Scroll down the rabbit hole of social media and more than likely, you’ll see posts of “the perfect mom” — a mom and daughter in matching outfits, a mother-son duo in perfect sync to the latest dance trend, or even a mommy doing arts and crafts with her child. Now, you — do you feel like you’re struggling in comparison?
Welcome to the world of “mom guilt.”
It’s one of the most common feelings many mothers have, according to Dr. Shefali Tsabary, clinical psychologist and trainer of Mindvalley’s Conscious Parenting Mastery Quest. She adds that “we literally feel guilty about everything that goes wrong with our kids,” like when they fall or if they get bad grades, we should’ve been helping them better.
Although motherhood is incredibly rewarding, it can also be tough. And mom guilt can often make you feel like it’s that much harder.
Nevertheless, every day is a new day, so let this be your opportunity to step into self-love. As the saying goes, “If you’re not taking care of yourself, it’s much harder to take care of the ones you love.”
What Is Mom Guilt?
Guilt is a self-conscious emotion involving a negative evaluation of one’s self as well as feelings of distress and failure. So when it comes to mom guilt, it encompasses the pervasive sense that your motherly efforts don’t match society’s ideals of “the perfect mom.”
However, here’s a well-known secret that every mother knows: there’s no such thing as a perfect mom. Yet, this Goddess Myth — the idea of a perfectly put-together goddess-mother who is beautiful, serene, wise, all-natural, intuitive, and nurturing — impacts all moms.
Based on a survey commissioned by TIME, of the 913 mothers participating, “half of all new mothers experienced regret, shame, guilt, or anger, mostly due to unexpected complications and lack of support.” Furthermore, over 70% of them felt pressured to do things a certain way with “society in general” being the main source of the pressure.
It’s important to also note that mothers aren’t the only ones feeling the heat from the culturescape. Fathers, too, feel the burden to conform.
If there’s mom guilt, is there dad guilt?
Yes, dad guilt absolutely exists.
Fathers of the newer generations want to be more involved in helping to raise happy children. So when they’re unable to live up to the parenting responsibilities that are expected of them, dad guilt arises.
According to a joint survey by Today.com and Fatherly.com, quite a number of dads feel that they’re not present enough in their child’s life, working too much, or not earning enough money for the family. Worse, it’s linked with feelings of shame, embarrassment, and failure, which can lead to a self-deprecating spiral.
“Guilt really arises because we have an incorrect perception of who we truly are,” says Dr. Shefali in a video on her YouTube channel. “We have this idea that we need to be perfect, that we should be superhuman. And because we are not, we, then, feel bad about who it is we are.”
Reality oftentimes doesn’t measure up to expectations, so dad guilt, as well as mom guilt, leave many feeling like they’re bad parents.
5 Signs You’re Struggling With Mom Guilt
There are tons of myths about motherhood out there based on societal expectations of how to be a good mother. So to all you moms, we’re sending glitter bombs full of love your way.
Remember, though, that it’s normal to feel guilty for things like not being able to breastfeed, stay at home all the time, or talk to your child about sex. And thankfully, you’re not alone. Many mothers experience mom guilt to some degree or another.
But how do you know when normal guilt starts to become unhealthily excessive? Here are five signs you might just be struggling with mom guilt.
1. Lack of self-worth
Motherhood is often viewed through rose-colored lenses, but society’s constant advertising of what a “perfect mom” should look, act, and feel like can be dispiriting, contributing to mom guilt.
Excessive guilt can lead you to believe that you’re a bad mom, like Amy Mitchell in the movie Bad Moms. That then can lead to anxious obsessions and depressive tendencies, which puts a major hit on your self-worth, putting your mental health in jeopardy.
2. Comparing yourself (or your child) to others
If you’re one of the very many hard-working mothers out there, there’s a chance you’ve felt like a neglectful parent, jealous of those who’re able to stay at home with their children. Or vice versa — if you’re a stay-at-home mom, you may envy those who are career-oriented.
You may start to compare yourself, trying to reach that Stepford Wives-level of expectations. And when you don’t, working mom guilt or stay-at-home mom guilt ensues.
Of course, the comparison doesn’t always end here. It could extend to your child, as well.
From first words to grades to who they marry, you might blame yourself if your child doesn’t reach the benchmark. And while this might turn on your mom guilt, these expectations could be detrimental to your child’s mental health as they grow.
3. Destructive coping strategies
Oftentimes, people use coping strategies to avoid feeling difficult emotions. These include excessively indulging in food, always buying something, looking forward to “wine-o-clock,” constantly on social media, and so on.
Take Bad Moms’ Amy and her band of mom misfits, for example. They coped by taking to the bar and going on a drunken shopping spree at the grocery store.
But it’s about how to overcome mom guilt, not how to avoid it. So if you find yourself overdoing it with these coping activities, guilt could very well be the underlying cause.
