Getting Real About Mom Guilt
I always knew being a mom would be a challenge, but I never knew how emotionally challenging this journey would be. One of the surprisingly common emotions I have felt as a mom is guilt. Guilt that I could be doing better, that I am not a good mom, that everyone else seems to be better at this “mom” thing and that my child deserves better than me. In just the past week my mom guilt has run the gamut from guilt over being a working mom to guilt about not having a wall in his room wallpapered yet.
When guilt becomes shame
The responsibility of being a mom hits me in waves and much of my guilt can be tied to this deep sense of ultimate responsibility and a fear of whether I am doing the right thing for my child. The first moments of the primal desire to protect my child alongside the anxiety and fear of doing what is best for him began when I found out I was pregnant, then during childbirth and soon after, was the unforgettable moment of us driving home from the hospital with a fragile newborn. For me these waves of sometimes overwhelming responsibility did not stop, but have continued nearly daily with varying levels of intensity.
These emotions of fear, responsibility and at times, guilt have driven me to be a better mom. While guilt has a negative connotation, it can be a powerful tool to “do better” next time around --- the slippery slope is when it becomes shame. Note: If you have not explored these emotions or read any of Brene Brown’s books, they are incredibly insightful on the topic broadly as well as specifically to parenting.
The dangers of playing the comparison game
The guilt I feel when I have limited patience with my son or am not fully present can drive me to do better. I think we all have these healthy guilt-driven improvements in life. However, when my mom guilt is instead driven from the outside world and the fault of comparisons and an unrealistic picturesque view of how things should be is when guilt starts to feel toxic for me.
Ironically, moments, when I have been sucked into the comparison game, are often my worst parenting moments. For example, family pictures. I turn into some sort of three-eyed monster every time family photos happen. At that moment, I want everything to look and be perfect. I naively think that the perfect photos will somehow heal the shame, guilt, and anxiety that I have about not being the perfect mom.
What is helping me in getting a handle and balance on toxic mom guilt has been all about limits. This includes limiting my social media to one day a week to help decrease the unavoidable comparison game while still allowing me to connect with friends and scour upcoming events around the city. Additionally, saying no to more things and limited concrete plans with the intention of keeping our weekends relatively free and fluid also seems to be helpful as this allows me to have a better balance and a quality chunk of time to connect with my son.
Replacing guilt with gratitude
I’m also continually working on replacing the guilt with gratefulness. I hope in the coming months and years to replace my internal rhetoric of ultimate responsibility of being a mom to the ultimate honor of being a mom with a little less worry, guilt and concern and more laughs, simple moments and joy together.
Photo by Kaitlyn Huff