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!’
The type of attachment you began to develop as a child impacts your relationship today. The good news is, by understanding it, you can become healthier and more secure in your relationship.
Every week I work with couples as they try to navigate through difficulties that arise in their relationship. This work has challenges as every couple has a unique story and background. However, working through challenges often brings about a beautiful connection that I get to make with these individuals as they work to improve their relationship. My desire to work with couples has been with me for as long as I can remember. I have always been interested in relationships, what makes them tick and what causes them to break down.
Romantic relationships are an extension of our innate desire to be close to someone, to be attached to and bonded with them. From the day we are born we are wired to bond and attach to our caregivers. This attachment morphs into one of three attachment styles (secure, avoidant and anxious/ambivalent), as described in Attachment Theory. This theory formerly asserted that we grow out of our attachment needs and styles, however that belief is no longer validated. It is now understood that whatever our attachment style is as a child is usually the style we bring into our relationships. Unpacking this and working on understanding our desire to be connected and close to our partner goes a long way in understanding why we can become so distraught when that bond/attachment is threatened, through an argument or conflict for example. We are essentially fighting for our partners to be close to us. (This is also the basis of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy)
By understanding our attachment styles we can change our style as an adult to become healthier and more secure. The beauty in therapy is that knowledge paves a way for change and change occurs when there is a significant desire for improvement.
Mental Illness and Professional Sports
Professional sports are a warriors game. Players do whatever it takes to gain an advantage. There are those who physically intimidate, others who mentally agitate and some who do both to attempt to unsettle their opponent.
In the NBA, trash talk has been a part of the game for about as long as the game has been played. The game involves a level of direct one-on-one action in close spaces not seen in other sports. Growing up, I recall watching guys like Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Kevin Garnett and Michael Jordan. These guys were known to use their tongue and their wit as a weapon in their game. In some cases, no subject was off-limit in what they would utilize to belittle and undermine their opponent. Stories of these guys calling their opponents ‘cancer-patient’ or ‘midget’ have surfaced with little indication they’re not true.
Fast forward to 2018. Trash talk is still a part of the game, but the game has changed. Last week, Toronto Raptor DeMar DeRozan mentioned in an interview that he struggles with depression. Inspired by DeRozan’s openness, Cleveland Cavaliers’ forward Kevin Love admitted that he left a game earlier this season due to on-court panic attacks. Both have been applauded for their self-disclosures by fellow players and fans alike.
In the past professional players would never admit weakness for fear it would be used against them. Today, mental illness and disorders are not seen as weaknesses but challenges to face. People take strength from hearing their heroes admit their challenges; much like the past generation did from seeing their heroes overcome physical challenges, like Jordan’s flu game in the 1997 playoffs.
This is a great change, a significant change. Sports can often display the best and worst of society. Today we are becoming increasingly aware that challenges such as depression are realities that we need to talk about, not shy away from. If you are facing challenges, pressures or anxiety, don’t hesitate to reach out for help, whether that be a trusted friend of a professional. Seeking help is not a weakness, it’s a huge step of strength. If warriors like DeMar and Kevin can open up, so can you.
Recently someone had asked me if you get more emotional as you get older. I’m sure there could be truth to this idea, but the thing was, this individual was going through some very normal emotions given their current life situation. They had been exposed to ongoing stress for awhile and reported feeling tearful often, sad and unlike themselves. This individual was typically a very happy, cheerful person. Having self-disclosed as not being used to dealing with many difficult emotions in their lives they found themselves wondering what was wrong with them at this time. Truth be told, there was not a single thing wrong with them. They were facing life difficulties and having to learn and adapt to their newly found emotions. Having to learn how to soothe themselves and ask for help when needed and having to become more comfortable with the outward expressions of emotions that would just show up, unannounced.
The thing with this story is that it is a common one. Many of us haven’t been shown how to handle and process our emotions in a healthy way. The fact is, emotions make many of us uncomfortable and scared; even when what we are feeling makes sense given our life situation.
My hope is that we realize emotions are a healthy part of living. Learning how to embrace our emotions so we can process them properly and having helpful tools to utilize when needed could benefit us all. I hope if you are reading this and can relate to this story you will realize there is nothing ‘wrong’ with you, but in fact, you are a healthy person, feeling emotions you probably need to be feeling. Reach out, ask for help if you need to, and give yourself permission to feel, growth will come from it!
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