If you’re a mom, you are likely carrying mom guilt. What does your mom guilt sound like?
Are you the mom whose work takes her away from her children and thinks, “I should be spending more time with my kids”? Or maybe you are the mom who has chosen to pause her career to be home with your children and thinks, “I should be working to contribute to my family’s finances.”
Or maybe your guilt is that your children’s birthday parties don’t compare to those you see on social media. Or that your house or your body does not look like they belong in a magazine. (Unless those magazines are “Decorating with Colorful Plastic” and “Perfectly Round”).
Maybe your version of guilt kicks in when you hear moms talking about the home cooked, organic, non-GMO meals they prepare for their children while your child will only eat buttered noodles?
Whatever your version of mom guilt is, here are some strategies to help you shed it.
Evaluate your measuring tape
Guilt can have a place if we have truly done something wrong, if it motivates us to do better, or to help us learn from mistakes. But let’s be clear – most of the mom guilt we carry is not because we’ve hurt someone or committed a wrong against our children. It’s generally because we have some arbitrary, unreachable, or rigid set of expectations for ourselves as a parent.
What are your expectations of yourself as a mother? And whose ruler are you using to judge your parenting? If you think “I let my kids watch too much TV.” How much is too much? How much is okay? Sometimes we have arbitrary or unclear expectations. When this is the case, it’s impossible to fulfill them. Let’s be clear on what our goals are and why we have them. By doing so, we will be more likely to reach them when they are our own, as opposed to borrowed from social media, our cousin, or our mother’s neighbor’s daughter. You get the idea.
Can you differentiate between a specific situation and not make a character judgment of yourself? For example, the day you forget to pack your kids lunch – it doesn’t make you a bad mom. Maybe you were preoccupied, hurrying, or distracted tending to one of your child’s other needs. Maybe it means it’s time for your child to start packing his own lunch! Whatever it means, it does not mean you’re a bad mom, or even a forgetful mom. It just means you forgot that time. Let’s extend ourselves a little grace and forgiveness.
Be clear on your parenting priorities
What matters to you as a parent? What is truly important to you as a mother? Get clear and specific on what matters. We all only have so many resources: time, energy, and money. We need to be purposeful about how we allocate those resources. And not everything can or should have equal importance. And let’s make sure what we allocate our resources to is truly important to us, not because it’s a priority to a neighbor, family member, or someone in the media.
Once we have clarity on what is truly important, it serves as a reference point to let the rest go. If it doesn’t meet the short list, it’s not worth our resources. Because investing our resources one place means we are taking it away from something else.
Focus on what you are doing
It seems very easy to inventory our days with the things that did not get done. Or the things we feel we didn’t do well, or well enough. Try to flip that on it’s head. Focus on what you did do, what you did accomplish.
For the mom who feels guilty that she “only” nursed her baby for 3 months: feel proud that you made that commitment to your baby for that time.
For the mom who feels guilty that she said “no” when her toddler asked her to read the fifth bedtime book: recognize the priority you’ve made to make reading a part of bed time, that you did read four books, and that children need boundaries, and you both need sleep!
So back to that example of forgetting to pack your child’s lunch. Do you congratulate yourself every time you do it? Do you focus your thoughts throughout the day on what a great mom you are because you did pack his lunch? I doubt it. But maybe it is a good idea to stop periodically and inventory all the many things you do regularly and consistently.
Monitor your thinking
Catch yourself when you hear thoughts ridden with guilt. “Should” is a hot button word to pay attention to. Once you notice those thoughts, try to apply the previous approaches:
Ask your partner, spouse, or a trusted loved one to talk it through with you. Often we gain greatest change in our thinking when we talk it out loud and when someone else’s voice changes the conversation. A counselor can help with this, too, if you feel really stuck.
Another techniques for replacing those guilt driven thoughts is to replace “should” with another word, such as “want,” “need,” or whatever else feels true:
For example, instead of “I shouldn’t yell so much.” Is it more helpful and more accurate to say “I want to be more patient with my children. Or “I need to find a better way to communicate with my kids.” Do the need and want statements feel different than the “should” statement? I hope so. And hopefully you also see, the latter two give you a path to success, a plan for the future and an invitation to do differently.
Make a course correction if needed
Sometimes when we pay attention to our guilt related thoughts, it highlights the need to shift our resources. By changing the thought pattern from “shoulds” to wants and needs (like you learned above), it not only sounds different, but if feels different and we drop the guilt and gain motivation.
Let’s take a common mom guilt that sounds like, “I should spend more time with my kids playing.” Is it more helpful and accurate to say “I WANT to spend more time with my kids playing”? Hopefully that sounds like a choice and feels empowering, which is very different than guilt. Then the next question becomes, how are you going to shift your resources to make that possible? What can you let go of so that you have the time to spend where you truly value.
If you’re doing all these things, you clearly care about your children, and that is reason to feel proud.
I'm a mom of four children, a wife, and a Licensed Professional Counselor. My parenting life helps me be a better counselor, and my professional experience helps me be a better mom. Both allow me to be creative, to learn and grow, to make mistakes, and to rarely sleep. I love the beach and gardening, reading if I can stay awake, running (which these days is after my kids and not much else), and using humor through it all!
DISCLAIMER: This site is designed for educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice, legal advice, or professional services. If you feel that you have a medical problem, you should seek the advice of your physician or health care practitioner.