Mom secrets: Working moms get real about the guilt and the glory

Working moms have a love-hate relationship with their jobs.

On one hand, they told us in our Mom Secrets survey, they hate spending time away from their kids, and miss them like crazy when they’re stuck at work. Walking away from a child crying "Mommy!" at day care is its own special brand of torture. On the other hand, sometimes moms secretly love the escape. After a weekend of breaking up sibling fights, changing dirty diapers and weathering toddler tantrums, even the most hectic workplace can feel like a tranquil oasis.

Let's see... whole wheat, iron-enriched, extra serving of guilt... sounds perfect for Working Mom stew!

Whether they work out of financial necessity, career ambition, the need to get out of the house or some combination of those factors, moms reported a complicated mix of emotions about their jobs. More than 26,000 moms responded to the TODAY Moms and survey; 74 percent said they work outside the home. Among our findings:

  • 42 percent of moms said they’d rather get a 50 percent raise at work than spend 50 percent more time with their kids.
  • 20 percent say they judge other moms who work too much
  • 1 in 5 moms says she’d choose a more flexible career if she could have a “do-over,” while 1 in 10 says she would concentrate more on her career.
  • Nearly one-third of moms admit to using work as an excuse to get out of child care.

Read more: What's your biggest mom secret? 26,000 moms confess in our survey

One mom wrote anonymously: “I cry at work when I'm not around my 3 year old son. But, when I get home and have time to spend with him, I get stressed out, exhausted and overwhelmed.”

 Another confessed: “I am a working mom, I want to provide the best I can for my kids.  I chose the very best day care I could find. I have a great career and am highly educated.  But, I secretly wish I would get fired so I could stay home with them.”

And one wrote, simply: “I feel guilty every single day for going to work.”

Read more: The TODAY Moms editor spills her secrets

A lot of the angst women have about working seems to stem from the notion that society EXPECTS them to feel conflicted. Plenty of women are happy at work and happy with their child care arrangements, but feel as if they have to put on a “sad face” to the world so they won’t be judged too harshly.

As one mom told us, “I pretended to be heartbroken about going back to work after my six months of maternity leave.  Really, I was ready for the break from non-stop baby duty.”

Why do working women feel judged? Because they are. Some moms confessed anonymously that they do, indeed, judge working mothers.

“I secretly cannot stand other selfish moms!! I loathe them,” one Judgy McJudgerson wrote anonymously. “Moms who would rather use formula because it's easier...moms who would work outside the home...moms who use excuses to fuel their selfishness. A mom is who you are.... you accept it wholeheartedly or don't bother!”

Read more: The mom-judging Olympics: A competition nobody meant to enter

Still, despite the judging, many moms say they refuse to feel guilty about working to provide for their families.

“I do not feel guilty that I work outside the home,” one mom wrote. “My kids are in a great day care and I love that there is an entire day planned around them and their needs. I couldn't do that if I stayed home. I love that they have their own lives and friends and stories to share at the end of the day.”

Much is made of the divide between stay-at-home and work-outside-the-home moms. But in our survey, we found that moms have a lot more in common than they have separating them, no matter what their work situation. Unfortunately, one thing they have in common is a tendency to wonder if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. While some moms are perfectly content, some SAHMs secretly long for a job while some WOHMs wish they could stay home with the kids.

Read more: ‘The bees are coming!’ Moms confess their funniest fibs

One thing that’s clear: Moms who work outside the home appreciate how hard it is to stay at home. Instead of sniping at one another, some moms in our survey offered up words of respect. One mom said:

“I love my 1-year-old twins, but I am glad I am not a stay at home mom.  When Monday comes around I look forward to going to work just to get a break, relax and focus on something other than feeding/napping schedule and keeping them entertained and happy.  Stay at home moms work HARD and deserve more credit than they get.”

So true – and couldn’t that be said of every mom?

Sharing time: Moms who've both worked and stayed home -- please share with us the happiest and hardest parts of each.