Ditch the Mom Guilt Today! 12 Helpful Strategies
Mom guilt. It’s a bitch. Some of us are more plagued by it than others, but I don’t know if any mom gets through parenthood unscathed. It can feel like a kick in the teeth. It can haunt us. It can make us feel downright depressed.
The whole notion of mom guilt begs the question for me...what about dad guilt? We never hear about that as a thing! Dads out there--is this a thing?
It doesn’t seem fair or equitable that this burden falls so heavily on moms. We grow these little humans in our tired and swollen bodies for 9 months, we birth them, we feed them from our breast (a pain I thought was worse than the childbirth), we give everything to them until we have nothing left, and we love them from the depths of our souls.
Yet, for some reason, despite all of this, we allow the tide of mom guilt to crash upon us and break our spirits. We put our every move under a lens of judgement and criticism. We forget that we are imperfect humans and judge ourselves harshly for the tiniest of transgressions.
Sometimes we are judged by others. Sometimes it’s other moms. Sometimes it’s our own mothers. Sometimes our paranoia or projection of how we feel inside allows us to think we are being judged when we are not. But mostly, we do it to ourselves.
I have been “guilty” of this myself. Even the way I’m describing this adds more guilt to the equation! I’m guilty of having guilt. Yikes. Let’s just double-punish ourselves, shall we? Maybe a better choice of words would be I’m burdened with guilt, or I experience it from time to time. That’s better!
Ladies, enough already! It’s time we give ourselves a break. I’m in my 8th year of parenting at this point. I have a boy about to turn eight and a little girl who is four. I’m also a counselor by trade so I’ve had some training around this whole guilt thing. I’m going to break it down for you and try to help you have a little less of it. How does that sound?
First of all, guilt is not always bad.
When we feel guilt, it’s for a reason. Sometimes it’s for a good reason because we’ve actually done something hurtful to another person. When we are in the wrong, our guilt is a nagging little signal to let us know we may need to fix something. We need to try to repair a situation, or reflect on our actions to learn a more useful way to handle things in the future.
When I yell at my children or am overly harsh with them (which does happen on occasion because I’m not perfect), I’m okay with feeling a little mom guilt. When I find myself parenting against my values, that's not okay with me. I see it as my obligation to reflect on my actions and try to be better next time. I take the opportunity to repair with my children if needed.
Mom guilt can be a teacher and a guide, so let’s not write it off completely. But ladies, for the most part, we need to kick it to the curb like a bad boyfriend because it’s not serving us! It’s just there to taunt us, put us down, and make us feel like bad parents.
Here are some tricks I’ve learned to keep my mom-guilt in check:
1. The first step is noticing it. Try to increase your self-awareness around when mom guilt is setting in. It’s really easy to gloss over it, not realizing we are experiencing it, and skip right to feeling bad about ourselves. We need to interrupt it at the outset and say “there’s that mom-guilt again.” If you want to have some fun with it, you can use a counseling technique called externalization. Name the mom-guilt. Call it Sheila, or Beth, or Gertrude, or Jelly Sandwich. I don’t care. It sounds something like this: “Oh, there’s Sheila coming around again.” You are simply noticing it. You’re not judging it.
Then ask yourself, “Have I done harm? Is there something I have done wrong that I need to repair?” If the answer is yes, direct your energy towards repairing or learning from your mistake so you can be better and do better next time. There’s less need to dwell on the guilt when you are taking an action step to actually make things better.
Let’s just be real for a second. Feeding them Kraft Mac n’ Cheese when you wanted to feed them something healthy, does not fall into the category of making a mistake or doing harm. At least not in my book. Hopefully, you get the idea.
2. Move on. Don’t dwell. You’ve done what you can. You’ve reflected. You are a human that makes mistakes. You are not perfect. No one is perfect. Your mom made mistakes and generations of mothers before you made mistakes. It’s okay. Repeat after me. IT IS OKAY. I AM ENOUGH. MY CHILD WILL BE OKAY.
