This post is for all the moms (parents) out there that find themselves experiencing the seemingly never- ending emotion of ‘mom guilt’.
Why are so many moms bombarded with a feeling of guilt, the ‘I can’t seem to get it right’ feeling that I know affects so many mothers? We may all experience it differently but the feeling resonates with moms across the board. I am a mom of three, I have many amazing friends who are moms and I work with clients who are mothers dealing with this exact issue.
So, what is mom guilt anyways? It is the common belief that what you are doing as a mom is not enough for your kids. It is the feeling you get when you start realizing you did something you wish you hadn’t, usually pertaining to your parenting. It’s the phenomena of lying awake at night questioning yourself as a parent/mom.
Why is this even a thing? Why can we not parent our kids without feeling bad about it? Let’s explore what is happening that is keeping these negative feelings sticking around.
The dictionary defines guilt as a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offence, crime, wrong etc. Guilt is an emotional state than can actually be helpful to us. If we do something ‘wrong’ and we feel guilty it could help us not make that same mistake again. For example, yelling at your child when they were asking you a simple question. Perhaps you value speaking calmly to your children and you wished you had not raised your voice in this instance. Feeling guilty about that is ok. It is what we do with that feeling that needs to be considered. If you decide that you wished you had not done that and you do your best to not yell in the future, this would be a healthy way of feeling and dealing with guilt. In my experience, this is not where many moms stop. They can often take their guilt and hold on to it until it becomes shame. Brené Brown defines the difference between guilt and shame as guilt being tied to our behaviours while shame tied to our worth; I did something bad vs I am bad. I hear so many moms speak about themselves as being a bad mom vs doing badly in a specific instance. They are connecting their imperfect ways of acting to their worth as a mom. This is why I believe we have such a culture of mom guilt, it is not even guilt that we are actually dealing with, it is mom shame. Shame is much harder to rid ourselves of.
There is hope! Here are a few things you can start practicing today that can start to help you with your mom shame/guilt.
One very basic way is through empathetic understanding with each other. When someone is sharing their downfalls or mishaps we empathize with them and say “Me too! I too am imperfect.” Not to take away their time to vent and have a listening ear, but to let them know from one mom to another, I yelled at my kids last week too; it sucks, but we are all doing our best.
Another theory, empirically-supported, that has recently emerged on the psychology scene is the theory and practice of self-compassion. Researched by Dr. Kristen Neff – self compassion is being forgiving and understanding and compassionate to yourself for your mishaps or mistakes. You know that ever-so- clear response you may have for your friend when you are telling them they are doing a great job despite their challenges? You need to provide yourself the same compassionate council. Self compassion is the art of realizing our human-ness and because of that, connecting to that experience and forgiving ourselves for whatever we need forgiveness. The research also supports that when we practice this (in all areas of life) we will actually live a more connected and positive lifestyle. For example, acknowledging that you really messed up today with your child, they wanted your attention all day and you were to busy to give them any. Tomorrow you will try to make more time for them and let them know you are sorry for doing that. Compare that to self-talk that sounds like “Wow, you really don’t have this balancing thing down very well do you? Not good enough, you are just not good enough.”
Finally, what I personally think can help with mommy shame/guilt is confidence. Being confident in who you are as a mom and realizing you may not do it all right, but you do try. Confidence isn’t about being the best, but it is about believing in your abilities and in yourself. Believing that you are the best person to parent your child and that they are bonded and attached to you, not any other mom who appears to do it better. Internal confidence will allow you to apply self compassion easier and this pairing can really help minimize carrying any shame or guilt with you. It’s ok (I would actually encourage you to) to label your feelings and acknowledge them, we just don’t want to stay STUCK in them.
As the sign on my office wall says ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself!’