You’ve probably heard the term before. Mom guilt. Or maybe you’ve only felt it: that relentless feeling that you’re not doing enough as a parent. You know the one, right? The one that makes you question your decisions and whether you’re doing this whole parenting thing right. The anxiety-inducing rabbit hole of “What if I screw them up for life?”
For me, it was day one in the hospital with my first baby. I tried to breastfeed and came to find out it wasn’t going to be an easy thing for me to do. I was devastated because everything I had read in preparation for birth and being a new mom told me this was the best choice for baby (and me), and I felt betrayed by my own body. I was faced with the decision of whether I would introduce formula – and so it began.
What if this isn’t the right decision for my baby? What if I put my baby’s health in jeopardy? What if they grow an extra toe? Am I just being a wuss? What will other people think? Will they think that I’m a failure?
Where does mom guilt come from?
Mom (or Dad) guilt can be triggered by a variety of things, from our own insecurities, to outside forces like family, friends and the newest and biggest offender – social media. Five minutes on Instagram or Facebook and you’ll see enough highlight reels to send you straight to the kitchen looking for that freezer-burnt ice cream.
Determining what your personal triggers are can be key in helping you overcome the Big G.
For me, I know that mindlessly scrolling social platforms like Instagram and Pinterest can trigger guilt. I see all the fun things people are doing with their kids, or the cool creative ideas another mom came up with for her son’s first sleepover party on Pinterest, and I knock myself down a few notches on the parenting totem pole.
Because I know these things can be triggering, I limit my time on social media, and also make a point not to use my phone when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable. It’s a boundary that I’ve created for myself to keep myself in check.
I, along with so many other mothers out there, also have experienced guilt when it comes to wanting more time for myself. Call it self-care. Call it a break. Call it whatever you want to call it – when I make the choice to leave my kids with hubby for the night, I almost always tear up when I pull out of the driveway. Are my kids in danger? No. Will they be fed, cared for, and tucked safely into their beds? Absolutely. So why the tears? Why the anguish?
Maybe if you’re like me, you grew up in a home where the mother was primarily responsible for the kids and taking care of the home, so it’s part of your conditioning. Maybe you’re a control freak. Maybe you just have FOMO and don’t want to miss out on a single moment.
We’re all different and have been conditioned in a variety of ways. Something that triggers me, may not trigger you. And in vice-versa. Figuring out your personal triggers is a great first step in managing your mom guilt.
Why Mom Guilt Can Wreak Havoc
A little bit of guilt can be a good thing. For instance, if you’re 8-year-old comes home from school every day and eats Doritos until sundown, and you feel a little weird about it – that might be OK. Your gut might be telling you to pay attention and make a change.
But what if the guilt is all-consuming? What if it gets in the way of you living your everyday life? Sometimes that can happen. And when it does, you might want to reach out to your doctor or another trusted health professional. Anxiety, depression and post-partum depression are all very real things. Those who struggle with these conditions might find their mom guilt is through the roof. You’re not alone.
If you haven’t heard the face mask analogy, let me drop this little gem of wisdom on you: if you want your babies to grow up to be strong and healthy, the best thing you can do for them is be strong and healthy yourself. If the plane is going down, the flight attendant tells you to administer your own mask before helping someone nearby with theirs. That’s for a reason. It applies to your ability to parent as well. If you are burned out – if you’re depressed – if you’re anxious and wasting away – you need to take care of YOU. Mom guilt will only compact things – but it doesn’t have to.
You CAN Deal with Mom Guilt
Once you identify the sources of your guilt, you can implement strategies to deal with it. I don’t like to claim that mom guilt is something we can overcome. I think there will be situations throughout our lifetime where we’ll wish we could have done better or made a different choice.
So take note. What are your triggers? What are you doing, saying, hearing or seeing when those icky feelings rise to the surface?
Keeping track of when those feelings arise will help you recognize whether any patterns start to emerge. If there’s a pattern, you can probably assume that you’ve found a trigger.
After you’ve established what some of your triggers are, you can create a plan to set yourself up for success.
For example, when I have plans with friends and the anxiety of leaving and being away from my kids starts to kick in, I ask my partner to bring me back down to earth. I ask for reassurance. I ask him to remind me that he is fully capable of taking care of our kids, and our kids are 100% going to be OK if I go grab dinner with a few friends and miss bedtime.
It’s a simple ask. But it makes all the difference.
Another way you can help minimize mom guilt is by stopping the spread. Lift other moms and parents up when you can. Encourage them in their efforts. And don’t be the person that fills their social media with only the best moments. Sprinkle in some real moments, too. We need to see the good and the bad. The fun and the not-so-fun. The smiles and the tears.
The truth is – most of us are doing the best we can! So let’s unite in our parenthood, practice a little empathy and do the work to identify those triggers so we can deal with the guilt and stop letting it get the best of us.