What is Mom Guilt?

Mar 13, 2021

What is Mom Guilt?


Guilt. We all deal with it in some form or another throughout our lives. Some amount of guilt (like a REALLY small amount) can be a good thing…it can help us realize where there is room to improve or make a change. But what about mom guilt? What do you do with that? 


Well, let me tell you first that mom guilt is a LIE. Being a “guilty parent” is a lie. Even dads may experience guilt…that’s also a lie. At this point you might be rolling your eyes and thinking, “yeah, right. I know what I feel, and it’s a real thing.” You’re right that you feel inadequate or guilty sometimes, but it is NOT because you’re not doing enough as a mother. 


Let’s look at what mom guilt is, where it comes from, and how you can deal with it and overcome it.


Here we go!


What is mom guilt?

Remember just a minute ago when I said mom guilt is a lie? Well, let’s look at why that is by first looking at WHAT mom guilt is. 


Mom guilt is the feeling you get that you’re not doing enough as a parent. We’ve all seen those “perfect” social media posts where it looks like Susie Homemaker has the perfect home, the perfect kids, the perfect family. We’ve felt inadequate while looking at her posts thinking, “She has 6 kids, and I only have two, but I feel like I’m drowning. But look at hers! They’re so talented and smart and polite and perfect. They’re always smiling and doing fun activities. Why can’t I do that?” I know I can’t look you in the eyes right now, but imagine I am and listen carefully…STOP THINKING THOSE THINGS!!! You are not Susie Homemaker…you are YOU. And that’s enough.


Mom guilt is really a feeling of shame- a feeling of “something is wrong with me” or “I’m not enough”. It’s feeling like what you are doing as a parent isn’t right and that the decisions you’re making will “mess up” your children later in life. 


Let’s look at two different moms…we’ll call them Maria and Juniper. Maria has 8 kids who are all in at least 3 after school activities, and they’re in a language immersion program at school. Juniper has 3 kids who each have after school dance classes but no other extracurricular activities. Their school doesn’t have a language immersion program. Usually, Juniper feels pretty good about her kids’ activities, but sometimes when she’s with Maria or sees posts about all her kids’ many events, she feels like she’s not giving her children enough opportunities to have different experiences. 


Maybe you’re like one of these moms…guess what? Neither of them are right or wrong. Their decisions won’t mess up their children. 


Mom guilt aka shame, is also focusing on the “shoulds” and “supposed tos” and the “other moms are…” instead of recognizing all the good things you’re already doing. Mom guilt is focusing on the small things and losing sight of the big picture. Yeah, maybe your kids only have 1 extracurricular activity, but they’re healthy and loved. Maybe your kids have more screen time than your friends’ kids, but they’re doing well in school and love reading too. There’s no ONE right way to parent, so those “shoulds” and such have no weight here.


With an understanding of what mom guilt is, let’s look at where it comes from. Primarily, mom guilt comes from us choosing to internalize the things we see or hear, either intentionally directed at us or not. 


It can come from family: maybe an aunt says, “Oh, you’re not breastfeeding? You know that’s the best thing for your baby, right? You should keep trying!” Or a grandparent says, “You’re going back to work? Isn’t it better for your kids for you to stay at home with them?”


It can come from friends/coworkers: maybe a (well-intentioned) coworker says, “You’re back to work already?! Don’t you miss her little smile?” Or a friend says, “My daughter knew her alphabet when she was 2. How is yours doing?”


It can come from social media…we already looked at some examples, but I wanted to include here that it’s okay to celebrate your triumphs and the happy events in your childrens’ lives. It’s okay for other moms to do that, too. Most of us don’t have bad intentions when we do that…we’re not trying to brag; we’re just happy! The problem comes when YOU internalize what you see as an attack on your parenting. 


It can come from other sources, like strangers: I was in the checkout line of the grocery store, and a child behind me asked her mom what I had just put on the belt. Her mom said motioning to something in her own cart, “It’s like these but with high fructose corn syrup.” Maybe she was trying to make me hear it…maybe not. But I felt bad and wondered if I’d made a bad choice (I looked when I got home…my purchase didn’t have high fructose corn syrup). 


