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Is guilt a woman’s tale?

by Aiden

How community members overcame the guilt of choices they’ve made as women.

By Amornrat Sidhu

Guilt is what you feel when you think you’ve done something wrong or have erred in some way. We might feel guilt when we don’t stand up for a friend, or when we don’t do our part in a group task to the best of our ability.

Guilt has two bonus characteristics, however. First, guilt brings its friends along every time it shows up: feelings of shame, failure and low self-worth. Second, your guilt could have stemmed from something you completely made up. You could have stood up for your friend, but imagined that you did not. You could have fulfilled every criterion on your group task, done your best, and still perceived that you did not. With guilt, perception is reality. With women, guilt is our reality.


Guilt stems from believing that one has not fulfilled expectations that have been placed on oneself, either by internal or external influences (i.e. media, society, religion).

Three problems often appear when analysing women’s issues. These three problems exponentially amplify the guilt a woman might feel for a real or an imagined ‘failure’:

  • The conflicting nature of expectations (e.g. be successful at work, but simultaneously stay at home with your kids).
  • The unfair burden placed on women’s shoulders in certain aspects compared to men (e.g. both parents equally contribute to the household financially, but ‘Mummy’ is the primary caregiver).
  • The harsher consequences women face when society deems they haven’t achieved these covert, overt and subliminal expectations placed on women (perpetuated by the media, society, and oneself).


  • Women have a lower threshold for guilt than men.
  • Women seem to experience the most guilt in their lives between the ages of 25-33 years old, whereas men experience more guilt later in life.
  • Instances of women’s guilt significantly increase based on the onset of offspring due to the ‘Motherhood Penalty,’ a term coined by psychologists:
    • When having kids, women generally take on less hours at work, whereas the male parent’s work hours remain the same or even increase.
    • In many instances, women’s tasks at work become more monotonous and they are given less responsibility once they have a child, affecting future success at work.
    • Female breadwinners, once they become a mother, are also judged more strictly at work compared to male breadwinners who become parents.
    • Women who prefer work are criticised more harshly at home and at work.
  • Families that adhere to stricter gender roles produce women that have more internalised guilt.

How does this translate to the Thai-Indian community? Women in the community have given us their honest experiences.


What are some occasions that you feel guilty?

I feel guilt often, and it began when I had my son. I felt guilty for bringing him into this harsh world. I felt guilt for not knowing immediately what to do with him. I felt guilt for feeling tired and wanting a break even though I had so much help. I felt guilt for being ready to come back to work. I feel guilt when I take the easy way out and give him an unhealthy meal, more than a few times a week, when I could have easily made something healthy with more willpower and energy. I feel guilt when I lose my cool and yell at my son, knowing full well that I need to emotionally regulate in order for him to emotionally regulate. Tell me when to stop.

Does your husband feel any of this?

Not even a sliver.


What do you usually feel guilty about?

I feel guilty about having to mix mother’s milk with formula as early as I did. With my first child, I did not really have an option, but looking back, sometimes I feel that perhaps I could have tried harder at the time. With my daughter, however, I put in a lot of effort. Yet, I had to introduce formula much earlier than I thought. This sometimes makes me feel guilty.

How did you overcome or reduce this guilt?

I looked at my kid and I saw a healthy, happy baby regardless of what milk he/she was having. I knew I tried my best. Also, knowing that it is a dilemma or hurdle that many women go through helps normalise the situation and make me feel like it is okay. Whatever will be will be.

Does your husband feel the same level of guilt in this area?

I doubt it!

Financial Controller, Thai Japan Group

What do you usually feel guilty about?

For me, my guilt oscillates between work and family. Although I try my best to balance both, and I have a solid support system on both ends that I often rely on, there are definitely challenges I face internally. There are times where I want to take on more projects, or be involved in work outside of Bangkok, but feel guilty taking time away from my child outside of his school hours. When my son wasn’t in school yet, my guilt leaving him and going to work every day was tremendous. It’s much easier now that he is in school and those hours are now 100 percent stress-free.

