Ditch the Guilt, Mama
Mom Guilt sucks. Like it really, really sucks. If you’re a mom, I’d pretty much wager everything I own that you have at some point in your life felt the dreaded mom guilt. It seems like it’s unavoidable.
If you’re reading this and you’re not sure what I’m talking about, let me explain. Mom guilt is this horrible, gut wrenching, unshakable feeling that what you’re doing as a mom is not good enough.
Although, I feel like “not good enough” doesn’t really do the feeling justice. It’s this all-consuming fear that you’re doing wrong by your children (aka – your literal heart walking around outside of your body). It’s the feeling that no matter what, you’re never going to measure up as a parent. It becomes a constant backdrop to life, impossible to tune out.
On this morning, I was so in love an overjoyed. But I was already feeling the weight of guilt. I hadn’t figured out breastfeeding and Lucy was force fed with a syringe.
I asked mamas WHY they feel guilt. Here’s what they said.
“Formula feeding and not wanting additional children” “Trying to balance (not in any order) working full time, being a mom, being a wife, on top of the chores, groceries, family commitments, etc.” “Working outside the home” “Balancing two kids.” “Taking time for myself when I could be spending time with my son.” “Haha everything! But mainly screen time and what he eats.” “Wanting to go to work and guilty that when I come home, I can’t wait for bedtime.” “Being a full time working outside the home mama and also needing me time.” “Having a girl’s night when I work a full-time job.” “Not having an instant connection with my baby.” “Taking time for myself for physical and mental reasons.” “Being beyond frustrated at bed time! With my husband’s work hours, it’s all me 4 nights a week.” “Lots of tears are shed for various reasons and I get so frustrated.” “Not being ‘enough.’ Having tough days and knowing I can be so much better.” “Screen time! But she only wants to watch Little Baby Bum and loves it so much!!” “Working!” “Dropping her off to the babysitter on my day off so I can actually sleep a few extra hours.”
I have sooooo been there!
Believe me, I too have felt guilt for ALLLLL the things. When Lucy was first born, I struggled to breastfeed. “But it’s the most natural thing in the world.” Welp. Not for me and my baby whose lungs had just been suctioned out due to swallowing a boat load of amniotic fluid. She DID NOT want to eat because her little throat hurt so much. So, for her first few meals out of the womb, she was force fed with a syringe. It was horrible. She screamed. I sobbed.
At our first pediatrician’s appointment, she hadn’t gained back enough weight and the doctor suggested I supplement with formula. Again, I felt like a total failure. I ugly cried in the car. I mean UGLY CRIED. You can ask my husband. We had to stop at a deli on the way home so I could get something to drink.
In those first few weeks, I struggled with an oversupply of breast milk. Lucy was drowning in milk and had awful reflux. I felt so guilty for not being able to feed my daughter well. And then I even felt guilty for feeling guilty about having an oversupply in the first place. Wasn’t that a good problem to have? Weren’t there so many other mamas struggling to produce enough? Who was I to complain about TOO MUCH!?
I felt guilty that I cried all the time and that I just could not pull myself together.
I felt horrendously guilty when I went back to work. And once again, I felt guilt for HAVING guilt about going back to work. I loved my job, why did I feel so awful to leave my baby?
I felt a sharp sting of guilt every time someone asked me, “So where does Lucy go when you’re at work?” Daycare. There were people who audibly gasped when I told them, you guys. That did wonders for my Postpartum Anxiety, let me tell you.
I felt guilt every single time I dropped Lucy off at daycare. I honestly don’t even know why I felt guilty. She freaking LOVED it there. Even at 3 months old, she was a little social butterfly.
Lucy’s first day of daycare! It was Halloween and I cried in my car for 15 minutes before pulling out of the parking lot.
The first time she got sick? Massive guilt. The first time she had a bad diaper rash? Massive guilt.
When we decided to let her cry it out in her crib? SO GUILTY. (I’m still triggered any time I hear someone say, “Oh, I could never just listen to my baby cry.” Well…. I did. For hours. Guess I’m a monster!!)
Realizing I wanted to be a stay at home mom? Oh man. The guilt on this one was insane. HOW could I want this? I have a master’s degree from Columbia University, for God’s sake. I was working for an organization that is arguably the best in the WORLD in my field. And I wanted to walk away from that to be at home? But what about all the women who had fought for my right to work outside the home!?!?
Now that I am a stay at home mom, I feel a huge amount of guilt for not providing our family with as much income as I once did.
I feel guilty that I get more time with Lucy than my husband does.
I feel guilty that she doesn’t have social interaction with other children her age.
I could type this list on and on. I’m sure you could, too.
Stop the Cycle of Guilt
But here’s the thing. This guilt does not serve us in any way! And really, if we think about it. All of the reasons that we feel this guilty are totally NOT WORTH IT.
For one thing, the fact that you’re feeling this guilt at all means that you care. You want to do your best, and I’m sure most days you really try to be the best parent you can be. Guess what!? That is ENOUGH for you and your babes. Yes, it’s amazing to always be striving to grow and get better, but you HAVE to know that wherever you are right now, and whatever you get done in the day is ENOUGH.
So, cut yourself some slack and give yourself a break. All that guilt you’re carrying around isn’t getting you anywhere. It’s bringing NOTHING to your life and even worse, it’s taking from you. It’s chipping away at your spirit. It’s dimming your light. It’s keeping you from being the very best person you can be.
I really tried hard to pain a perfect picture to the outside world when Lucy was really small. Looking back, I wish I had been more transparent. I know everyone would have supported me, and I wouldn’t have been drowning in as much guilt.
Why do we feel this guilt?
I think there are a couple reasons we as moms feel this overwhelming sense of guilt.
First, we have unrealistic expectations for ourselves. Oh, these expectations we have that we need to be all things to all people. I think it comes from having grown up in a society that sends us so many conflicting opinions. Be smart, but not too smart. Be strong and independent, but not too bold. Be beautiful and sexy, but don’t give it away. Be capable, but don’t try to be in charge. Speak your mind, but not too loud. Raise children as if you don’t have a career. Have a career as if you don’t have children. Take care of yourself, once the needs of those around you have been met.
We’re experts at bending and separating ourselves to fit the double standards. We become skilled in how please all the people. And then this little person arrives. Suddenly, it’s really hard to keep the outer appearance looking smooth and flawless. It’s really hard to keep all the plates spinning and all of the people happy. So, what do we do? We beat ourselves up. We come with all of the reasons why we’re failing. We let our imaginations run wild with how everyone else is killing it, while we’re at home feeling like a hot mess.
ENOUGH. Would you speak to your best friend the way you speak to yourself? Even better, would you speak to your child the way you speak to yourself? Absolutely not.
Second, we have a lot of worth wrapped up in what OTHER people think of us. And it doesn’t even have to be a real, stated opinion of us, does it!?! At least for me, it’s enough to think someone might have a negative opinion of me. For example, I was convinced that people would have a negative reaction to me wanting to be a stay at home mom. (Spoiler alert: everyone was super supportive…) Just thinking that people would have a problem with it was enough to send me into a guilt spiral. AND IT WASN’T EVEN REAL. So much wasted time convincing myself that I should feel badly about something when I didn’t need to.
But let’s say someone does shove their negative opinion of your parenting in your face. Like the *hopefully* well-meaning woman who gasped out loud upon hearing that my child went to daycare. Well, this is a little blunt, but those people are jerks and their opinion should not matter. And honestly, they’re probably reacting negatively to what you’re doing as a parent because they themselves are feeling insecure about something in their own parenting. Maybe the woman who daycare-shamed me felt guilt about not pursuing a dream career. Who knows!? The bottom line is, these people don’t get to take up space in your heart and mind. Their opinion doesn’t matter.
Mama, YOU know what your baby needs. YOU know what your family needs. YOU know in your heart of hearts what is best and that is matters.
Let’s smash some of these guilty feelings, shall we?
Are you feeling guilty because you work outside of the home? GIRLFRIEND. You are providing an incredible thing for your family!! First of all, you’re providing an income. An income that pays for all of the things your family needs – a place to live, food, electricity, water, heat, clothing, education, a vehicle. You’re probably providing amazing things that make your family’s life better and more fun, too! Things like vacations, great experiences, toys and games, gifts – all of which are creating incredible memories. On top of that, you are showing your children the value of hard work. You are teaching them first-hand the amazing things that come from dedicating yourself to something and following through with it every day!
Maybe you’re feeling guilt about the way you feed your baby. I know this was a HUGE source of guilt for me and I’ve heard many other mamas are struggling with it. Is your baby eating? I don’t care if it’s breastmilk straight from the boob, pumped and from a bottle, or formula. Are they eating? CONGRATULATIONS. You have nothing to feel guilty about. Don’t google it. Don’t ask anyone for their “advice.” (Believe me the “advice” givers will give it to you anyway. Aaaaaand their unsolicited opinion means nothing!! Hurrah!!)
Do you feel guilty that you’re taking time for yourself? This is how I think of it. When I have the time to recharge and do something for myself, I’m a better person. My first instinct while typing this was to say, “when I do something for myself, I’m a better mom.” I decided not to because “mom” is not the only thing that matters about me. As one of my favorite authors, Rachel Hollis, says, “You were someone before you were a mom, and that person STILL MATTERS.” You deserve to feel great! You deserve to take the time to exercise, have drinks with friends, take a class, read a book you love, or whatever it is that will help you refuel. If you need help with the kids in order to do, ask for it.
How To Ditch the Guilt For Good
Ok, so I hope you’re feeling fired about ditching this guilt and not letting it rule your life anymore. But how? So much easier said then done, right?
First and foremost, you have to let go of what other people think of you. When you attach how you feel about yourself to the opinion of someone else, you’re living your life on borrowed land. You are renting out your worth to other people, and the price you pay is the guilt and anxiety that comes with having no control what that opinion of you will be. So release it. You do not need it. You and the people who make up your inner circle know what is best for you and your family.
Second, you have to know that you are MORE than your worst moments. The things you wish you could go back and change or the things you aren’t proud of do not define who you are as a mother or a person. We all have bad days. We all make mistakes. Every single one of us is figuring out how to do this as we go along. Your journey in motherhood is not going to look like your sister’s, your friend’s, or the girl on Instagram’s. The advice in the books may not work for you. That’s ok!
You also have to know that you are SO much more than the guilt you are feeling. A single feeling cannot define you. Yes, you may feel guilt and anxiety. But there is so much more to you that that. You are made of an incredible capacity to love, to feel joy, to dream up incredible dreams and share them with the world. You have a sense of humor, passions, and quirts that make you uniquely you. ONE FEELING CANNOT DEFINE YOU.
Lastly, I think we’d all do each other such a service if we were honest with each other about our struggles. Shame and guilt can grow and flourish when we keep it in the dark. When we think something is too dark or embarrassing to be shared, that’s where guilt finds a nice cozy home. The moment we bring it into the light it’s not as scary anymore. And when we hear someone say, “I’ve been there, too,” that guilt has a really hard time living at all.