What is Mom Guilt, and How to Overcome It!

This month, we’ve been talking about women’s mental health and the battles we face. In our last blog, we talked about the pressure we—as women—face every day to “be it all.” In this one, we’re going to talk about how that pressure impacts a particular group of women. Moms. Because not only do mom’s, like most women, deal with the pressure to be and do more than we could possibly accomplish on our own, we also deal with the fall out in a very unique way. I’m talking about the struggle of Mom Guilt.


While you might not find the term in any dictionary, mutter the phrase “Mom Guilt,” to any mother, and you will see a look of understanding fall across her face as she identifies with the phrase, and with you. This certainly isn’t the first blog written about it. It’s the topic of parenting podcasts, and the topic has been discussed in many, many therapists offices throughout the world as women try to figure out  it’s such a struggle for us, and what we can do about it.


You might be wondering; CAN we do anything about it? Are there Mom Guilt survivors? Because I know—from experience—that it weighs heavy enough that it’s hard to imagine that anything else would be powerful enough to move it. And it’s exhausting enough to make you feel like you’ll never have the physical energy or emotional capacity to move past it! In fact, most mom’s have just accepted Mom Guilt as an inevitable part of motherhood, and have resigned themselves to co-existing alongside it for the rest of their days.


But what IS Mom Guilt, exactly? Mom Guilt is the anxiety, discouragement, frustration, and sense of failure that women feel when we suspect that our parenting is falling short in some way. The fear that nothing we do will ever be good enough for our child(ren), and that our actions will fail them and we will have failed as mother’s. It creeps in when we have to work late and miss dinner with them. It hits us when we have to miss our oldest child’s soccer tournament because the baby is sick and needs our attention. It looms over us when the chance to chaperone a school field trip conflicts with an important meeting at work. We battle it every time we lose our patience, or react too quickly, or feel like we’ve let our kiddos down. And it is an everyday thing!


Where does Mom Guilt come from? Is it just magically handed out the moment you become a mother? The answer is…kind of. It goes hand in hand with the unrealistic expectations that are placed on women as a whole, but then takes it a step further. Because now, you’re not just failing yourself. You’re screwing up an entire child! So we place more and more pressure on ourselves to do the impossible—be perfect. But there’s no such thing as a perfect mom. There’s a reason why nearly every mother experiences the anxiety and doubt that stem from Mom Guilt. It’s because we want the very best for our children, and we want to give them the best versions of ourselves. But doesn’t that, by definition, already make us good moms? If every single one of us is trying to be the best we can be, then that means NONE of us are perfect. Which means those “perfect” mom’s that we’re striving to live up to? They’re not actually perfect, either. 


It’s true that our children deserve the best versions of us. But the answer isn’t giving them a perfect mother. All that will do is pass unrealistic expectations down to another generation. So, how do we give them the best versions of ourselves? How do we overcome Mom Guilt and convince ourselves that what we have to give is enough? That WE are enough?


The first step? Give yourself permission to fail. Failure is inevitable. And contrary to what you might believe, it’s important for our children to see us fail. Because then we can show them how to handle it. It’s not the “never messing up” that sets a good example for them. It’s the messing up—and making it right—that will teach them who you are. Next, give yourself permission to forgive yourself. No one will be harder on you…than YOU. When we embrace the freedom that comes with forgiving ourselves for what we view as our shortcomings, we are giving our children permission to forgive themselves when they fail. We are showing them that our mistakes are not as important as what we take from them, and how we move forward after them.


The next step to overcoming Mom Guilt is probably the hardest for most us. Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re in over your head. So many of us have gotten so good at treading water when we’re in too deep, that the people who love us can’t even tell that we’re about to drown. We have to speak up! Not only for our own sanity, but for the good of others. Because the more we open up about what we need from others, and the more vulnerable we are about the areas we need help in, the easier it will be for other women to do the same. Let’s normalize women asking for help when we’re overwhelmed, instead of carrying it all until we buckle under the strain. Let’s make leaning on others when things get heavy the new normal, so that the next generation of young women don’t even question it. So that when THEY feel overwhelmed or start doubting themselves, reaching out for support is second nature to them. And keep in mind that, when making a list of people that you can turn to for help, your children can be on it. There are many age appropriate tasks that children can take off the hands of a busy mom. And while it might mean the task takes twice as long at first, I promise that as they learn, it will get easier for them—and you! 


Another really important thing to help combat Mom Guilt is remembering that you’re not JUST a mom. You were a whole person before you became a mom to one, and that person has to come first. I know you might be thinking, “Wait. You’re supposed to be telling me how to overcome Mom Guilt, and your advice is to put myself FIRST? As in, before my child?” I know. It sounds like a great way to feel even MORE guilty! But the fact is, we cannot BE our best, if we’re not AT our best. If we never prioritize ourselves, than our health—physical and mental—take a backseat, and if we let those areas decay, everything else will be negatively affected by it. So yes. As selfish as it sounds, taking care of YOU before you take care of THEM, is paramount. This can look like a lot of different things, and I encourage you to find the ones that work best for you and your family. Maybe it’s a regular exercise class. Or reading a few chapters from a favorite book each day. It could be taking a class or doing a hobby that interests you, or it could just be sitting alone watching a show that you’ve been wanting to start. The point is, find time for YOU. In a way that works for you, and your family. And then see how the benefits trickle down to the rest of your family!


If escaping the Mom Guilt feels like more than you can handle on your own, then it might be time to consider seeing a therapist about it. While experiencing some guilt is normal, if it’s become a source of constant fear or it feels like you can never escape it, you likely need a professional to help guide you through it. If that’s the case, we’d love to help get you matched with a therapist who can help you find the relief you need. Call us today to schedule your intake appointment!

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