Mom Guilt noun \ˈmäm \ gilt\
Definition: Maternal feelings of remorse or responsibility for an offense or wrongdoing towards her children; often imagined
Mom guilt used to be a really big thing in my life. I’ve written before about how I am an anxious parent, so this likely doesn’t come as a surprise to many of you. I felt guilty about a lot of things the first time I learned I was pregnant. I convinced myself I too young, too single, and too poor to raise a child. So I started with some serious prenatal guilt and things didn’t go according to plan after the baby was born. I couldn’t breastfeed. I had to put him in daycare before six months. I developed postpartum depression. Pretty soon I was drowning in mom guilt.
When I had my second son, my life was pretty different. I was married! And my (then) partner had a job! And I was going to be a stay at home mom this time! I thought that by changing the circumstances that lead to the guilt the first time, that I could shed the internal messages that told me I wasn’t doing a good enough job. Yet even though I had made a bunch of life changes, every tantrum my four-year-old had made me worry I was raising a real life Calliou.
But unlike Calliou’s mom, I responded to all his pre-school misbehavior with yelling, which made me feel terrible because I genuinely wanted to be a fun, kind mom and not an angry mom. I even tried to ban Calliou in the house (because seriously that show is the worst, amirite?), but the many hours of television time that I allowed my older son to watch while I cared for the baby made that impossible and gave me another reason to feel guilty.
Two events brought me to my mom guilt peak. The first was when I got a full-time job outside the house. Not only did I feel guilty that I worked so much, I felt extra guilty because deep down, I enjoyed my work more than I liked helping with homework or sitting through school concerts. The second was getting a divorce. Despite logically knowing that the marriage needed to end, I couldn’t help but fear that I had ruined my kid’s childhoods. It didn’t matter how well adjusted and normal the kids seemed to be or how many stress reducing bubble baths I took, for sure I was single-handedly wrecking my kids.
When I reflect on it, it is a bit shocking to see how much pressure I was putting on myself and how much responsibility I was taking for my children happiness and life successes. And I know I’m not alone in this. Almost all moms feel guilty about some aspect of raising kids.
Yet by some crazy magic, our kids are alright. And in many cases, they are better than alright. They wake up smiling, keep growing a little taller every summer, and are pretty damn resilient when life gets hard.
I came to realize that mom guilt doesn’t really do anything for us, except drain our emotional energy and give us a reason to binge eat ice cream after the kids go to bed. It doesn’t change our circumstances or make us better parents or make raising kids easier. It mostly just sucks the fun out of parenting and gets in the way of finding joy in our day to day experiences.
So I decided to tackle this guilt monster before it took any more goodness away from me. This certainly wasn’t a quick fix and I am the first to confess that it wasn’t always easy. But letting go of the guilt gave me my emotional freedom back and allowed me to catch my breath.
Sometimes, like when a skateboarding crash led to a serious case of road rash after I forced the kiddos to step away from their screens and play outside in the sunshine, mom guilt stills feels like an easy itch to scratch. But Band-Aids, antiseptic, and a really big hug were all that was needed to fix the situation. Guilty feelings were completely unproductive.
The good news is that letting go of mom guilt is totally possible. I’ve been working on a new online program to help parents like you (and me!) stop feeling guilty and start feeling awesome. Sound like something you might be interested in? Sign up for more information about The Secret Lives of Guilt Free Moms here to discover how you can be more of the mom you want to be.
Olivia Scobie, M.A., ACC, CPCC, MSP