“Everything is my fault. Every parenting decision that I make is wrong. I just can’t win.” Sound familiar?
Welcome to motherhood. (Or fatherhood, for that matter.)
As Moms, we have endless things to remember and decisions to make about our kids and how we raise them. Not to mention the decisions that we have to make about our own, personal lives as well.
(If you’re sitting with a confused look on your face, it’s probably because you’ve forgotten that you do have a life outside of being a Mom, even if most days it doesn’t feel like it!)
Making decisions that affect your kids, your family, and you as an individual comes with the territory of Mom-hood.
And so does the guilt. The all-consuming Mom-guilt.
Mom guilt is a special kind of guilt saved just for Moms (and sometimes Dads). And while we’ve all likely experienced Mom-guilt from time to time, for some Moms, that feeling of guilt never seems to go away.
It tends to sit like a dark cloud over your head, taunting you with the threat of bursting open and unleashing a storm of emotional chaos at any given moment.
I was one of these ‘constantly guilty’ Moms for a long time. Let me tell you, it was exhausting. I felt as though I was drowning in a sea of guilt and it negatively affected every aspect of my life.
Finally, one day, after sitting in my car weeping about the fact that I had forgotten pajama day at my kid’s school (full-on WEEPING about pajamas!), I knew that something had to change.
So, I started reading about Mom-guilt. And researching. And talking to people about it – my therapist, other Moms, teachers, etc.
Turns out, I wasn’t alone. Mom-guilt is like an epidemic.
And while I didn’t necessarily find a cure, I did find ways to cope with and come to terms with my Mom-guilt.
And so can you.
What IS Mom-Guilt?
Perhaps the question should be, “What isn’t Mom guilt?”
These days, it seems like there are infinite reasons to feel guilty, big and small…
- You forgot to make cookies for the school bake sale (or that it was pajama day at school!)
- You went to the park but didn’t bring the sunscreen – heellloooo sunburn!
- You went back to work too soon – or at all. Which leads to…did you hire the right nanny? Pick the best daycare?
- You aren’t producing enough milk so you turn to formula and now worry that your baby isn’t getting the nutrients they need
- You let your kids watch too much TV/play too many videogames/use the iPad for too long
- Your kids heard you fighting with your husband or partner
- You didn’t buy the organic, farm-raised, non-GMO, grain-fed, etc., etc., etc. chicken because regular Perdue was on sale
- You can’t afford the latest and greatest sneakers so you had to buy your kid the discount ones at Target
- You had a long day at work and yelled at your kids – after feeding them fast food because you were too tired to cook
- Your kid failed a test that you didn’t even know about and therefore didn’t help them study (obviously, all your fault)
The list goes on and on and on…
Whether you’ve felt guilt about every item on that list or only a few, chances are that you’ve felt Mom-guilt about something.
In fact, a recent survey done by BabyCenter.com found that 94% of Moms have experienced “feeling shame over issues ranging from the amount of time they spend with their kids to the kind of diapers they use.”
And Mom-guilt tends to be an equal-opportunity offender, meaning that it affects all kinds of Moms regardless of age, location, or lifestyle.
Debra Renner and Aviva Pflock, coauthors of Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most, and Raise Happier Kids, say, “We found that moms from all walks of life have mommy guilt, which blows the ‘grass is greener’ thing right out of the water.”
So, where does this Mom-guilt come from?
Well, for years, society has basically ingrained this image of what Moms should be like in our heads – selfless, always kind, always putting their kids first, never forgetting anything…basically, Joan Cleaver in the flesh.
Who can live up to that level of Mom-perfection?!
Not me, that’s for sure.
Plus, with the convenience and significance of technology and social media in our lives these days, we have the unfortunate ability to constantly compare ourselves to other Moms.
With all of this, it’s no wonder that so many of us are suffering from Mom-guilt!
And with all the things that there are to feel guilty about, it may seem nearly impossible to rid yourself of this nagging emotion – but I promise you, it’s not.
Coping with Your Mom-Guilt
Okay, we’ve established that the possible list of reasons for you to feel Mom-guilt is extensive and seemingly never-ending.
And unless you have some secret on how to become the perfect mom, this list is not going away.
You’re still going to forget things. You’re still going to make less than perfect decisions. You’re still going to make mistakes.
These are all things that are pretty impossible to change.
But how you deal with the potential guilt that you feel about these things can change.
1. Embrace the Guilt
If you’re shaking your head upon reading ‘embrace the guilt’ and already writing it off as another newfangled bunch of crap – wait!
Those feelings of guilt can actually be really helpful – if you use them to your benefit.
The key is to separate the eccentric and unwarranted feelings of guilt (achem, weeping over pajama day) from the helpful and productive kind.
