We have, as a cultural, pretty much accepted that being a mom comes with an emotion that we now call “mom guilt.” Mom guilt seems to affect nearly all moms, but it’s particularly common in working moms.
So what is “mom guilt” really? Guilt, like any emotion, is just a vibration in our bodies that comes from our thoughts, which are just sentences in our mind. The most common thought that I hear from clients who are working moms is that they aren’t doing a good job as a mom or in their careers, and that thought often creates strong feelings of guilt.
Mom guilt can also be shame in disguise. When we feel guilt, it comes from thoughts that we’ve done something wrong. When we feel shame, it comes from thoughts that something is wrong with us. And that is just not useful. It’s hard to show up as the best version of yourself when you’re feeling shame. Additionally, shame usually wants to hide, which makes it hard to heal.
Is There Anything To Be Learned From This?
Guilt actually can be a useful emotion if it’s used as a learning opportunity. For example, if we yell at our kids and feel guilty, guilt can actually deter us from yelling the next time. If we learn from that experience and correct our behavior, it can be a useful emotion.
In most cases, however, mom guilt does not really serve us well because it comes from thoughts about how we’re not measuring up to an impossible standard of perfection. For example, if you feel guilty about working but you have no intention to stop working, the guilt really serves no purpose. There’s no upside to feeling guilty about working if you want or need to work.
To the contrary, there can be a very real downside to this chronic, everyday mom guilt because when you feel guilty, you are likely not showing up as your best self both at work and when you’re with your kids. The thoughts that create the feeling of guilt do not usually lead to productive action or deep introspection about how to improve. The are usually just very self-punishing and tend to create more negative emotions, such as stress, overwhelm, and anxiety.
If you’re feeling mom guilt, ask yourself, “Is there anything that I can learn from this? Is there anything that I want to change?” If the answer is yes, then it may require taking a deep look at what you really do want to change. If the answer is no, it’s time to question the thoughts that are creating the feeling of guilt.
Fact or Thought?
Mom guilt is typically created by thoughts like these:
- I should spend every waking moment with my kids
- My working outside the home is going to permanently damage my kids
- I am failing at being a good mom
- When I’m not around, it causes my kids to suffer
- I should want to be with my kids more
- I shouldn’t want to do things that take me away from my kids
If you struggle with mom guilt, what are the thoughts that are creating that feeling for you? Write them down.
None of the thoughts listed above are actually facts. Science has actually shown that kids of working moms turn out just fine. So if they aren’t facts, it means that they are just sentences in your mind and they are completely optional.
There Is Another Way
I want to offer that believing these thoughts and feeling guilty is actually doing a disservice to you and your kids, and there is an alternative.
The alternative is this: as a mom, my own happiness, peace, and wellbeing is the most important gift that I can give my children, both in the short- and long term. I am not able to give when I am myself depleted, so taking care of myself, acknowledging my needs, and meeting those needs is actually my responsibility, both to myself and my kids.
It is only when I do this that I show up as the mom I want to be. For me, taking time to meet my own needs means that I get enough sleep, get exercise a few days a week, have time to shop for and prepare healthy food, work in a career that brings me fulfillment, spend time with my husband, spend time with my friends, and make time for inspiration and creativity.
Doing these things necessarily means that I will not spend every waking minute with my kids, but the time that I am with them is so much better. I have more patience with them, I smile more, I savor them and watch them with wonder. They love it when mommy shows up this way, instead of as the stressed-out banshee that I used to be when I was believing the old thoughts and feeling guilty about everything.
Motherhood is hard. Expecting it to be easy and expecting yourself to be perfect is a recipe for guilt and shame. There is no upside to that.
I know you love your kids mightily. The best way to show your love for them is to show up as your best self. Try it. You’ll never go back.
Go forth, grow, and bloom.