Mom guilt has haunted me since I first became a mom 9 years ago. My daughter made her appearance mid-semester of an intense nursing program. I had been nervous about the impending birth since the positive pregnancy test. It wasn’t necessarily the birth itself I feared, it was not graduating from the program. Nursing programs have strict attendance policies (for good reason!) and I was terrified that I would miss time and be forced to drop out. To make matters worse, I lived an hour away from the school I was attending. This meant two hours tacked onto each class or clinical day. Two hours of essentially non-productive time spent away from my daughter.
Mom guilt, fueled by a lack of sleep, school stress, and the pressures of adjusting to being a mom, elevated daily. I had been driven to build this career long before her birth but it now seemed a selfish use of my time. Wouldn’t she be better off with me constantly tending to her every need? How many moments with her would I miss while learning to care for complete strangers? What was the point of putting myself through the torture of the commute, school, and clinicals? Would it really pay off in the end?
Mom guilt is real and crippling. It is an insidious negativity which clouds your thinking and steals your joy. For many moms, guilt is at the root of anxiety, feelings of overwhelm, and depression. Even worse, feelings of guilt can drive behaviors such as addiction and perfectionism in an attempt to relieve the discomfort they cause. But what causes mom guilt? And more importantly, what can you do about it? This post explores both topics and gives you actionable steps to take in healing from mom guilt.
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Cause #1: Role Juggling
Wife, mom, employee, chief cook, home organizer, family coordinator and the list goes on. And on and on and on … indefinitely. Moms today juggle SO MANY ROLES. Each role comes with its own set of responsibilities and challenges. There’s simply no way to give your all within each individual role without impacting the others. Conflict between the roles is inevitable.
And then there are the expectations. Everyone has an opinion about expectations related to the various roles you hold. Your employer expects you to produce quality work. Maybe your husband expects you to cook supper every night. And your children expect help with their homework every night.
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You also have expectations of yourself. Expectations which hold your performance in all these roles to a certain standard. The expectations you have for yourself can be heavily impacted by the expectations of others. And in many cases, all these expectations are not rooted in reality and are completely unattainable. The gap between expectation and reality is only worsened by the next cause, social media.
Cause #2: Social Media
Take a minute to look through your favorite social media feed. Chances are, you will see flawless selfies, free of blemishes or wardrobe malfunctions. Smiling kids and laughing babies. Married couples smiling as they enjoy yet another date night free from conflict and petty arguments. In short, you will see perfection.
But social media is not reality. Behind those photos are filters, fighting kids, and the same expectation conflict you face on a daily basis. We are all waging the same war between who we are and who we think we should be. It’s just that this side of ourselves is often conflicted and not as pretty as any of our other sides. This side never gets posted.
The constant exposure to everyone else’s “perfection” adds to the already unrealistic expectations you hold for yourself. If left unresolved, all this pressure eventually leads to guilt. It seems as if everywhere you look, moms are crushing it. They’re packing organic lunches, volunteering for field trips, and taking strong positions against screen time for their kids. Their home-based businesses are thriving and they’re vacationing multiple times a year. Meanwhile, you’re left trying to remember whether you washed your hair this morning and arriving late to work. AGAIN. Social media leads directly into the next cause, comparison.
Cause #3: Comparison
Seeing perfection wherever you turn naturally leads you to stop and examine your own life. And let’s face it … being a mom is hard! It’s not as if we are magically handed parenting instructions at the birth of our babies. I had never even changed a diaper prior to the birth of my daughter. There were so many aspects of being a new mom that I felt completely unprepared to face. Not to mention the fact that all of those personal struggles you feel which are totally separate from being a mom are still there. You’ve now just added more uncertainty to the existing pile.
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Uncertainty piles on top of uncertainty and you soon find it difficult to be sure of anything anymore. Influenced by the expectations, opinions, and false perfection of all the other moms out there, you begin to question EVERYTHING. Your choice to continue working, how your kids spend their free time, your relationship with your spouse, and even your ability to take time for yourself.
Given the influences of social media and the comparison factor, it’s no wonder mom guilt is such a pervasive issue today. But what can you do about it?
Mom Guilt Solution #1: Self-Care
The first step in kicking mom guilt to the curb is self-care. You NEED to make time for yourself. I know what you’re thinking. Your schedule is packed as it is. If you’re anything like me, your plate is already brimming with tasks from the break of dawn through well after dark. How can you possibly add something else to the mix?
I get it. Your gigantic “to-do” list seems way more pressing than taking an hour out of your day to workout. Work was crazy busy today and you’re exhausted. The kids need help with homework and dinner is in an hour. Taking time for you feels selfish in the face of all that needs to be done. Will taking time out for you really make a difference?
Absolutely! Taking time out for yourself on a daily basis will change your outlook. It will boost your mood, give you confidence, and improve your ability to deal with stress. Taking the time you need reminds you of the person you are deep down inside. It revives the woman you were before anyone called you “mom.”
Although the concepts are the same, self-care looks a little bit different for everyone. We all benefit from a relatively balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep at night. But the piece that really sparks life and meaning for me is following my passions. Remembering to include time for activities which are meaningful to me makes me a better mom. When I have time to pursue these pastimes, I am calmer, more self-assured, and can face the stress of the day. In fact, identifying meaning in what you do is so important that it’s the next solution for combatting mom guilt.