Ok, so now we know what mom guilt is and where it comes from. Let’s look at what we can do about it.


Overcoming Mom Guilt

At this point you might be asking yourself how to manage these feelings when they come up. Overcoming mom guilt is possible—it’s all about choosing how you’ll react to what you see around you and remaining patient. Here are some ways you can be gentle with yourself, recognize the good you’re doing, and keep mom guilt out of your head.


Help yourself first. Sometimes mom guilt comes up because we’ve overburdened ourselves and can’t stop thinking about the small things. This is when it becomes important to take time for yourself, whatever that means for you. Maybe it’s a weekend getaway by yourself; maybe it’s a day at the spa; maybe it’s not cooking all the meals for a week. When you love and are happy with yourself, it’s easier to love your decisions.Spend time doing things that fuel you. 


Share your responsibilities. Mom guilt comes from us taking on too much and still feeling like we’re not doing enough. Enlist your partner to help with some of your responsibilities, so you can have a break (or maybe readjust your “division of labor”). If you’re single, form a network that can lend a hand when you need it. You don’t need to do it ALL. What else can you take off of your plate, or stop doing all together? Less is more. 


Surround yourself with supportive people. You need support and positivity; you deserve that. Keep people close to you that add to your happiness, those in whom you can confide without fear of judgment. Don’t let negative people and naysayers get into your head. This may be hard if those people happen to be family, but do what you can to set healthy boundaries. 


Recognize irrational thoughts. Mom guilt will creep in at times, so it’s important to recognize them when they do and deal with them right away. Identify the source of the thoughts: are they coming from triggers, your past decisions, your upbringing? Once you recognize them and their source, it’ll be easier to replace them with positive mantras (come up with some of those, too!). What mom guilt really is is “shame”- the feeling of “not-enough-ness” that we all feel sometimes. Dig into- what is my brain telling me right now? What else is true here? 


Nurture your relationships. Your children will learn from your example, so show them what dealing with feelings of inadequacy or insecurity looks like. Remember that your family relationships are what you’re doing all this for, so keep them close. Your friends also fit here; supportive friendships can give you reassurance when those mom guilt feelings start to take over. Your children will learn from you- and how you handle mistakes/guilt/shame- how they can deal with it too. Remember- we’re all human, we all make mistakes. 


Listen to your children and your intuition. Sometimes in the struggle to take it all on, we forget about why we’re doing it. For example, if you’re a working mom, you may not be able to play with your child when he asks. Instead of feeling guilty about working and not having time for him at that moment, make special time to play with him after your work is complete. You know best how you can use your time to take care of your tasks and have meaningful experiences with your children. Trust that! 


Avoid comparison. I saved this one for last, but it may be the most important!! Maybe you noticed comparison as a common theme as we discussed examples of mom guilt/shame. It’s at the root of those feelings, which is why it’s a lie! We never know everything that is happening in someone else’s situation. There is no “better” version of a mom to compare yourself to. You are unique; your children are unique; your situation is unique. ALWAYS remember that! We often compare our backyards to others’ front yards- which is never helpful. We all have backyards. Lower your expectations of yourself- choose to be a “good-enough-ist” and not dwell in the comparison thoughts of “I should be more like…” and you’ll notice that you’ll be happier with YOU and where YOU are at as a mom. 


Closing thoughts on mom guilt

Mom guilt (shame) sabotages all the positive, meaningful, wonderful things you are doing as a mom with comparing yourself to others at the root of it all. I know it’s easier to say than do, but remind yourself of your worth…remind yourself that you are the best for your situation, and it doesn’t matter what Susie Homemaker or your mother-in-law or the stranger at the grocery store says. You are unique, and you have value!


If you’re still having doubts, you can always count on me! A great place to start is by checking out all of the episodes that I have on shame/mom-guilt and people-pleasing on my Freedom Moms podcast for some helpful tips. You can also find out your parenting superpowers through taking my free quiz


Crystal The Parenting Coach

Cover image for the parenting personality quiz, 4 sketches of a mom doing a different activity with her child
Cover image for the parenting personality quiz, 4 sketches of a mom doing a different activity with her child

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