What’s the hardest job in the world? Depending on who you ask, you might be told it’s being an Alaskan crab fisherman, a firefighter, a teacher, or the President of the United States. While there’s no doubt the paid jobs just mentioned are challenging and even dangerous, there’s an unpaid position that’s at least equally so.
What is that oft-thankless position? Being a mom.
Whether you poll a room full of new moms or you survey women who’ve already raised at least one adult child, many women will tell you that motherhood is challenging on the best of days. It’s not just being responsible for another life that makes motherhood so difficult. Maintaining their mental health while keeping their kids safe and well and managing a household makes being a mom that much harder, and doing it all can result in mom guilt.
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An Explanation of Mom Guilt
Despite its name, mom guilt involves two feelings, guilt and shame. A mother might feel guilty about her behavior. Too often, that guilty feeling results in the mom feeling shame about herself. The two feelings combine into a harsh judgment of self, a condemnation that only gets worse when the mother compares herself to other moms and feels as if she comes up short.
While mom guilt is crushing enough, working women sometimes suffer from working mom guilt, which often involves self-judgment for having abandoned their kids when the mothers go to work each day. When these harsh judgments persist long enough, they morph from fleeting thoughts into long-standing beliefs that can prove harmful.
Although moms are significantly more likely to experience guilt and shame given societal expectations and stereotypes, it’s worth noting that dads and other childcare givers can suffer from similar guilty feelings during parenthood. Whether you’re a mother, father, or another caregiver, it’s important to recognize the onset of feelings of mom guilt so you can do something about them before they solidify into firm, wildly inaccurate beliefs.
How Mom Guilt Manifests Itself
Mommy guilt and the feelings that result from it can manifest in several ways. Here are some of them:
- Depression and anxiety: Do you want to know why mom feels tired, angry, or extremely worried? It could be that she’s suffering from anxiety, depression, or a combination of the two.
- Addictive behavior: When mom guilt takes hold of a caretaker, the person may attempt to self-soothe with addictive substances like alcohol or drugs
- Overscheduling or overdoing: Some moms believe that doing more makes them better parents. Doing more and filling their schedules with activities also helps mothers focus on things other than their possibly suppressed guilt. Unfortunately, overscheduling and overdoing can cause parents to experience burnout and health problems.
- Over the top social media activity: In some cases, feelings of mom guilt cause a caregiver to be overactive on social media, with the person sharing posts that are meant to prove to family members and friends that she’s a good mom.
- Negative, self-deprecating thoughts: Whether we’re talking about new moms, seasoned dads, or other care providers, persisting negative thoughts that run on a figurative soundtrack in someone’s head can result in low self-esteem and self-worth.
- Projected Perfectionism: A person who’s convinced herself that she’s a bad mom may try to project the image of being perfect in an attempt to hide her emotional torment.
- Dissociation: Dissociation happens when a caregiver feels disconnected from themselves. Mild dissociative events like daydreaming are perfectly normal even if they are sometimes surprising. If you experience more severe instances of dissociation and can’t remember what happened during those events, you should talk to your doctor.
Common Reasons Caregivers Experience Guilt
While at least one out every seven new moms experience postpartum depression, experiencing mom guilt is a more common problem, and it’s one that doesn’t resolve itself as a new baby grows and ages. Certain things inspire feelings of guilt among caregiving grown-ups often, such as:
- Verbal, physical, or emotional aggression: Even the best parents sometimes lose their cool and act aggressively toward their children on occasion. In extreme cases, such behavior warrants involvement from a third party, such as child protective services, but most instances are innocent exchanges when parents raise their voice a bit louder than usual. When they act aggressively, the behavior often causes mothers to guilty.
- Throwing in the towel: Some mothers feel like giving up or throwing in the towel. In severe instances, that feeling may lead to suicidal ideation. Moms who feel like this need to know they’re not alone, and they need to seek professional help immediately.
- Treating Kids Differently: Parents with multiple kids sometimes struggle to show their children the same amount or the same type of attention, which makes them feel guilty. To avoid feeling guilty about this, make sure you spend one-on-one time with each one of your kids every day.
- Being Absent: Being mindful or present in the moment is a mindset that continues to grow in popularity. New parents often find that their priorities have necessarily shifted, and they feel guilty about not being as “present” in other areas of their lives.
- Failure to live up to societal expectations or motherhood myths: Widespread beliefs like mothers should commit to 12 months of breastfeeding, love unconditionally, and tend to their kids around the clock can cause moms who can’t live up to those standards to experience feelings of inadequacy and guilt.