Mom Guilt Solution #2: Find the Meaning
Our tendency to juggle so much as moms leads us to hone in on only those aspects of a situation which need to be fixed. If we focused on every single detail of every situation, our minds would explode. Although our brains like the automation, focusing on the negative naturally tends to block out the positive. After awhile, this can impact your entire mindset.
But there are simple ways to flip the guilt into useful energy. The first is by becoming aware of your thoughts. Often mom guilt manifests itself as intensely vague feelings disguised as anxiety, fatigue, feelings of overwhelm, and depressed mood. It’s only when you take the time to clearly identify and work through these feelings that you can begin to heal.
Journaling can be incredibly helpful in getting the vague thoughts and negative feelings out of your head. The act of writing them on paper and seeing them in black and white adds a dose of reality that attempting to process in your head simply can’t. Incorporating a daily practice of journaling either right away in the morning or before bed allows your brain to release the negativity.
Journaling can also help you to begin identifying negative thought patterns, themes, and triggers. After seeing your thoughts on the page, look for the influences of comparison and unrealistic expectations. At this point, ask yourself whether there is any truth behind the source of guilt. Once you’ve identified the answer, flip it to the positive. Here’s an example illustrating the technique.
After my daughter was born, I struggled with the decision to continue the pursuit of nursing. It felt selfish and caused intensely negative feelings which clouded all my thoughts and significantly impacted my joy. I fixated on the amount of time I was away from my daughter as a negative and refused to acknowledge any possible benefits.
The truth of the situation is that although I was required to spend time away from her, I was also pursing a meaningful career. It’s simply not realistic to think that you can spend every waking moment from now through eternity with your child. Role modeling the importance of pursuing goals, making a contribution to society, and the value of an income are incredibly important. In this situation, focusing on the meaning of what I was doing eventually helped me overcome the vague mom guilt which tried to creep in.
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I love journaling because it’s an individualized activity. It’s time for you to work through the core of whatever is triggering mom guilt for you. Keep in mind that mom guilt triggers are incredibly variable from mom to mom. An incredibly strong trigger for one mom might not even phase another. This is because moms and families in general are unique. This brings us to the next solution.
Mom Guilt Solution #3: Do You
No one else in this world has had the experiences you’ve had. There isn’t a mom on this earth who has the child(ren) you do. Is it then realistic to think that what works for one mom is reasonable or acceptable for you?
There are obviously many common themes to parenting and the ability to check in with other moms who have had similar experiences. But at the end of the day, you have the ability to take in the information and make the best possible decision given what’s in front of you. What works for one mom may not work for you.
Let go of comparison. Stop the social media scrolling. Remember all those unique things which make you and your family special. Revel in those. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. Make the best possible decisions you can make and don’t worry about the rest. Always look for ways to be better but give yourself grace in the process. Know that you are doing your best and simply let go of the rest!
Goodbye Mom Guilt!
As long as there have been moms, mom guilt has been a very real thing. We have been given a huge gift in our children but this comes with responsibility. It’s not something to be taken lightly. But we must also remember to enjoy the gift. Laugh, love, and find the joy. Stop fixating on the negatives. Although all moms experience some degree of mom guilt, it is possible to not only overcome it, but turn it into something useful. Besides journaling and becoming mindful of your thoughts, here are a few more actionable tips in transforming your thinking.
- Find other moms you can relate to. It’s really important to have support in your journey. Parenting is so hard! Chances are, there are moms out there who are just like you who can provide encouragement, laughter, and boost your mood.
- Find a counselor you feel comfortable talking with. Counseling is incredibly helpful because it provides an outside perspective on your inner world. Sometimes we get too tied up in our own thinking and are unable to see the other side. Family and friends often have their own perspectives and expectations of you. They generally mean well but are therefore unable to provide unbiased opinions on your inner world. A counselor can help you sort through your mom guilt in ways other people can’t. If you are struggling with anxiety and depression rooted in mom guilt, please reach out to someone. You don’t have to struggle alone!
- Journal about your feelings on a regular basis. It’s important to get your negative feelings out but it’s equally helpful to look for what’s going well. Where are the areas you are excelling? What are you proud of? Where are you growing? Keep these positive thoughts at the forefront so you have a bank to draw from when your thoughts trend toward the negative.
- Take time to pursue activities which are meaningful for you. If you’re not sure what that is, try something new. Sign up for a class. Read a book. Get into a Facebook group about a topic which interests you. Life is about getting out there and trying new things. Becoming a mom doesn’t take away your right to continue growing as a woman!
- Stop the mindless social media scrolling! Social media can add value to your life but only if you’re mindful about how you’re using it and the impact it has on your outlook.
If you’re looking for even more advice on how to overcome negativities in your mindset and outlook, check out this book. It’s full of motivation and inspiration encouraging you to overcome whatever is holding you back! There simply aren’t enough words to describe the impact this book had on my own life and my ability to re-frame mom guilt. It’s a life changer!
I hope you’ve found this post helpful on your journey toward leaving mom guilt in the past. The truth is that all moms struggle with guilt at certain points but what matters is what you do with the struggle. You can let it overwhelm you or you can reach out and get help. There are ways to turn it around but you have to make the choice.
I’d love to hear about your experience with mom guilt! Do you have helpful tips and tricks on reversing the negativity? Comment below with your thoughts on this post. Now go out there and be the awesome woman and mom I know you are!