Disclaimer: This post assumes that trauma (physical abuse, sexual abuse, major neglect, etc.) is not being done to your child. Although some children can be resilient despite unimaginable circumstances, my advice is not appropriate for parents who mistreat or allow mistreatment of their children. Overly-authoriarian homes that lack in love, and laissez-faire homes that don’t put any boundaries or safety nets in place for their children are problematic environments for children to grow up in. If your children are clearly strugging with major mental health concerns or behavioral concerns, seek help for them and for yourself. Sometimes parents need to take a hard look at their parenting strategies and should not talk their guilt away at the expense of their children’s well-being.
3. If you find yourself feeling guilty about something dad does not feel guilty about, talk to him and take a cue from his playbook (assuming he’s a responsible parent). Perhaps there’s some burden to share with him that would take something off your plate and help you feel less guilty, or perhaps his perspective helps you realize it’s not necessary to feel guilty about it!
4. If your guilt comes out of comparison with other people, stop it! You need to be your own person and parent your own way. Maybe Jessica makes all her own organic baby food because it’s her first baby and she has the time. Maybe Veronica’s baby sleeps through the night and has a laid-back temperament which must mean that she is doing something better than you (sarcasm). So what! What does that have to do with you? I guarantee you have something awesome going on that they don’t. I double guarantee that those mommas ain’t as perfect as they seem. Stop the comparison game right now.
5. If your guilt comes from not having a regimented schedule, not feeding them the perfect foods, and generally not being perfect, cut it out! Guess what? There’s no such thing as being a perfect parent. No amount of having a punctual nap schedule, planning the perfect Pinterest activities, and blending of the organic baby food is going to change the fact that striving for perfection is a losing goal. You will feel like a loser every time you miss the impossible mark.
If you think you have it all figured out and you actually ARE doing things perfectly; you aren’t. That’s an illusion. If you believe this, chances are you are a major control freak and this will come back to bite you in other ways, including from your own children when they inevitably begin to assert their own control and independence.
Strive for good. Strive for enough. When you pull out more than that, give yourself a huge pat on the back. You deserve it. But don’t expect feats of greatness everyday. It’s just not reasonable. Plus, how can you possibly get a break if you think you are the only one who knows how to be with your child the right way?
I heard a quote recently. “Kids don’t need a perfect mom. They need a happy mom.” Let that one sink in for a minute.
6. If your guilt comes from being a single mom or a divorced mom, return back to that quote: “Kids don’t need a perfect mom. They need a happy mom.” If you’ve made choices in line with your own happiness, you will spread that joy to your own child. If you’re in circumstances that were outside of your control, you shouldn’t feel guilty about that to begin with.
You can feel for your child and have empathy and sadness for what your child might be going through in these situations, but that is different than feeling guilty. If you’ve made a mistake, go back to number two. Otherwise, guilt has no place here. Release it.
I happen to possess the firm belief that kids can thrive in single mom households. Kids can thrive in divorced households. Kids can do horribly in coupled households. It’s the quality of love and parenting that they receive that counts. Don’t make parenting decisions out of guilt. Parents who do this can become over-indulgent to make up for the guilt they feel. Spoiling them is not the same as love.
Give them love. Give them boundaries. Give them guidance. Listen to them. Validate them. Lift them up. Embrace a community of love that may surround them. That is enough. Don’t put your emotions on them. They will be okay. They are part of an ever-growing population of children who grow up in homes that aren’t the traditional male-female happily married household. They are not alone. They will be okay.
7. If your guilt comes from being a working mom, cut it out! Yes, you might prefer to stay home and it’s difficult to deal with the sadness and anger you might feel about that. Guilt has no place here. We live in the 21st century. Unfortunately, the reality is that most households require two working parents. If you don’t need to work, that’s wonderful for you. If you do have to work, that’s just a fact of life. You are not harming your child by working. They are okay.
