how work-family guilt may motivate mothers to comply with gender norms in which they prioritize caregiving tasks over their work.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103336
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Vocational Behavior
Publication statusPublished - Dec-2019


  • Career
  • Gender
  • Mothers
  • Parenting
  • Well-being
  • Work-family guilt

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