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It’s real. Very real.
And if you’re a mom, you’ve likely already suffered from it… or will. There is little chance of escaping it.
So what exactly is mom guilt?
In a nutshell, it’s the feeling you get when you think you may be letting your kids down.
A feeling that you’re not doing enough for them or making mistakes… or worse, potentially making choices now that will screw them up down the line.
Some will joke about the “mom flail”… yet the consequences of these actions, albeit probably insignificant, make us feel dire at times.
While I can assure you that this is very unlikely, you have to condition yourself to believe it.
You need to face the mom guilt head on… and deal with it. Fast!
In this article, I’m going to offer 7 ways to cope with those feelings of mom guilt.
To let yourself off the hook and start enjoying motherhood again… knowing that you’re doing the very best you can.
You’ll get there. I promise.
Step #1: Trust Your Instincts
From the very moment you found out you were pregnant, those so-called maternal instincts kicked in.
You grew suddenly protective of the life growing inside you… overwhelmed by the feeling that you would do absolutely anything to bring your child safely into the world.
You did your part.
You sang to your stomach. Rubbed it gently. You watched what you ate and drank. You had a fitness plan. You likely read all of the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” books. You got adequate rest and went for regular checkups at the doctor.
Nobody taught you to behave this way, it was a part of you.
So why would we be so quick to abandon those instincts once the child is born?
Why would you doubt your ability to make good decisions for this child?
Nothing has changed.
You still have the child’s best interest at heart… and you still want to keep them safe, happy and healthy.
If, for instance, your original plan was always to return to work once your baby was 3 months old… why should you suddenly feel guilty about doing that once he is born?
Why question yourself?
You had it all sorted out.
Someone else would care for the baby during the day… but you would still be there in the evenings for bath, bedtime and overnight feedings.
As the child got older, you’d still be the one taking care of dinner and tucking them in. The one they’d run to if they had a nightmare.
If you have a school aged child, perhaps you don’t like a friend they’ve been hanging around with lately? Even though many of the other moms love this particular girl. She’s popular and athletic.
But you see right through it. You think she is a bad influence. A bully. Superficial.
Trust your instincts.
Discourage this friendship.
If you feel the need to give your child a reason, go ahead… but tread lightly.
You are the mom.
You’re not entitled to give an explanation and most certainly don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you have to justify your actions to your child.
Deep down, you know what’s best for her.
Step #2: Tell Yourself There Is No Such Thing As The Perfect Mom
Superheroes aren’t real. Neither are unicorns (but you will never tell my children I said that!). There is no tooth fairy.
These are merely fictional characters society has created to allow children to dream… to feel better about the world and keep a bit of magic in their hearts.
As mothers, we know better.
So, we should also know that there is no such thing as “the perfect mom”… yet many of us still find ourselves falling into the trap of believing otherwise. Of holding ourselves up to impossible standards.
The perfect mom is myth. We are all flawed in some way.
Trust me when I say this… no mother (or woman for that matter) wakes up in the morning looking ready to leave the house.
No mother has a smile on her face all day long.
No mother accomplishes everything she sets out to do in a day.
No mother feels happy and appreciated all of the time.
No mother has limitless energy.
No mother volunteers for every single event at their child’s school, while holding down a full-time job and keeping the house in order.
No mother stays at home with multiple kids all day and still has enough energy to stay up late binge watching netflix with her husband on a school night.
Let’s face it!
We are not Mary Poppins.
You cannot compare yourself to something that doesn’t exist… and you should never be hard on yourself for feeling less perfect than another mom.
Chances are, they are just as much of a mess as you… you just happened to catch them on a good day.
Embrace the good days and don’t beat yourself up over the bad ones.
This too shall pass.
Step #3: Give Yourself (And The Kids) Some Breathing Room
Moms are expected to exemplify the ideal work-life balance.
The ability to take care of their responsibilities, without letting them get in the way of the kids’ social and extracurricular activities.