Here’s how I look at it. I think there is something fundamentally wrong with having to drop our child off with strangers all day so that we can go to a job we don’t necessarily like, just so we can pay the bills. I don’t like that as much as the rest of them. But I also can see the positives of being a working mom. This reframe allows me to not feel guilt:
going to daycare is probably easier on my child than it is for me. They are fine. It becomes their normal routine very quickly and it’s just all they know.
when I work, I increase my earning potential over time and can provide for my family better in the long run.
I get a sense of pride and accomplishment from working. I get adult interaction. While I don’t always like my job, I do get some fulfillment out of it. When my cup is filled in these ways, I can fill my child’s
Being away from my child allows me to appreciate and savor our time together even more. For the past few years, due to a divorce, my children are three hours away from me 73% of the time. I’m working to move closer to them so that our time is split in half, but I don’t feel guilty about this. I spend more actual time with them than their father when you consider their awake hours and time at school. The time I do spend with them is cherished. I am a better mom to them now than I ever have been because our time is limited and I get a break. Their dad is an amazing dad so I know they love being with him as well.
My kids get social interaction at daycare that they wouldn’t get if they were with me all day.
I personally struggle with being home with my children all day. I lose my patience. I am distracted by household work. I’m not always the most pleasant to be around for an ENTIRE day. They can use a break from ME from time to time, and daycare providers ideally are providing a nurturing and stimulating environment with more structure than I would provide at home. Sometimes the professionals do it better than me, and that’s okay. Take the ego out of it, choose a good daycare provider, and kiss that mom guilt goodbye!
8. If your mom guilt comes from not liking your child from time to time, feeling embarrased of your child, or any other negative emotion you might feel about them, please realize that this is normal and it doesn’t make you a bad mom. Remember that show, Sex in the City? I remember Miranda referring to her baby as an “asshole.” Why was that a funny scene? Because it’s true and she wasn’t afraid to say it! Sometimes our children act like little jerks and we get frustrated. It’s okay! No mom guilt needed.
If you feel this way all the time and are struggling to feel love for your child, that’s an indicator you may need to seek help. You may be dealing with depression.
9. If you’re feeling guilty about how much screen time your child has had, go easy on yourself. Yes, your child needs limits with the screen time and you should figure out what those limits should be and stick with them as consistently as you can. But, there are days where that goes out the window for any number of reasons. Just be kind to yourself. You’ll get back on track. A little extra screen time will not destroy your child.
10. If you’re feeling guilty about not loving being a mom, or feeling bored or unfulfilled by it, that’s okay. Who made the rule that the day you became a mom, you all of a sudden have to love everything about it? Can’t answer that question? Neither can I.
Take the “shoulds” out of your vocabulary. I “should” feel this way. “I shouldn’t feel that way.” That’s foul language. Cut it out. There is no right way to feel about being a mom. You were someone else before you became a mom and your world has been flipped upside down, and turned around backwards. Give yourself some grace. (If you think you’re feeling this way due to depression or another mental health condition, seek help).
There have been times I’ve downright hated being a mom. I loved my children but just felt so overwhelmed with the responsibilities that came with it. I felt guilt about that, but when I took a step back and realized it actually makes sense that I might feel this way, that guilt took a hike. Would it be nice to love being a mom every second? Of course. But honestly, who loves anything every second? If you can answer that, a prize for you!
11. Breast-feeding. The dreaded breast-feeding! I cannot tell you how happy I am that that portion of my life is over and done with. This topic is SO sensitive and it’s one that you cannot begin to understand unless you experience it for yourself.
When your helpless little baby is born, he needs his mother. Your job; what you were put on earth to do, is feed your baby. This primal instinct kicks in like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Unfortunately, for many mothers, breast feeding either can’t happen due to circumstances, or it’s incredibly difficult and painful. When we can’t adequately feed our babies, the agony and guilt of that is so real.
