If you have ever felt mom guilt, you are not alone!
Where does guilt come from?
Before you had kids you probably felt guilty for not going to the gym, guilty for eating that ice cream, guilty for not calling your parents enough, guilty for buying that expensive pair of shoes when you should be saving money.
After you have kids you sort of up the ante in the guilt department. Now you have children who are dependent on you for everything. So you start to feel guilty...
- Guilt for not spending enough time with your children.
- Guilt for not cleaning the house because you were spending too much time with your children.
- Guilt for not being strict enough
- Guilt for being too strict.
The list goes on and on. You can literally feel guilty for anything and everything! As you can see, often our guilt can cross between two different ends of the spectrum where we are basically telling ourselves that nothing we do will ever be good enough.
Guilt in this situation comes from the belief that we need to be perfect. We have this idea that there are only two types of moms: the good mom and the bad mom. One of the problems with that belief is that there are so many ways you can be a good mom and none of them involve being perfect all the time. If you take a step back and think about it, did anyone ever tell you that you have to be perfect all the time? Or are you the one telling yourself that?
Even though you have spent your entire life learning the belief system that you currently have about the type of mom you should be, there is no rule that says you have to hold on to those beliefs for the rest of your life. You are allowed to change, you just have to give yourself permission.
What does guilt mean?
The Merriam Webster’s definition of guilt is “a bad feeling caused by knowing or thinking that you have done something bad or wrong”. So, feeling guilty means that you care about right and wrong and you want to do the right thing.
When it comes to your children, you want to be an incredible mother because you care about your family. At the end of the day, is it really important which brand of diapers you bought? Or is it more important that you love your children and they know how much you love them?
Guilt can also mean that you messed up.
I’m going to let that sink in for a minute because I think one of the greatest fears as a parent is that you will fail and the worst thing you could possibly do is mess up. This triggers a slew of emotions such as anger and shame to name a few.
Alexander Pope once said, “To err is human” and I would have to agree with him. It is through our failures that we learn and grow. When you come home from the hospital with your first child it can be really scary. Your life changes overnight and despite all of the reading and preparing you do ahead of time nothing can prepare you for what it is really like. Nobody teaches you how to be a parent, let alone a perfect one.
Forgive yourself for not knowing exactly how to do everything the “right way” because how could you know without ever experiencing it? Just as you expect your children to fall down multiple times as they are learning to walk, you should expect that you will mess up as a parent. And just as you encourage your children to get back up and try again, you should encourage yourself to get back up too and learn from the mistake. By admitting you made a mistake and then modeling how to fix it you are teaching your children more about how to be successful than you ever could by teaching them to be perfect.
How do you stop it?
Step 1: Recognize the negative emotion. You know it’s happening when you feel like you are putting yourself down or you find yourself explaining what happened by starting off your sentence with, “I should have...”. In order to create a positive change you first have to acknowledge the part you are playing in creating these negative feelings.
Step 2: Pause and think about why you feel guilty. Usually as a parent you are feeling guilty because you care about your children and you want to do a good job. No matter what the reason for your guilt, it is important that you feel good about the answer to this question of why.
Step 3: Validate your reason for wanting to do it based on your intention. Take a step back and look at the situation logically. You may need to take a deep breath or two to try to detach yourself from the negative emotion. You are consciously choosing logic over emotion. You are telling guilt that you are declining the invitation to the pity party. This allows you to see the situation clearly before starting to explore this deeper. If we look at the example of feeling guilty for not spending enough time with your children, ask yourself if anyone really expects you to spend 24/7 with them. Did someone tell you that spending all of your time with your children would make them successful, happy, feel loved, or become better human beings? In case you need permission to not spend all of your time with them, let me share some research with you.
A 2015 study published by the Journal of Marriage and Family revealed that the amount of time that a mother spends with her children had no impact on the child’s behaviors, emotions, and academics. When the child becomes an adolescent (ages 12-18) the amount of time that both parents spent engaged with their child was related to better outcomes and the amount of engaged time the mother spends with the adolescent child is linked to fewer delinquent activities. I like the way this study defines “engaged time”. There is a difference between being available to your children 24/7 and spending intentional time engaged in activities with your children. The study found that spending engaged time was more valuable than being available to your children 24/7.
Step 4: Think about the positive things that will come from the mistake you made. Not only do you get to learn and grow from your mistake or failure, but your child gets to see that you are human. They get to learn how to problem solve. They get to learn that it is okay to fail.
Guilt isn’t going anywhere and by no means am I suggesting that by going through these steps you will never feel guilty again, but you have control over how you respond to it now. Will you ruminate on guilt to the point of resentment or will you seek to understand where it comes from so you can let it go and move forward with the things that are truly important to you?