In 2018, Serena Williams began opening up about her “Mom Guilt” on social media. Her posts went viral. Mom’s across America could relate. You don’t have to be a tennis phenom to feel the pressure and emotion that come with the responsibility of raising kids. There are so many areas guilt can take root. Important milestones you may miss because of work. Balancing other commitments that take time and energy. That quick stop at the drive-thru when you “should” be feeding your kids the newest, extraordinarily healthy diet that’s all the rage. It’s easy to feel like you aren’t doing enough in our hyper-aware, all-or-nothing culture.
Where Does “Mom Guilt” Come From?
Society & Social Media
We live in a society that suggests that women should be all for everyone in their lives. We want to do our best. But if a person feels inadequate or if the internal pressure is too intense, these good intentions can actually decrease the individual’s effectiveness or cause them to shut down.
Although mom guilt existed long before the internet, the constant reminders of what others are doing (typically when they are at their best), can magnify these feelings. A quick scroll through one’s social media account, when you’re already feeling inadequate, can easily increase a self-perception of your perceived flaws. When we feel that we aren’t measuring up, “Mom Guilt” can become a serious problem.
Situations From The Past
Not everything is about our past, but our early experiences definitely color how we see ourselves and the world. If we’ve learned from previous experiences that we are “responsible” for others’ happiness or are unacceptable if we aren’t the best, we may find ourselves overcompensating with our kids. Because our expectations are out of line with what is possible or realistic, we will inevitably fall short. This can lead us to make negative judgments about ourselves, causing an avalanche of emotions, with guilt topping the list.
Many moms hold themselves to a higher standard when it comes to parenting than perhaps in any other endeavor. It’s a huge part of a mother’s identity and often something dreamt of since a childhood of playing with dolls. We want the best for our family because we love them. For a person with a high-achieving Type-A personality, the “lack of control” and unpredictability that comes with raising children can be unsettling. There are high stakes in child-raising. Women often talk about the guilt of potentially making a “wrong decision” in their parenting.
Reducing Guilt & Gaining Perspective
Some guilt is good. Even good moms “lose it.” If you feel guilty because you over-reacted about something, teach your child to “own” their mistakes by apologizing and correcting your action. Be open to feedback from your kids. The best parents are predictable and present. They are not perfect.
If the guilt is overexaggerated or unearned, let it go. Guilt should be a motivator for change, not a chain that immobilizes you. Ask yourself, “Do I have control in the situation I’m feeling guilty about?” If the answer is “no” a different emotion (like empathy for your child and yourself) may be more appropriate. If you tend to be self-critical, ask yourself, “If a friend came to me with a similar regret, would I think guilt was justified.” Taking a third-person perspective may give you enough distance from the situation to put things in perspective.
Take A Deep Breath
Some of the most guilt-inducing moments come from knee-jerk reactions. Pause before you respond to your child, especially if you are feeling stressed or short-fused.
Find Practical Solutions
If you are feeling guilty because of time constraints, consider what may give you more time. You may be able to “do it all,” but not simultaneously. It’s okay to outsource. Hire someone to clean your home and take the kids to a park for the afternoon.
Disconnect To Connect
If you feel guilty for not spending enough quality time with your children, make the most of the moment together by setting aside distractions like your cell phone and the expectations that come with them. We live in a world that demands an immediate response as soon as a notification dings. Research shows that just having a phone on your body, reduces attention to the task at hand (in this case, your child). Even if you plan not to answer, the siren call is strong. Connection is about quality, not quantity. An hour of undivided time goes a long way to increasing the bond with your child, and decreasing feelings of mom guilt.
Set Time For Yourself
Kids need other people in their lives. You’re not designed to fill every role. Dads, friends, mentors, and other role models are necessary for raising well-rounded kids. Help your child develop healthy relationships with other people and use your time apart to focus on you. Finding small things to do for ourselves can have a large impact. Research shows that you’re a healthier, more well-rounded person when you create time for yourself and have other areas of interest beyond your kids. Our goal as mothers is to raise healthy, independent adults. Model this for them during their childhood.
Mom guilt is real, but it doesn’t have to be all-consuming. Remember: time is a nonrenewable resource. Don’t waste it feeling guilty.