mom guilt [mom gilt]: 1 Never feeling like you’re giving just the right amount of time and attention to your job, family, or any other obligation. 2 Heavy sensations a mother feels for not being perfect in all the roles required of her.
From the moment my son was born 13 years ago, I was convinced I was screwing up. The guilt began with not producing enough milk and progressed to guilt for letting him cry it out, guilt for putting him in daycare, and guilt for not spending all day with him on my day off. The toddler years resulted in more self-loathing as I continued the comparison game to other moms. I was guilt-ridden if I didn’t play with him frequently, if I scolded him too harshly, if I didn’t push him enough, or if I let him watch too many Baby Einstein videos. I wore a heavy coat of inadequacy wherever I went and whatever I did.
Four years later Baby Girl’s arrival amplified my mom guilt to epic proportion when I realized with panic I didn’t possess enough time or energy to dole out “enough” to my kids, job, husband, and myself. Thus began the snowballing of my anxiety, perfectionism, and guilt into one big hot mess of a mama. On the outside, my friends thought I had it together. On the inside, I felt like I didn’t even deserve to have kids. Counseling and mindset work were vital if I wanted to function as a mom.
Every female with kids has mom guilt to varying degrees. Those of us who are “high achievers,” as my therapist likes to call mom medical providers, tend to have an even greater propensity for mom guilt.
My husband was baffled by my need to please and the ensuing guilt I felt when I did anything less than perfect. He possesses not an ounce of dad guilt. I’ve asked him. He doesn’t even regret it when he explodes in anger over a mistaken assumption regarding the kids. He moves on. He figures they learned something from it. He says I need a good dose of “I don’t give a sh!t.”
Aside from growing a pair of testicles, here are some ideas I’ve found useful for dealing with mom guilt:
- A good therapist is worth her weight in gold (tip: After having two therapists who had no kids or only babies, I settled on one with kids older than mine, who felt more relatable). Here are two pearls, courtesy of my therapist: “guilt is non-productive, so don’t waste time on it. Move on.” and “Choose guilt over resentment” (this last one is priceless when making mom decisions. Next time your kid begs you to do something you’d prefer not do, like having two squealing girls over to spend the night, choose the guilt of saying “no” over the resentment you’d feel if you had a sleepover against your wishes and didn’t get any sleep and had to deal with a sleep-deprived kid the next day).
- Name all the memories you have of life before age 8. You won’t have many, and the ones you do have are probably good. Even if you have a few bad memories, I bet they aren’t of your mom scolding you or not playing dolls when you asked. The point is, your kids won’t even remember most of the crap you beat yourself up about doing “wrong.” Seriously, do you remember your mom losing her temper when you were 4? Do you remember if she worked late for several nights in a row? What about when she left you at Grandma’s and went on a girls’ trip? Nope!
- Ask yourself, “What’s the worst possible scenario?” In my case, I was worried my raging 7-year-old was going to end up in “juvie” one day. My therapist reassured me therapy could nip her anger issue in the bud. I let go of guilt since therapy is part of my world (and my husband’s). We both have amazing parents (who are shockingly still married), but we still have issues dating back to childhood. In fact, my one childhood friend who had the most fabulous parents (I once screamed at my mom that I hated her and why couldn’t she be more like ___’s parents!) ended up in therapy before the rest of us. Even the seemingly perfect parents don’t raise kids without some baggage.
- Stop comparing yourself to other moms and your kids to their kids. I rarely look at my FB feed. It leads to feelings of inadequacy every single time. And it leads to decisions that may not be best for my family, like when I signed my son up for chess lessons at age 4. Did he enjoy it? No. Did I feel less guilt about exposing him to brain strengthening activities? Yes. Was it worth the cost? No. Worth the hassle of scheduling lessons after work/daycare? Definitely not. He ran around the dining room and hid under the table for most of the lesson, but I’d seen a friend’s post touting her baby’s genius with chess and felt obligated to offer my darling the same “opportunity.”
- Your kids love you. They just do. It would take a lot of evil for your kids not to love you. So relax. Don’t let your guilt suck the joy out of life. You may feel guilt, but your response to it is up to YOU. We’re the ones putting the pressure and perfectionism on ourselves, not our kids. You’re an amazing mother. I used to say to myself over and over, “I am an amazing mom.” Eventually, I started believing it. You, too, are an amazing mom. How do I know this? Crappy moms wouldn’t be reading this.
- Surround yourself with moms who are like-minded when it comes to parenting. I like to be around low-achievers to make myself feel better. Just kidding. I do, however, prefer moms who take it all in stride and don’t jump on every bandwagon. I appreciate the ones who are straight shooters with how awful their kids can behave, but I also try to avoid the perpetually negative ones. One of my friends kept calling her kid “the A$$ hole” when he was 2. It was funny the first time, but the 5th time, I knew I had to break away.
- Your new mantra is “Good enough is good enough” Good enough is the new black, the new perfect. It’s not slacking; it’s not perfectionism; it’s in the middle. It says, “I’m not going to burn my engine out driving 90, but I’m also not idling and doing nothing. I’m driving at a nice, manageable speed I can maintain in the long run.
- Label your feelings. Each time you feel mom guilt, call it out. In your head or out loud, say, “mom guilt.” Then, take a deep breath and exhale the tension. Instead, say, “Good enough” or “I am one Bad A– Mama” or whatever your mantra of choice is. I honestly used to feel like a BAD MAMA. And this is when I had a two-year-old. I didn’t love the baby or toddler years and allowed the overwhelming guilt to consume me. It’s okay, ladies. Like I said, your kids will have very little memory of the early years. Just love them and spend time with them.
- Remember, LOVE is the MOST IMPORTANT THING. Do you love your kid? Alrighty then. Next time you’re wallowing in a puddle of guilt, ask yourself, “Do I love my kid?” If the answer is affirmative, then pull yourself up, dry yourself off, and remember you’re doing a damn good job.