Tips to Handle the Guilt and Shame That Often Accompany Being a Mommy
Whether you’re a working mom or a full-time stay-at-home mom who’s ardently opposed to putting your kids in daycare, you may struggle to manage your mommy guilt from time to time at least. Luckily, there are a few simple, actionable tips you can employ to handle your guilt and shame.
Acknowledge and Accept Your Feelings
If you’re like a lot of mothers, you are your worse critic. When your inner critical voice is giving you grief for not being the perfect mom and you experience guilt and shame as a result, catch yourself, take a deep breath or two (more, if needed), and let your feelings of vulnerability rise to the surface.
Do your feelings cause discomfort in certain parts of your body? If so, try to relax those areas or massage them lightly. As you soothe your physical aches and pains, acknowledge your feelings, accept them, and respond to them with love, kindness, and forgiveness.
As you forgive yourself, you may find that you get emotional. You may even start to tear up and cry. Know that reaction is normal and natural and enjoy the cathartic experience as you release your shame and guilt.
Give Your Critical Inner Voice a Name
Do you believe in the paranormal? Whether you do or not, you may have heard accounts of people battling unnamed forces as they attempt to settle into a new home. Just like it must be frustrating to defend a home against unnamed forces, it can be overwhelming to take a stand against emotions that don’t have a name beyond a descriptor.
With that in mind, you may want to give your critical inner voice a name. Like it or not, that voice is part of you, and it lives within your very being. Giving the voice a name can help you combat its negative influence. After you name your critical inner voice, you’ll battle a known presence instead of a thing that’s intimate yet unfamiliar. In other words, you’ll make the fight for your well-being personal and, just as importantly, winnable.
It’s not realistic for you to expect to be able to care for your children if you don’t care for yourself first. While tending to your kids is undoubtedly important, showing yourself some TLC is even more so. It’s only by taking care of yourself that you’ll be able to fully be “there” for your children and the other people in your life.
How can you make self-care a priority? Here are some ideas:
- Sleep in every other Tuesday
- Book a day at the spa every month
- Take yourself out to dinner once per week
- Block off two hours to read a book every three days
Even if you think there isn’t enough time in a day, week, month, or year for you to schedule some “me time,” you need to do it. That time will allow you to recharge and prepare for all the challenges that lay ahead. If you don’t prioritize time to recover from daily life, it’s not a matter of if you’ll experience burnout, it’s a matter of when you will grapple with it.
Maintain Your Identity
Too often, parents lose themselves as they care for their children, family, and household. When you factor working, maintaining friends, and adult life in general into the mix, the tendency to lose your identity becomes even stronger.
Yes, you agreed to share your life when you decided to have children. But that doesn’t mean you should give up your individual identity.
Like you need to prioritize caring for yourself, you should put doing things you genuinely enjoy, things that make you uniquely you, at the top of your ever-growing to-do list. Doing so will not only help you now, it will benefit you as your kids grow and rely on you less. Keeping up with your hobbies and personal interests lessens the likelihood that you’ll experience the melancholy that often accompanies empty nesters because you’ll have activities that will fill the void left behind by your adult children.
Address One Outburst at a Time
When you least expect it, you may look back and realize that it’s been weeks since you last inserted a straw into a juice box. Then, you may think it’s likely you’ll never have to do so again given your children’s advanced ages. Will that realization make you happy, proud, or sad? Or will it cause you to experience a mix of emotions?
In either case, the key is to address those moments and your children’s inevitable outbursts one at a time as you experience them. When your child has a tantrum, it’s not the time to reflect upon his potty-training years or the last time he played with Johnny down the street. Instead, it’s time to address his current reaction to whatever set him off.
Similarly, when you reach a milestone like having inserted the last straw into a juice box, it’s not time to remember all the times you’ve set your kids up to enjoy a beverage. Instead, it’s time to recognize the significance of the occasion and move onward, upward, and above all forward.
Remember, life is like an ongoing movie. While that’s the case, every movie is a compilation of individual scenes. You need to appreciate each scene for what it is as the camera continues to roll to capture your entire life.
Alleviate Mom Guilt with Gratitude
Although it can be hard to think of anything to be grateful for during a pandemic, it’s still possible to be thankful for even the littlest of things. Even though caregiving is fraught with challenges on a good day, raising children is still a rewarding experience for which you should be grateful.
