Fighting the Mom Guilt Monster this Mother’s Day
While TV ads and hallmark cards often suggest that all “good” mothers want to spend Mother’s Day with their families, I am here to tell you otherwise. Most moms with young kids that I know just want some guilt free, luxurious alone time. To simply be away from screaming wiggling children. Just some quiet and stillness to catch a breath.
So I have to ask myself, why is it that we need this excuse of a national holiday to not feel guilty about asking for some alone time? To refill our cups and exist not only as mothers, but also simply as people with human needs. Am I supposed to feel guilty if I take some time for myself any other day of the year?
Yes, I love my child more than anything, but I am not above saying that I cannot keep up with him all the time and that I desperately need breaks. And even with a wonderful husband who is always stepping in and actively caring for our child, I still barely keep up and I still need breaks.
Oftentimes though, even when I take a break, I am usually feeling guilty about it. And that really takes away from my ability to take full advantage of that child-free time and refill my cup. I believe this phenomena is what is referred to as ‘mom guilt’.
Healthline defines “mom guilt” as follows, “… that pervasive feeling of not doing enough as a parent, not doing things right, or making decisions that may “mess up” your kids in the long run.”
The Roots of Mom Guilt
Mom guilt is a big hairy monster for many reasons; it is both self-imposed as well as culturally and socially imposed. And when life is moving at toddler pace in our house, aka a million miles per hour, it can be really hard to find the time and energy to fight this mom guilt monster. And when I can’t remember the last time I had an uninterrupted night of sleep, how can I possibly remember to ward off mom guilt? For survival purposes though, we must talk about it!
Feelings of Inadequacy
Behind mom guilt, is this looming sentiment of not being enough. Not being enough for yourself, for your child, for your partner, and even for society.
And for many new moms, mom guilt begins rearing its ugly head the moment their babies are born. When I was still in the hospital after my c-section, I had a rough start with Painful Breastfeeding as a New Mom and this made me feel completely inadequate. I had only been a mother for 2 days, and I already felt like I was failing. Great.
Since that time, I have learned that painful breastfeeding is not an uncommon experience among women. It would have been so helpful to know this before having my child. Why had I never heard about this kind of breastfeeding challenge? Because we don’t talk out loud about the things that make us feel ashamed or inadequate. We tend to only share the things that make us look perfect and beautiful. The ugly and difficult things remain hidden, and they feed that mom guilt monster.
Deciding to be a stay-at-home parent shortly after my son was born, I also started dealing with feelings of inadequacy in regards to being career-less (let me note though, that being a stay at home parent is 110% work, your boss is now just a tiny human and you don’t get paid). Was I not as capable as other women, who were managing both motherhood and a work life outside the home?
And I think working moms carry a similar feeling of guilt, but instead it’s about splitting their time between their children and their paid work. So either way, “hello, mom guilt”.
We live in a time culturally, where women have made great strides in claiming their rights. And this is wonderful, but a byproduct seems to be the emergence of this supermom model and ideal. The idea that women can and should take on all the jobs of motherhood and professionalism and do it all perfectly. I definitely do not meet this image. So am I a failure as a woman and a mother in our society?
Then comes the guilt from not always enjoying being a mom. It is often both chaotic and dull being with a small child day in and day out. I don’t want to change my life as a stay at home mom, but I’d also like to acknowledge that reading “Is your Mama a Llama” a hundred times is not the most inspiring or stimulating activity. Children thrive off of routine and repetition as their brains and bodies develop, so the monotony is important, but it sure can take a lot out of a person!
Mom guilt also thrives in the company of isolation. Many new moms, myself included, struggle to find other moms or really just any adults to connect with. Especially as a stay at home mom, most of my early days as a new mother were spent alone with my child. This was wonderful and beautiful in many ways, but I often found myself scheming ways to connect with other adults, and especially other moms. So without a tribe and other moms to relate with, it’s really easy to start internalizing mom guilt.
And let’s talk a little bit about hormones. I don’t know the ins and outs of hormones medically speaking, but I know that after going through pregnancy, having a child, breastfeeding, shifting menstrual cycles, and then having 2 miscarriages – and all of that accompanied by sleep deprivation – has just been a rollercoaster of a ride. And all those shifting hormones can really exacerbate any underlying feelings, such as mom guilt.
Battling Mom Guilt
So what is a mother to do? I wouldn’t trade being a mother for anything, but can we please talk about how to address this issue of not feeling like enough? While there are certainly situations involving child abuse and neglect that are unacceptable, most moms with ‘mom guilt’ are doing a fantastic job raising their kids, despite feeling otherwise. So I try to remind myself that I am enough when it comes to loving and supporting my child, in the best way I know how.
I am Enough
It’s too easy to focus on the negatives and forget about all the ways we are successfully momming. And success doesn’t always look like “success”. Sometimes success simply looks like getting out of bed in the morning after a hard night and managing to make your child some pancakes. Or maybe just managing to get clothes on them, strap them in their carseat and throw them a granola bar.
Or maybe on those hard days, success is taking a step back after your child has been screaming demands at you all morning, taking a few breaths, and calmly returning to deal with the matter at hand. Rarely does life match ideal standards and expectations. So don’t discount all the ways that you are successfully dealing with challenges. The ways that you are keeping your sh** together and continuing to love and show up for your child.
Talk with Other Moms
Once I get talking to another mom about some of the hurdles of motherhood, I realize that my experience of motherhood is not all that unique. My frustrations and exhaustion are a shared experience. While this does not objectively change much when I am in the midst of dealing with an obstinate 2 year old, it is somehow very comforting and helps battle those feelings of loneliness as a mother.
Prioritize Wellbeing Whenever Possible
At the end of the day, I don’t have much energy to exercise and plan out a week of healthy meals or go for a jog. And I certainly don’t have it in me to wake up before my toddler does to exercise or work on projects after a horrible night’s sleep. So I am working on getting creative to find ways to take care of myself physically, mentally and emotionally.
For example, instead of going out of my mind with boredom as I drive Hot Wheels cars around on the floor with my toddler, I simultaneously do some stretching and sip on a hot drink. This makes it feel a little less like I’m being held hostage by a 2 year old.
I have also started making myself a smoothie with fruits and veggies when I make one for my tot. Not only does he get some vitamins and minerals in this way, but I do too. So as time goes on, I’ll continue building in small ways to support myself as well as my toddler into our days. Sometimes all those little things can really make a big difference.
Create a Sustainable Schedule
Talking with my partner about a schedule where I can get some time away during the day has been helpful. But we have to do it days in advance for me to not feel guilt and like I am stealing time. Of course things come up and sometimes schedules don’t always work out, but planning ahead and carving out time to not be in mom-mode is essential.
I have also found it helpful to take time to adopt some Minimalist Practices to Help Prevent Parent Burnout. By simplifying things at home, it’s easier to keep a clear mind and not get lost in the mom guilt haze.
Fighting Mom Guilt 365 Days of the Year
I refuse to believe that Mother’s Day is the only day that I can take some guilt free time away from my child. I need this time to nourish myself, not only for myself, but so that I can continue to nourish my family as well. So let us take this Mother’s Day not just as an excuse to give ourselves some guilt-free TLC, but also as a reminder to tackle mom guilt the rest of the year as well.
There are plenty of reasons that mom guilt exists, but they are not good reasons to let it stick around. So join forces with other moms, remind yourself that you are enough, take care of your wellbeing and take a little time to fill your cup on a regular basis. Happy Mother’s Day this Sunday and every other day of the year!