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The Motherload: Predicting Experiences of Work-Interfering-with-Family Guilt in Working Mothers

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Despite receiving significant attention from sociological scholars and a growing discourse in popular culture, relatively little psychological research has investigated experiences of guilt in working mothers. This study aimed to explore potential predictors of guilt in response to a specific kind of work-family conflict where work interferes with the parenting role or family life (work-interfering-with-family guilt). Participants were 1375 mothers of children aged 12 or under who worked or studied a cumulative 15 hr per week or more. Data were gathered via an online questionnaire where participants completed measures of work-interfering-with-family guilt, work-family conflict, parenting self-efficacy, perceived social norms regarding maternal employment and the degree to which they felt they deviated from an “ideal” mother. Results revealed that mothers who experienced high work-family conflict and perceived themselves as highly deviant from an “ideal” mother reported higher levels of guilt. Moreover, high parenting self-efficacy and strong peer norms in favour of maternal employment were associated with less guilt. Demographic variables such as participant age, whether the mother engaged in study, and the number of hours worked per week were also significantly related to guilt. This study provides preliminary evidence of potential risk and protective factors in the development of employment-related guilt in working mothers. These factors may prove effective targets in future psychological interventions aimed at reducing distress in working mothers or parents.


  • This study aimed to explore predictors of work-interfering-with-family (WIF) guilt in working mothers.

  • Mothers with high WIF conflict and large ideal-self discrepancy reported more guilt.

  • Mothers with high parenting self-efficacy and working peers reported less guilt.

  • Younger mothers, those who study, and those working fewer hours reported more guilt.

  • Future therapies for maternal WIF guilt may target self-efficacy/ideal-self discrepancy.

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Please note this study was granted approval by the Queensland University of Technology Human Research Ethics Committee (approval number: 1800000131). Participants provided informed consent via an online consent form before commencing the study.

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Correspondence to Emmalie I. Maclean.

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Maclean, E.I., Andrew, B. & Eivers, A. The Motherload: Predicting Experiences of Work-Interfering-with-Family Guilt in Working Mothers. J Child Fam Stud 30, 169–181 (2021).

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