Mom guilt. Officially, it’s not even a thing. The term isn’t in the dictionary, or in any psychology books. But you and I know it’s real. It’s the feeling that so many of us moms get that whatever we’re doing is somehow the wrong thing, it’s not good enough, it’s irreparably damaging our kids, and on and on. We’re great at so much and, unfortunately, one of our talents is finding things to feel guilty about, from big decisions like choosing to return to work to tiny acts like letting your toddler have cheese doodles for their snack. Whatever triggers mom guilt for you, know that you’re not alone, and that the things that are causing your guilt most likely aren’t worth worrying about. Know also that you can get past these feelings with a few simple strategies.
Say No to Guilt!
So the question isn’t: are you feeling guilty today? It’s: what are you feeling guilty about? That your baby isn’t proficient in sign language yet? That your toddler’s snack was six goldfish she found on the floor? That you finished your 5th grader’s science project? Ah, so many things to feel guilty about, so little time! But you know what, what you’re doing is not only the most important job in the world, it’s also the hardest, so you need – need – to cut yourself some slack, take a deep breath and realize that some things just aren’t worth all the mental anguish. For example:
- Snapping at your kids – You can have the patience of a saint, but being whined at for 27 straight minutes, or hearing siblings fight to the death over the most meaningless thing for the hundredth time can make anyone snap. We know you vowed you would never yell “Because I said so!” or “Stop that this instant!” at your kids, but, hey, it comes out the mouths of the best of us now and then. You’re only human! My strategy when this happens to me? When the incident is over, I confront it head-on with my kids and talk to them about why mommy had a moment; I even apologize if it feels right and encourage them to take responsibility for their part in the affair.
- Slipping up on screen time – Ok, ok, so limited screen time is ideal. But not every day is going to be ideal! As a mom who works from home, I know the value of a few extra minutes of time to just get things done. And yeah, even when I’m not working, I know the value of a few minutes to myself. Don’t sweat it, they’re fine.
- Not feeding your kids perfectly 100% of the time – Mom guilt around feeding starts the moment our kids are born. Are you breastfeeding? Supplementing? Going full formula? While that debate seems huge when your child is an infant, in the grand scheme of things, the most important thing is that your baby is fed and that you are ok, both mentally and physically. I spent countless hours pumping for my son because he had trouble feeding and it definitely took a toll!
As they get older, our intentions are often to feed them the best of the best all of the time, but, again, not every day is going to be ideal! As the mom of a very picky kid who is limited in what he will eat, I always take heart from what his doctor told me: don’t worry about each day, look at his diet over a whole week or longer. Remember, sometimes it seems like kids (and especially toddlers) live on love and air and don’t need meals, so don’t stress, they won’t starve! Remember also that sometimes your kids will eat grilled cheese and olives or mac and cheese from a box for dinner, because it’s just been that kind of day, or they’ll have 7 cookies. They’re alive and well, and probably happy because they just had 7 cookies.
- Thinking your kids are, well, annoying – Agreed, your kids are amazing, beautiful, and magical. Also agreed? They can be super annoying. Please don’t feel bad if you’re sick of being asked the same thing for the 648th time. On average, 4-year-olds ask 200-300 questions a day (hm, I’d say that’s a low estimate), and will ask around 40,000 questions between the ages of 2 and 5, and that’s enough to try anyone’s patience.
- Being bored – Again, your baby is beautiful. And also kinda boring. One thing you don’t hear a lot about parenthood is how boring it can actually be. Watching your little one smile, gurgle, find their feet, and learn new skills is magical, but a lot of the time, sitting at home with them is less than exciting. And when they get older, it’s also ok to get bored with their imaginative play games, or their requests to read the same book over and over. You’re an adult and your sense of fun has changed since you were 3! Give them your attention when it’s play time, but also remember to recharge your adult battery with some grownup conversation whenever you can!
- Letting your kids be bored – Ok, this is an important one. We live in an age of Pinterest and Instagram displaying all of the activities you “should” be doing with your kids, and we also live in the age of endless entertainment at our (and our kids’) fingertips on phones and tablets. But your kids don’t need to be constantly entertained. That’s not your job: you’re not their performing monkey! It’s more than ok to steer them towards a book, their toys, or their own fabulous imaginations.
- Asking for help – What you are is a super woman; what you are not is superwoman. The last thing you should feel guilty about is asking someone, like a partner, parent, or babysitter, to take a few things off your plate. You have enough to do, and you just can’t do it all yourself. Remember these two things: 1. There’s a reason that, for centuries, multiple generations lived under one roof. 2. There are very few jobs, except for maybe leader of a one-man band, that require you to take on every single task yourself.
Let It Go
This list above is by no means exhaustive; as moms we’ll always find new and innovative ways to feel guilty! So if you find that mom guilt is creeping into your days, first remember the list above and take a deep breath. Next, try to incorporate the following strategies into your everyday life to keep those negative feelings at bay.
- Decide that it’s ok to help yourself first – You know how the flight attendant on a plane always has to stress that parents need to put their own oxygen masks on first in case of emergency? That’s because a parent’s instinct will be to help their child first, even at the expense of their own well being. The flight attendant has to, in effect, give you permission to be “selfish,” because it’s in you and your child’s best interest. Think about that for a moment…or two…or three.
- Put some space between you and people who make you feel guilty – When I became a mom, my sense of guilt sometimes came from a feeling that there was some all-seeing eye judging everything little thing I did. Well, there’s no such thing. What is out there, though, are people who make snide comments or want to make parenthood into some sort of bizarre competition. Run far, far away from these people. Some people, like in-laws, might be inescapable, so keep a running list of excuses to get away or ways to change the subject in your head.
- Surround yourself with support – On the other hand, what you should be doing is finding people who you feel comfortable with and supported by. Be gentle on other moms, and accept the same encouragement from them; you may end up learning to be gentler on yourself in the process.
- Trust your instincts – Should I switch to organic milk? Does this need a trip to the doctor? Are my kids eating too much junk food/watching too much TV? Should I be teaching my kids another language/how to share/the concept of consent? The questions go on and on…But you know what? You probably already have the answer to these questions – your answer, the one that’s right for your family – inside you. So do a little bit of research if necessary (but don’t go down the rabbit hole too much!) and consult with trusted sources, but ultimately remember that you are always making the best choices you can for your kids at that moment.
No matter what Webster’s dictionary says, mom guilt is 100% real, and it is something that countless numbers of moms experience. There are tons of moms out there feeling exactly what you’re feeling, so go forth, find them and bond with them! Remember, a mom who looks after herself is a mom who can look after her kids! And remember also, if you find yourself completely overwhelmed and feeling buried under anxiety, please talk to a trusted professional. There’s no shame – or guilt – in asking for help when you need it.