What is mom guilt?
Along with its many joys, there is a universal experience in motherhood that can be so challenging for so many of us and that is… MOM GUILT. Yes, we all have it! And it runs so deep in our experience. It seems that being a mother means that we inevitably carry the added “bonus” of experiencing mom guilt– oftentimes on a daily basis!
If we work outside the house we feel guilty for having to go to work. If we work at home, we feel guilty for hiring a nanny to watch the kids while we make a living. We feel guilty if we snap at our kids because we’re exhausted, haven’t eaten all day and are stretched too thin. We feel guilty that we can’t spend enough time with our partner given the demands of work and family. We feel guilty for responding to a situation in a less than ideal way. We feel guilty if the meals we prepare our kids are less than perfectly balanced and nutritious. We feel guilty about all the technology our kids engage in so we can have a break. We feel guilty if we take time for ourselves. We feel guilty. Guilty. GUILTY! Whew! So, where does this deep seated guilt come from?
Why do I feel so guilty as a mom?
First of all, feeling guilty is a strong indicator that we care deeply and want to be the best possible mother to our children. We care so much! And we work so hard at trying to meet everyone’s needs (often at the expense of our own). The truth is we’re doing a great job and we are entirely way too hard on ourselves. So the first thing to acknowledge is that the feeling of guilt is rooted in a deep desire to be the absolute best for those we love. Seeing it from this perspective can help us relate to Mom Guilt differently. More on that later.
Mom Guilt also arises because we have incredibly high and unrealistic expectations for ourselves as mothers. Who knows where these expectations come from, but we have them. We have ideals that we inevitably cannot live up to and when we “fail” to meet our own unrealistic and unfair expectations we feel the all-too-familiar feeling of guilt. We second guess ourselves, we question our mothering choices, we compare ourselves with other moms who seemingly have it more together than we do. We, in essence, practice being really unfair to ourselves, and we do this often. As mothers, we are literally in charge of keeping human beings alive. That’s a really big deal!
We are responsible for keeping our children alive and shaping them into kind, compassionate and independent young people who make responsible decisions and eventually navigate adulthood successfully. No wonder we worry about them often and question how we do everything.
We hold THE most important role in LIFE! We give life and we are in charge of keeping life going…wow…what a tall order…
With huge responsibilities and extremely high expectations, Mom Guilt arises often when we perceive ourselves as falling short of our ideals and being less than perfect in every way.
Throughout motherhood, we experience depths of joy, peace and love that are beyond description–and lucky for us, we also bump into constant opportunities to learn and grow as women, mothers and human beings.
So what can we do about Mom Guilt when it arises?
Well, first let’s consider the possibility that Mom Guilt is actually an ALLY for us, a “universal friend”. The feeling of guilt is likely going to come and go throughout the motherhood journey. It’s not something we can, nor would want to, completely eradicate from our lives because it definitely has a purpose–it can actually serve us and our children well.
Mom guilt is actually good for us!
As crazy as it sounds, mom guilt can actually be good for us. Here are three ways mom guilt can serve us:
- It can inspire reflection and positive change
- It can “force us” to align our actions with our personal values
- It can be a doorway to practicing self-compassion, which is scientifically proven to enhance well-being.
Mom Guilt can help us realize when something is not working that could be remedied with a practical solution.
As we contemplate the issues that we feel guilty about, we are invited to shift our focus away from what “terrible mothers” we are into being “solutions seekers” and putting our energy into making slight changes that can have a big impact. The key here is to look for small shifts we can make that have the potential to improve our lives substantially.
As uncomfortable as it is, Mom Guilt can be hugely valuable for us. It can inspire reflection and positive change. It can “force us” to align our actions with our personal values. And it can be a doorway to practicing self-compassion. All of this requires that we become more mindful and intentional in our lives. This is where mindfulness comes in. There is immense value of practicing mindfulness in motherhood.
Tips for Overcoming Mom Guilt
The next time you feel Mom Guilt rising, pause and do these three simple things:
- Recognize that mom guilt is really a sign that you care deeply.
Say to yourself, “I am feeling this way because I care.”
What is it that you are feeling guilty about?
- Look for ways the feeling might be guiding you to a practical solution that can improve the quality of your life.
Is there an opportunity to put in place something that will improve your quality of life?
Example: asking for help, hiring a service to do it for you, managing your time differently, developing and practicing more coping-skills, etc.
- Ask yourself if you’re feeling of guilt is present because your actions contradicted your values.
If this is the case, then spend time contemplating your discomfort with an open mind and open heart… be curious about it, be interested, see what value you may be bumping up against and what life is asking of you in this moment… and see what emerges for you by way of insight, direction and guidance.
Trust what arises and know that it is ultimately serving you and the greater good.
How did my behavior not align with my values?
How could I have handled the situation