I remember hearing about mom guilt long before I ever became a mom. It seemed like an inherited trait that we automatically receive upon the birth of our children; like one of the less fortunate inheritances from the women who came before us, a cross that we have to bear in exchange for bringing life into the world. I’ve watched it cripple women under its load, felt the strain of it myself for weeks and weeks — until I realized that maybe there is another way.
As we become mothers, we have a really helpful primal instinct that ties us to our children. This is to help us bond and attach to them, so we don’t leave them out for a sabertooth tiger to find for a snack. This bond is different from the bond of a father – I watched my children in their early months and years need my love, affection, and reassurance first before that of my husband. This is a natural thing.
The shadow side of this bond is the guilt that we feel when we leave our kids behind for any number of things: the gym, a yoga class, or a full day of work away at an office. It can be even more traumatizing for you as a mother if you watch your child cry as you leave reaching out with their little outstretched hands and red, tear-stained face. We know they are fine moments later, but this weight stays with us.
Here is how I work to free myself from mom guilt. It doesn’t just lift permanently, but day to day, or moment to moment as we experience it, maybe we can shift our mindset slowly. Implementing some mindfulness will support us in supporting and loving our children.
1. Identify the Lies
We tell ourselves lies all of the time.
In this case, the lies that you tell yourself may be something you made up or something that somebody else told you. These lies come in the form of, “I’m the only one who can raise my kids right,” “I can’t accept help, I must do this alone to be a good mom,” “If I do X (let them watch TV, eat food that isn’t organic, play on an iPad, etc.) I’m ruining them,” or any number of other things that just aren’t true. The problem with listening to, believing, and living your life either to prove or disprove these lies can create results either way.
Sometimes those results can be really amazing for you and your family. On the other hand, you can also create more stress for yourself if you walk around believing things that aren’t true – and that makes it hard to show up as your best self as a mom. So, let your lies go and believe your truth.
2. Understand Comparison Is a Thief
There is a model of a perfect mother out there that we’ve all been exposed to — one that haunts our ability to be ourselves.
This model isn’t reality; it’s a false version of perfection. It can be easy to fall into the trap of guilt when comparing ourselves to this perfect (albeit, fake) standard, or even in the perfection we think we see in other people.
I often find myself falling short of this standard when I let my kids watch what seems to be too much TV, when we make nachos for dinner without a veggie in sight, or too much time has lapsed between dental visits. When my attention is on whether or not other moms are doing motherhood perfectly, I inadvertently distract myself from doing my personal best.
Motherhood isn’t about doing it perfectly. Having the most pinterest-worthy party, only giving your kids organic foods, or never letting them look at a screen isn’t what matters in the long run. It’s about creating a space for your child to grow and experience life – there isn’t any one perfect way to do that. The unique way you will do that for the unique family you create is the one that will be perfect for them.
3. Recognize Intuition vs. Guilt
One of the greatest tools and resources we have as mothers is our intuition. Our intuition is there to guide us internally so that our external lives are more steady and purposeful. Your intuition can sometimes be really loud, or maybe a bit quieter — especially if you are prone to ignoring it.
Your intuition is a pure guide, one that will allow you to see both your choices in a situation and give you cues when you need to make a shift. Guilt will leave you feeling bad about your life and about your choices. Repeated attention and action from guilt will only create more guilt, fear, and worry. Your intuition will guide you; your guilt will just keep beating you up.
Learn to listen to the voice that is gentle and guiding, not the one that is berating and belittling.
4. Choose What You Already Have
Making a choice is often looked at as picking one thing versus another.
But, to choose your life, your motherhood, your partner, etc., means that you declare yourself fully responsible for your life and for your relationships. It means that you get to be the one to create and cultivate your life. It means that you get to shape your life to be its own amazing thing, and that you get to select the way that your family lives and operates.
It can be challenging to continually feel that life is happening to you, but if we shift our mindsets to know that we are choosing it — even the stuff that sucks — our whole perspective will change.
5. Let Go
Let go of stuff that doesn’t serve you. Let go of the stuff that gets in the way, and ultimately, let go of the stuff that doesn’t serve the future of your family.
For me, this often means letting go of the to-do list I create for myself – the perfect day where everything gets done, where everyone eats their vegetables at every meal, and where I am able to get all of my personal things done. After having my second baby, this meant giving up being able to work out once a day every day, or even at all. And, to give myself grace when that happens.
When we hold fast to the way that things “should be,” we can get trapped in the guilt of not getting it all done or being super productive. The best we can do for ourselves is to listen to our own quiet voice of guidance.
As mothers, the work that we do on ourselves is the work that impacts our whole family. What we can do right now is to identify the lies around us and see them as just that, so we can move forward freer and lighter, without the weight of guilt on our shoulders — well, at least, not all the time.