4. Trying to do it all
There are moms who do the bare minimum and then, there are “supermoms” like Amy’s archnemesis, Gwendolyn James. You’re working, cooking, cleaning, staying fit, and taking care of your child.
And like Gwendolyn, you might put incredible pressure on yourself to be everything — the perfect mother, partner, friend, PTA president, and what have you.
Of all the parenting styles, this one could have you running around like a chicken with your head cut off. It’s not realistic and could lead you to feel burned out.
5. Overwhelmed at possibly making the “wrong” decision
You pack a healthy lunch, but your child doesn’t eat it because they hate broccoli. You buy Justin Bieber concert tickets only to find out they’re no longer a fan. Or perhaps, you tell your teen to put their phone away at dinner only to have them scream, “You don’t understand me!” to your face.
Like Amy and every other mom of Bad Moms, it feels like your decisions could “mess up” your child. However, that level of pressure you put on yourself can result in significant anxiety, fatigue, and guilt.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to put things into perspective and help lower the burden you’re putting on yourself.
How to Deal With Mom Guilt In 5 Steps
The unfortunate thing is you can’t fully eliminate guilt. It’s an inevitable and natural part of life. In some instances, guilt can be a good thing — it signals that your moral compass is working as well as encouraging you to atone for errors and mend relationships.
The fortunate thing is that it can be a part of your existence without overwhelming your existence. “If we truly accepted ourselves for our light and our shadow, our perfection, and our imperfection, then there is no room to be other than who it is we are,” says Dr. Shefali in a video on her YouTube channel.
Take a breath and without judgment of yourself, take these steps to overcome your mom guilt.
1. Identify the root cause
As you start looking within, ask yourself these questions:
- What are the things that cause me guilt or shame?
- What am I resisting about myself right now?
- Is there anything that I’m failing to fully own, celebrate, and accept?
Guilt arises out of narcissism, according to Dr. Shefali. She explains that it’s a “grandiose illusion that we need to be something other than who it is we are,” adding that we’re simply not meant to be perfect.
When you start to understand and acknowledge your guilt and the source of it, you will be able to befriend them and ultimately transcend them.
2. Reframe your negative beliefs
Guilty emotions are often irrational. So with the knowledge of your triggers at hand, you now have the opportunity to change the negative beliefs that create them.
Ask yourself if there’s any logical evidence that supports them. More often than not, there are none.
“When we parents realize that we are human and ordinary and shed these unrealistic expectations of perfectionism, then we will model to our children that they are here on a journey of self-discovery, not self-perfection,” Dr. Shefali explains.
Shift your beliefs with positive statements and be gentle with yourself as you do so. Some self-compassion goes a long way.
3. Prioritize self-care
Life happens — there will always be something happening with work, children, relationships, errands, family commitments, etc. And when you’re always putting everything and everyone before yourself, taking time for self-care can cause guilt to creep up.
You may feel bad for looking out for numero uno. But implementing some self-care tips can help make you more present and better connect with your child.
When they see you honoring yourself in this way, it’s one way they foster self-compassion, according to Dr. Shefali. And by dropping the idea of perfectionism and finding ways back to yourself, you may just find that the occurrences of mom guilt get less and less.
4. Surround yourself with a supportive tribe
All mothers feel mom guilt at one point or another. None are immune to the judgment (especially self-judgment) that comes with motherhood.
It’s unfortunate, for sure, but speaking about it to others can help you heal whatever triggers your mom guilt and step into the authentic you. And, as Dr. Shefali points out, when you’re able to do so, it gives your child permission to do the same.
It takes a village, as the saying goes. So find people who you can lean on.
5. Be a conscious parent
You may have heard of several parenting styles, but conscious parenting is a modern approach that has been receiving plenty of praise. And with good reason.
While most styles centers around the child, conscious parenting focuses on you, the parent. Its techniques are about being aware of your feelings, being mindful of your thoughts, and connecting with your inner child.
You’re able to better manage your reactions, like anxiety, shame, and guilt. And as Dr. Shefali says, “All of this starts with how we honor ourselves when we’re fallible, how we release guilt and replace it with complete and utter self-celebration.”
Great Change Starts With You
The “perfect mom” or “better mom” doesn’t exist. But if you’re parenting in the best way you can and showing up every day, then you’re the most perfect mom for your child.
Sure, motherhood can be scary, especially with all of society’s expectations. But as Dr. Shefali advises, give yourself permission to honor yourself.
If you’re unsure of where or how to start, Mindvalley can help you. When you unlock the FREE access, you can explore sample classes of each quest, like the Conscious Parenting Mastery Quest with Dr. Shefali. Additionally, you’ll be part of a global tribe, including parents who’re going through similar, if not exact, experiences as you.
So be the loving, beautiful, conscious parent you’re destined to be. Welcome in.