While this seems great in theory, it is often easier said than done… because more times than not, we find ourselves biting off more than we can chew.
You may have heard of the expression, “keeping up with the Joneses”.
It means that it is our human nature to try and compete, sometimes without even realizing it, with another person.
A friend. Family member. Neighbor. Co-worker. Classmate. Acquaintance.
Think about it.
If most of the girls in your daughter’s kindergarten class are taking dance lessons… you’ll feel like your daughter should be one of those girls too.
If your teenager’s friends are all having these elaborate birthday parties… you’ll want to plan something just as great, despite whether or not you can afford it or have the time.
If you’re not careful, your family calendar will start to resemble a Jackson Pollock painting… with everything blurring together and chaotic. You’ll be left feeling dizzy and confused, with no space left to breathe.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a Pollock fan.
But all schedules need to have some wiggle room, especially when it comes to keeping that mom guilt at bay.
If you have too much going on, you’re more likely to either let something fall through the cracks or experience burn out.
The end result is the same, you’ll feel as if you let somebody down. And when that happens, the guilt creeps in.
Don’t do it to yourself.
Keep one afternoon, evening or entire day clear of “stuff” every week if you can. You can even put it on the calendar as “breathing room” or “catch up”.
For some of you, it may mean family time. For others, it may mean catching up on laundry or work.
Whatever you want it to be, just make sure it leaves you feeling better about things and not worse.
Step #4: Don’t Ignore Your Own Needs
If you were to ask a handful of working moms with school-aged children how much time they get to themselves in a day… I bet the answer would be about one hour, on average.
And this hour of “freedom” doesn’t necessarily include fun or relaxing things. It may simply be taking a shower in peace or paying bills online.
The stay-at-home mom has a similar story.
Even if the kids are in school all day, her primary job is to keep the house in order. This means running errands, doing laundry, cleaning, shopping, tending to the yard and preparing meals.
Despite some men’s theories to the contrary… we are not sitting around with our feet up all day, catching up on our favorite shows and whistling while we work.
Fa la la la la la la.
In fact, some of us even work part-time from home… which is an entirely different ball game.
Yes. A mom’s life is a nonstop balancing act, fit to lead any circus.
And I get it.
We signed up for this.
We also need to take care of ourselves if we’re going to be any good at it.
Just like a car needs fuel to run, our bodies and mind need time to recharge.
Taking time for yourself should not equate to mom guilt.
I’ll be the first to admit I had a problem with this… especially when my kids were very small.
And it would be a point of contention between my husband and I when he seemed to have no issues with playing a round of golf or bar trivia with his friends… while I stood home with the children.
To keep myself from resenting him, I decided I needed to take some time for myself too. That it wasn’t really him I was mad at, so much as myself. The mom guilt was eating me alive.
So, once my youngest was no longer a toddler and potty trained… I put together a network of babysitters we could trust.
I started out with a mother’s helper to keep the kids busy and cared for while I worked in my home office or went food shopping.
Eventually, we’d move on to my actually leaving the house to go to kickboxing class or get a massage. Have coffee with a friend.
Then date nights happened a few times each month. Sometimes even with other couples!
The more I forced myself to make time for the things my body and mind craved… the less guilty I felt about it.
And guess what?
My kids were fine too!
In fact, they love their babysitters so much they’d often be disappointed that I wasn’t gone longer… and that, my friends, is a mom win!
Step #5: Ask For Help Now And Again
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “It takes a village to raise a child”.
So many young parents start out thinking they can do it all. That parenting will bring them closer together as a couple… and the experience will be mostly sunshine and roses.
Nobody wants to hear that it will be mostly cloudy with a chance of thorns.
Parenthood can be scary.
You’re constantly afraid of letting your kids down or of them getting hurt. You want to give them the world and keep them safe… but that takes work.
It also takes help from others.
One of the best things you can do for your children is form a village with friends and family.