By embracing your Mom-guilt, you can use it to not only examine yourself as a parent and find ways to improve, but also to set an example for your kids that no one is perfect.
“Frankly, you can’t win [the battle between parenting perfection and your individual adulthood]. But maybe you can raise children who are better equipped than you are to cope with a culture that promotes unattainable and contradictory ideals while simultaneously depending upon an economic marketplace of information and goods that promise to temporarily assuage media-induced feelings of inadequacy.
To do so, you’ll need to consider your past performance and iterate accordingly. That’s how we model critical thinking and self-reflection for our children. Admit your own fallibility and be willing to adapt and change.”
Basically – we are not perfect beings, and by embracing that, we teach our kids that it’s okay to for them to not be perfect also – and to not feel guilty about it.
You can embrace your guilt by using it to improve as a parent, when necessary.
When you’re feeling guilt about something – say, letting your kids watch too much TV – embrace this feeling and use it to really assess the situation.
Are your kids watching 6 hours of trash TV a day? If so, maybe your guilty feelings are somewhat warranted and you can use them as inspiration to find some other activities to occupy your kids.
But if your kids are only watching one-hour of kid-friendly TV per day, do you really have anything to feel guilty about?
Probably not. So, now that you acknowledged and examined that guilt, let it go.
Embracing your Mom-guilt can also be used as a reminder to yourself that you care. You care about what’s best for your kids and their well-being, which in and of itself, means that you’re doing a good job and needn’t feel so guilty about every little thing.
And this is something that we all need to be reminded about from time to time.
After all, if you didn’t care, you wouldn’t feel guilty in the first place!
2. Make Time for YOU
Take a bath. Go for a run. Get a drink or dinner with friends. Read a book.
Do something that feeds your soul and is just for YOU.
You may be thinking, But I feel so guilty when I do something for myself!
Yes, I get that – most of us have experienced that feeling.
But think about how you feel after taking time for you – refreshed, rejuvenated, revitalized.
Taking time for yourself, away from being a Mom, can actually allow you to be a better Mom when you return.
“I feel guilty when I do things like getting my hair done,” says Deborah Moniaci, of Brooklyn, New York, mother of 5-month-old Gabriella. She also says, “when I actually do something for myself, I come back feeling so refreshed and rejuvenated, I’m happier to see my daughter. So I hope that I remember those feelings for the next time.”
Try to make a standing date with yourself every week, at a minimum. Pencil in at least one-hour where you know that your kids will be out or otherwise supervised and do something for you.
And I don’t mean grocery shopping or baking cupcakes for the class party – something non-Mom related!
Whether you spend that hour at the beauty salon getting your hair done or on the couch catching up on Netflix – spend it on you and don’t feel guilty about it.
After all, if time to yourself makes you a better, less-stressed parent, then that hair appointment is as much for your kids as it is for you!
3. Leave Your Kids Alone
No, I don’t mean that you should literally leave your kids alone and go on vacation or out dancing for the night.
But rather, let your kids have some time alone without you hovering or planning activities or entertaining them.
Thanks to the way that our society imposes this idea that every single moment of a child’s life must be stimulating or educational, we often feel that we must keep our kids occupied at every given moment – and if we don’t, we’ve failed. (Bring on the guilt!)
Debra Gilbert Rosenberg, author of Motherhood Without Guilt, says, “…not everything has to be entertaining to be valuable — and you don’t always have to give rapt attention to your kid. Even the smallest child can learn from having time to himself.”
As a new Mom, I experienced a lot of guilt from not spending every minute with my kids or not filling those minutes with the perfect learning opportunities.
Which, looking back, I realize is ridiculous because kids can truly benefit from having to entertain themselves or spending time alone.
After all, these are both qualities that are expected of well-adjusted adults, so, why not give your kids the opportunity to learn these skills from an early age?
The key with this one is finding a balance.
Obviously, you don’t want to leave your two-year old unattended with free reign of the house for hours on end, but 30 minutes on their own in the playroom or watching TV while you do the dishes is totally acceptable – and even beneficial!
4. Take a Lesson from Dad
Historically, Dads go to work and Moms take care of the kids and the home.
And while I realize that this is a seriously outdated (not to mention a bit sexist) mindset, we can learn something from the Dads in this old-fashioned way of doing things.
Growing up, my Mom didn’t go back to work until I was in grade school, but my Dad worked from the moment I was born until…well, he still works today!
He left for work every morning at 7am and didn’t get home until about 7pm. Mom helped us with homework, made breakfast, lunch and dinner, and drove us wherever we needed to go. She inevitably spent a lot more time with us.
But did my Dad feel guilty about not being around as much? About going to the gym after work? About missing a recital because he had a business trip?
Granted, I didn’t know this at the time, but I have since spoken to him about it and he assures me that, no, he never really felt all that guilty. He says that he just made the most of time that he had with us and accepted the fact that he needed to work in order to benefit our lives in other ways.