On the other end of the spectrum, I feel guilt for not being able to work more, and harder, knowing I could accomplish more if I were to dedicate more hours in my day to my job. There are projects I am unable to be involved in because I don’t want to sacrifice too much time away from my son. Luckily, because I work with family, I have some flexibility. But at the same time there are certain expectations I not only want to meet, but also want to exceed.

How did you overcome or reduce this guilt?

There are times I would confide in those close to me and would hear a variety of different opinions, one of which was, “Your child is only young now, you should spend more time with him,” which honestly, was extremely difficult to hear. Thankfully, other opinions were much more in line with my decision to contribute to my family business. I have learned now to trust myself more – I know what is best for my child and family, and I don’t need validation from others.

Thankfully, my support system is solid. My dad fully supports me working from home in the hours after school wherever possible. My husband also constantly pushes me to work hard, and smarter, in terms of my hours and productivity. I live with my in-laws, which helps enormously. There are times where I still feel anxious and struggle, but knowing the example of equality and independence that I am showing my kids, makes it worthwhile. Additionally, I think quality time is more important than just having more hours available together. When I am with my son, I try as best as I can to be fully involved and present. Thankfully, I have many friends who are working mums! Drawing experience and speaking with them helps as we navigate these situations together.

Does your husband feel the same level of guilt in this area?

No. [Laughs] I don’t think most men will feel much guilt in this area just because of how we have been conditioned growing up, by the media, society, etc. My husband is wonderful and is very hands-on with our child, and we share a lot of responsibilities like picks-ups and drop-offs. But the level of guilt I would feel, say, working until 8pm on a weekday, compared to him, would be completely and entirely different!

Standard 6 Teacher

What do you usually feel guilty about?

I feel guilty that I moved so far away from my parents after marriage. I rely so much on my parents, more so now than I did before, even though I am not physically in Bangkok with them. This guilt has only been exacerbated after having my son, and just growing older in general. I have more health concerns, more stress and responsibilities, and I still lean on them. My mum goes to doctor’s appointments for me in Thailand, so I can FaceTime my doctor. It hurts me that I am not there to just spend time with them, and be an avenue of support should they need it. I also feel ample guilt for making decisions that would keep their grandchild so far away from them. I see how my son keeps my in-laws young and brightens up their day, so to reduce that to once a year for my parents – it’s hard to think about.

How did you overcome or reduce this guilt?

I feel better that my siblings are with them and that we are a very close family. I also tell myself that I will find a way to prioritise them should the need arise. It also helps that they connect with my son several times a week on various communication platforms. He is fully aware of who they are, that they are family and, so far, when he meets them, it’s like he’s always been with them. I also think of others that have made similar decisions, and watch how they cope.

Does your husband feel the same level of guilt in this area?

My husband has the luxury of us living in his hometown and place of business. While we live separately, we meet my in-laws almost every day, and we talk to them all the time because of our routine. Thus, he is not in a place to feel guilt. Also, he can appreciate what I have traded for our life together, but I don’t think that he can fully understand it.


  1. For every aspect that you feel you’re lacking in, try to remind yourself of the aspects you are proud of or are going well in your life.

  2. Speak to your peers and to your loved ones about how you are feeling. Not only will you garner recommendations and new ideas to manage the issue causing you guilt, but you’ll realise that others are going through something similar, giving you that timely strength.

  3. Talk to your partner. Much of the guilt women experience can be alleviated with an understanding support system, namely an empathetic partner. The nuclear family dynamic is also where most gender roles are formed and expressed, and the more flexible these gender roles, the less guilt women experience during various phases and changes in life. Your partner is key in reducing the motherhood penalty.

  4. Set boundaries and clear up expectations. If you can have tough conversations about your limits and find solutions around that, you will break the cycle that keeps burdening you with guilt.

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