It’s easy for me to sit here now, on the other side of it and tell you not to feel guilty about breast-feeding. But I will anyway! You don’t need to feel guilty about your choice to bottle-feed, or exclusively breast-feed, or whatever else you feel guilty about. Formula was invented for this reason and your baby will be fine. I know it’s not that simple when our emotions and hormones have taken over, and you will feel guilty anyway. Just try to remember: whatever happens, as long as your baby is fed, it’s okay.
For my first baby, I chose to breastfeed but it was so painful for me. I had to work with lactation consultants on integrating contraptions to make it less painful, and supplementing with formula. It was complicated. It was stressful. I found this to be the most difficult part of having a child, more than pregnancy; more than childbirth. It really caught me by surprise. But I was committed to breast-feeding and it finally started to not be painful after three months.
When my second baby came along, I told myself that I would only breastfeed if it went smoothly from the beginning and it wasn’t painful. I was glad I chose to breastfeed my first child, but I didn't want to go through that again. I was genuinely okay with formula feeding, but when I looked at that little baby and made that decision to formula feed, I bawled my eyes out with the sadness and guilt of this decision. Once the hormones of childbirth wore off, I was fine.
Guilt can be powerful and sometimes unavoidable. But do your best to mitigate it if you can. Ironically, my formula-fed baby ended up being more of a momma’s girl than my boy had been, AND she was healthier. Go figure. Plus, I wasn’t tethered to a child every waking and sleeping minute, and that was better for my own sense of freedom and well-being.
12. If your mom guilt comes from being selfish from time to time, it is OK. Maybe you want to do something nice for yourself or to put yourself first for once. Repeat after me: IT IS OK. I DESERVE IT. I’M ALLOWED TO BE SELFISH SOMETIMES. I WORK REALLY HARD AND I NEED A BREAK SOMETIMES. I’M OKAY. MY KIDS WILL BE OKAY.
Do you ever fly on an airplane and the flight attendant, while going over the emergency procedures reminds passengers to put the oxygen mask on themselves before helping anyone else? That’s an important concept. What good are you going to be to your kids if you don’t take care of number one. YOU!
If your partner doesn’t understand that, that’s problem that needs sorting. I don’t like to generalize or stereotype but I'm going to do it here. Ask yourself this? Do dads feel guilty for doing things for themselves? Do dads think twice about kicking back with a beer and watching the superbowl while you make the appetizers? Does dad think twice about the hour run he took today? Does dad think twice about the week long business trip he had to take for work where he got a break from the family the entire time? Hell, no!
If I can be so bold, you get out and take a trip for yourself! Travel. Get away. Have some time just to yourself. You’ll be so glad you did. Are You a Busy Mom Who Dreams of Travel? 10 Secrets to Make Your Dream a Reality
We live in a society of double standards. As women, we have come a long way towards equality, but we aren’t quite there yet. Partners with the best of intentions, who do their fair share of the housework and childcare, still don’t shoulder the same burdens as the moms. We have to ask ourselves why that is, and question the status quo. Check out this wonderful article on the mental load of mothers.
While we may face extra burdens that the dads don’t experience in the same way, let’s at least free ourselves from the added burden of guilt. If it doesn’t serve you, question it and discard it. Give yourself permission to be you. Give yourself permission to be a human being that makes mistakes.
Your relationship with your child will never be perfect and your parenting will never be perfect, so let it go. The heavy weight of guilt on your shoulders does not make you a better parent. Do the best you can and let the rest go.
Do more than that. Give yourself credit where credit is due! Look for the small victories. Celebrate your wins. Give yourself a pat on the back. Don’t downplay your successes. Find something to be proud of or grateful for everyday. Focus on the positive. And for crying out loud, ditch that mom guilt. I say that with love. What do you feel guilty about? I would love to hear in the comments!