Which is something that we as women tend to struggle with accepting, likely thanks to the unrealistic expectations society puts on us.
“Men don’t expect to work full time and be the primary caretaker to their kids, a great cook, sexy for their spouse, and a good friend,” says Rosenberg.
But for whatever reason, us women do.
Needless to say, we could all benefit in taking a lesson from Dads (or Moms who seem to avoid this guilt over not being able to do it all) who tend to innately be better at knowing that they can’t do everything and there is no need to feel guilty about it.
Try talking to your husband or Dad or whoever is in your life that seems to have a handle on the guilt thing. Ask them how they do it or what helps them avoid feelings of guilt.
5. Know the Facts
Now, I want to be very specific about this tip for coping with guilt because I find that over-researching or over-educating yourself about certain parenting aspects can lead to more guilt.
Which I definitely do not want to encourage.
However, sometimes we are feeling guilty about things that we simply shouldn’t be. And if we knew the cold, hard facts about whatever we’re feeling guilty about, maybe it would alleviate some of those feelings.
For instance, you feel guilty letting your kids watch TV.
It rots their brain…it’s not educational…it teaches them bad habits…
All the cliché assumptions about TV watching that you’ve heard your whole life run through your mind every time that your kids grab that remote.
But, in reality, TV watching isn’t going to rot your kid’s brain like we were taught years ago – at least, not when done in moderation.
Knowing the facts about TV watching can help you eliminate the guilt that you feel when your kids plop down in front of the flat screen.
For instance, research shows that kids under the age of 2 years old don’t really benefit from watching TV as much as they do from real-life interaction and should only watch TV in about 15-minute increments.
“Let’s get real — sometimes you need a few moments to regroup,” says Jill Stamm, PhD, director of the New Directions Institute for Infant Brain Development, in Phoenix. “There will be no permanent harm, but we do know that it doesn’t help them, and it does seem to slow development. At the very least, you will break even.”
However, for older kids, certain types of television programs can actually be educational and useful for learning and development.
Dimitri Christakis, MD, co-author of The Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television Work for Your Kids, says, “Around age 2 or 3, TV starts to become beneficial. There is no reason to be concerned about kids this age watching television, if it’s not done in excess.”
Bottom line – if you’re experiencing guilt about something, do a little research and make sure that your feelings are warranted.
I emphasize the word ‘little’ because, again, you don’t want to add to the guilt and stress you feel by over-researching every single little thing that your kids do – but knowing the facts might help eliminate or rationalize your Mom-guilt.
6. Join Forces
I never would have survived being a Mom this long without other Moms.
Finding and befriending other like-minded Moms can be not only empowering and enlightening, but it can be incredibly comforting.
Shenielle Jones, mother of three, believes that seeing other Moms go through the same guilt that she experiences can be reassuring, saying, “It makes me feel better when I come to work, because a lot of us have that mom guilt. We’re all doing it, we’re all juggling.”
Mom guilt is real. And it can be a lonely feeling.
But, here’s the thing – you don’t have to deal with it alone.
Because statistics show that nearly 94% of Moms feel the emotional burden of Mom-guilt on a regular basis – which means you are quite literally, NOT alone.
So, rather than spending time comparing yourself to other Moms (something that will inevitably result in MORE Mom-guilt), spend time talking about your feelings with other Moms.
Share your experiences, your concerns, your worries, and your solutions.
Whether this means getting together or talking on the phone with your long-time friends that are now Moms or seeking out a Mom-group on Facebook or in your town – make an effort to join forces with other Moms.
Not only can talking to other Moms help alleviate your Mom-guilt but it can help alleviate other kinds of stress and worry that come with being a Mom as well.
After all, they say it takes a village…so, go out and find your village-people!
Work in Progress
Do I still get Mom-guilt?
Yes! Of course!
But, I try to be aware of it and understand it and let it go more than I used to.
Let’s be honest, there is no magical cure for Mom-guilt and I would be lying if I said that if you do everything that I talked about here, you will never feel guilty again – because you will feel guilty again. And again. And again.
But hopefully, you can take some of these tips and use them to minimize your guilt, or at the very least, understand it better and let go of it more often.
After all, we’re not perfect – we’re just Moms trying to do our best!
And as long as you keep doing what’s best for your kids and learning from your mistakes, you really have very little to feel guilty about.
With that being said, I’ll leave you with a quote that I love from Debra Renner, co-author of Mommy Guilt:
“Parenting is not about perfection. Learning to be a more effective parent isn’t the same thing as learning to be a skilled glass blower. Glass doesn’t have an ability to talk back, challenge, or call you “the meanest parent in the world.” We’re not parenting inanimate objects and we’re human too.”