At the end of each day, take time to reduce your guilt and shame by reflecting on instances you’re grateful for. Whether your kid grabbed your hand for no reason or you had your nails done, be grateful for the things that made you happy and content throughout the day.
Being mindful and keenly aware of special moments can make being a parent less burdensome and significantly more enjoyable. When you have reasons to be grateful on a daily basis, they make the stressors of daily parenting life all seem worthwhile.
The things you’re grateful for are likely the same things that make you smile. What better way is there to combat guilt and shame than with a broad grin on your face?
Recognize That There Is No Playbook
If your goal is to be a better mom, dad, or caregiver, you need to do one simple thing. That task is to recognize that there is no such thing as a parenting playbook. No child, adult, or parent-child relationship is the same. If you have multiple children, all you have to do is think about your kids’ varying personalities and your relationships with each child to know that’s the truth.
Given the differences between people and relationships, it’s understandable why parenting in one house may vary greatly from how kids are raised in a neighboring home. Tactics that may work in your friend’s home might not work in your own.
While it’s great to read books about parenting and child-rearing, it doesn’t mean the material you consume is relevant to your family. And you know what? That’s nothing to feel guilty about. It just means you need to find out what will work in your household without feeling bad about a cookie-cutter solution not being the appropriate tact for you or your family.
Keep in mind, you’re not the coach of a professional sports team that has a scripted playbook. You are the captain of your family, however. As the captain, you’ll have to improvise, create, and adapt on the fly to suit the needs of your family without self-flagellating.
Change the Narrative
Women who suffer from working mom guilt may find they spend their workday listening to damning statements emanating from their critical inner voices. If you’re one of those moms, you need to change that narrative right now.
Instead of thinking, “I’m a bad mom because I’m working and my kid is at daycare,” tell yourself, “I’m doing the right thing as a working mom by making sure my child is well cared for during the day.” The key is to focus on what you’re contributing to your family instead of thinking about not spending time with your children.
There’s no doubt that mom guilt drives a lot of what your critical inner voice has to say. That said, your inner voice is just that, yours to control within reason. You can acknowledge what that negative voice has to say, but you don’t have to accept it as the truth. By rephrasing the negative things your critical inner voice has to say in a positive, complimentary way, you can reduce the guilt and shame you feel as a parent.
Hire an Extra Set of Hands
Emptying the dishwasher, folding laundry, running errands, working full-time, walking the dog, and, then there’s this – caring for the kids – is a lot for one person to do. If you feel overwhelmed and that feeling is fueling even a small part of your mom guilt, you may want to consider hiring someone to help you out around the house.
Even if you just hire someone to do some light housekeeping, it can help you carve out some much-needed downtime or it can free up precious moments you can spend playing with your kids. In either case, you’ll also benefit from adult conversation if you hire a helping hand.
Make the Most of Quality Time
As a parent, it can be easy to fall into a rut. When every day seems just like the last, it can worsen your mom guilt. To prevent that from happening, we suggest making the most of the time you get to spend with your family. Go on adventures, explore the world around you, and discover new things.
Our interactive family adventure book includes more than 50 adventures you can do with your loved ones. As your family unit tries to tackle a scratch-off challenge, you’ll work together, laugh, and make lasting memories. With so many adventures in just one book, you won’t have to worry about the next challenge being the same as the last.
Get the “Adventures from Scratch: Couples Adventure Book”
Just like it’s possible for a family life that’s reminiscent of the movie “Groundhog Day” to make your mom guilt worse, a stale relationship with your significant other can do the same. We recommend shaking things up with our “Adventures from Scratch: Couples Adventure Book.” This book includes 55+ adventures you and your partner can tackle together.
While some adventures make for a great date night, others are even more romantic in nature. No matter what type of challenge you choose, you’ll feel closer than ever to your significant other when you complete your chosen challenge. That feeling of closeness can help you silence your critical inner voice and put your mom guilt to bed at least temporarily.
Turn to Screen Time for Relief
If you don’t have an inner circle of friends and family members you can rely on to find relief from your mom guilt, you may want to turn to the internet for help. Parenting websites like mothering.com have active forums where parents discuss all sorts of topics and lend valuable support to one another, and those websites can help you combat your guilt and shame.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, it is possible for other parents to make the mom guilt you feel worse. At the end of the day, you know what’s best for your family, so don’t let others make you second guess your decisions.
The most important thing you can do to address mom guilt is to change your critical inner voice’s messaging. You should also practice self-care and make the most of family time.
To ensure that you’re picking the best possible ways to spend time with your family, rely on interactive activity books like Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition.