Embracing & Overcoming Mommy Guilt: Step One in a Three Part Series
Women never call the psychologist’s office asking for help managing their mommy guilt. Yet it’s a topic that invariably comes up during sessions as a secret sense of failure many women carry with them, no matter what age their children. Mothers often share through tears about how they judge themselves as inadequate for not measuring up from the moment of conception and throughout their children’s lives.
- I should breastfeed longer.
- I give in too easily to my child.
- I should never use childcare.
- I don’t spend enough time with my child.
- I let my child watch too much tv.
- I should make my child eat more veggies
It may be surprising to learn that guilt can actually have benefits. Guilt is our internal alarm system signaling that we are not living up to an expectation we have of ourselves. That is important information when our expectations directly reflect our values. We want our behaviors to match our values. This is when guilt can help us pay attention to our choices as parents and motivate us to be our best selves.
However, guilt quickly loses these benefits when our expectations of ourselves are unrealistic or unrelated to our core values. Many mothers expect near perfection of themselves and are constantly judge themselves as falling short. Guilt over a singular wrong-doing may disregard the underlying good intent. So a mom may feel guilty for picking up a child late from school despite the fact that her intention was to always be on time. Guilt can also develop into a deeper sense of shame. This is when we feel low self-worth or basically flawed as a human being because of our perceived failings. So it’s not just “I feel bad for forgetting crazy hat day” but more “I’m a bad mom for never giving my kids what they want.” No one benefits from this type of overwhelming guilt and shame.
This blog series is intended to give guidance on how to move through the mommy guilt and grow from it. The first step in this process is to embrace the guilt with compassion.
Embracing the Guilt With Compassion:
1. Accept that moments of guilt are normal and natural. We are human beings who have our shining moments as well as rough times. We will naturally feel guilty for something we did (or didn’t do) because it isn’t in line with our core values. And guilt is often associated with close social bonds because we feel most guilty when we feel like we’ve let down those we are closest to. So feelings of guilt may represent how much we care about the people in our lives. This uncomfortable feeling of guilt can motivate us to change. Embrace this feeling as an opportunity to learn about yourself.
2. Forgive yourself. Self-compassion is essential to moving through the guilt so that it does not haunt you. Extend some kindness toward yourself and ask forgiveness from others when it’s appropriate. Then intentionally let go of the cycle of punishing yourself. Self-punishing thoughts do not motivate positive change. Only forgiveness and self-love will open up the path to be your best self.
3. Be real on your tough days. Give yourself permission to have low moments as you navigate the challenges of life. Rather than maintaining a false image that all is well all the time, give yourself a break and allow your honest feelings to surface. Only when we acknowledge our true feelings and create some space to experience them without judgement, can we actually move through them. We tend to get stuck in a feeling the more we avoid or deny it.
There is an important difference between moments of guilt for a regrettable behavior which leads us to adjust course to become our best selves and unrelenting guilt that leads to shame, isolation, and the inability to make healthy changes. It is possible to have a healthy amount of mommy guilt that helps us be our best without carrying the heavy burden of failure. The key is to move through moments of guilt with a healthy perspective and support.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by guilt that leaves you feeling depressed, stuck, or unworthy, it may be time to consider professional help from a licensed mental health provider.
Please note, this is the first blog in a three part series. Part two will focus on setting healthy, realistic expectations.
Written by Suzanne Smith, Ph.D. for the Linden Blog. If you are interested in receiving Linden Blog updates with original articles about parenting, families, mental health, and wellness, subscribe using the field below. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with Dr. Smith at Linden BP call 440/250-9880.