Create a carpool schedule with your fellow hockey parents, so you take turns bringing the kids to and from practices.
Plan play dates to free yourself up while another parent watches your child for a while.
Ask a neighbor to sit with your child for a few minutes while you run to the store for a few things.
Regardless of where you could use the help, just knowing that it’s there can be extremely comforting. And there is no shame in asking for it.
Give it a try.
I promise you will find other moms jumping at the chance to have another person they can count on. Not only will it make your lives easier, but you’ll likely forge some new friendships in the process.
Step #6: Separate Yourself From Negative People and Braggers
Toxic people are the worst.
And toxic relationships can drain the life out of you.
Many of us associate the term with abuse of some type, but that isn’t necessarily true. Sadly, you may not even know that a person you are involved with is toxic.
It’s about their energy and the way they say things… it’s about how they make you feel.
If someone makes you feel bad about yourself, they are not a good person to be around. If they make you feel guilty about the way you are raising your child… you need to walk away.
Far, far away.
Many toxic people may not even recognize their own character flaw. On the contrary, they may just think they are being honest… a straight shooter.
They also have a tendency to gloat, which they simply view as being proud.
It’s all about perception.
Yet, that is all we have to go on when it comes to making judgements about others.
If someone is constantly going on about their child’s academic achievements, while mine is struggling… why would I want to subject myself to that over and over? Even though they may not purposely be hurting my feelings, they are.
They are bringing me down… and that leads to mom guilt.
Should I have hired a tutor?
Should I work less hours?
Similarly, if another person is constantly belittling or second guessing your parenting choices… are they really a friend?
Instead, they should be listening and trying to understand your decisions. Offering help only if, and when, you ask for it.
Do yourself a favor and reassess your relationships.
Think of it as spring cleaning for your soul… getting rid of all the toxicity in your personal life to pave the way for a healthier mindset.
Step #7: Take A Day Off To Spend With Your Kid
Despite your best efforts, there will still be days when you feel as if there just isn’t enough time to get everything done.
Not enough time to work out.
Not enough time to make a nice dinner.
Not enough time to call and check in on your loved ones.
Not enough time to play a board game with your kids.
Whether a job is the culprit, or your household duties… something has to give on occasion.
Your children are only young once. They will likely only live with you through their teenage years.
At which point, you’ll look back and wonder where the time went.
You’ll miss it.
You’ll regret not making more time for family.
The mom guilt will eat you alive… but it doesn’t have to get to that point.
You are entitled to a day off.
That is what personal and vacation days are for.
And if you’re a stay or work from home mom, that is what “tomorrow” is for.
Laundry can wait one day. So can cleaning.
The world will not cease to exist if you escape for one day every now and then.
Same goes for your kids. They can likely skip school one day and be no worse off… providing there isn’t a big test or project due.
Just pick a day and play hooky with your children.
You don’t even have to plan anything specific. That leaves too much to chance, such as the weather forecast or tickets being sold out last minute.
All that matters is you are spending time together. So put it on the calendar and let the morning decide what you do.
Years from now, your children will remember that special day with you more than any present they got for their birthday.
Time is the greatest gift of all and much too precious to waste.
Final Thoughts on Mom Guilt
Even if it’s not clinically recognized, mom guilt is real.
You know it is.
I know it is.
It doesn’t matter what other people think.
Mom guilt is a feeling… and nobody can tell you how to feel.
What you can do is tell yourself that this guilt is entirely containable. Avoidable even.
Motherhood is a marathon, not a sprint.
Take things one day at a time.
Remember to slow down once in a while and soak it all in… both the good days and the bad. It is all a part of the ride.
Nicole Krause has been writing both personally and professionally for over 20 years. She holds a dual B.A. in English and Film Studies. Her work has appeared in some of the country’s top publications, major news outlets, online publications and blogs. As a happily married (and extremely busy) mother of four… her articles primarily focus on parenting, marriage, family, finance, organization and product reviews.