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The issue we all face: “mom guilt”

In talking to moms, like myself, I’ve realized that we all struggle with feelings of guilt from time to time. Although it’s a positive sign that we’re trying to do our best, we need to learn to let it go so that we can be our best.

A guilty conscience can bring you down mentally, physically and spiritually, and can affect every person in your family. It’s important to distinguish whether the guilt is founded in truth.

Here’s how to wrestle with the issues behind the guilt we face as moms.

When guilt is nestled in truth

These are the things you know you could do better; things that are important to your family values and to your childrens’ health and well-being.

When you feel guilty about something that needs to be changed, don’t dwell on it. Change it.

It’s important to remember that things don’t change overnight. Take a step back and think, “Am I moving forward?” If you see that you’ve started those changes, even in the smallest ways, you’re on the right track and there’s no need to dwell on what’s not perfect.

If you feel that you’re moving backwards, then think of ways to change your direction and take action. Standing still and wallowing in self-pity will only attribute to feelings of guilt and worthlessness, which is a dangerous cycle.

Photo by James Neufeld

When guilt is brought on by unrealistic expectations

Sometimes we feel guilty because we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves, or we’re comparing ourselves to other people. This is a treacherous road, because no matter how hard you try, it won’t make you happy.

Be who you are, and don’t allow someone else to dictate what kind of parent you should be or in what activities you should be involved.

We were all created completely unique, so when we try to be something we’re not, we’ll always be unhappy. There’s no reason to feel guilt, because that’s not who we are.

When guilt is founded on things that don’t matter

There’s so much in the world we could feel guilty about, but most of it is unnecessary. Think about why you’re feeling guilty. Do the results have serious negative and problematic outcomes? In the big scheme of everything that goes on in life, does it really matter?

We need to learn to let go of the little things so we can have the energy to take care of and change the things that really matter.

If you didn’t have time to do the laundry or your child had to miss a soccer game, let it go. Sometimes the day gets away from us or unexpected things happen that change the direction of our day. If you learn to let go of those things that don’t matter, you and your family will be happier for it.

Photo by James Neufeld

When guilt strikes…

  1. Think about whether it’s grounded in truth.
  2. If it is, take steps to change and keep moving forward.
  3. If it’s not, learn to let it go and move on.

So often we give credit to our guilt by thinking that it’s a sign that we’re not doing something right. But, more often than not it comes from our own expectations or what we believe others expect of us.

In order to live in freedom, we need to let go of the expectations we have of ourselves and our lives, take steps to change the things we can, and try to enjoy every moment.

In what ways do you most struggle with “mom guilt”?

Reading Time:

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  1. Lee

    Oh to have read this at the start of my mama-journey. I now have four: 14, 13, 11 and 10 and came to some discoveries when I gave up on the mama guilt and embraced mama authenticity early on. I didn’t want to give my kids any false expectations of perfect, or ideas that we could afford something we could not or we had to “keep up” with anyone. It has made me a target for ridicule (I’ve found many mamas are not very supportive of others). We all do the best we can the best way we know how. Guilt free really gives you a good start on that journey.
    .-= Lee´s last blog ..Creativity Boot Camp: Day 9 =-.

  2. Erika

    Every-once-in-a-while I struggle with this non-specific mom-guilt at bed time. After talking with a mentor of mine, I realized that this (and most mom-guilt) was based in fear – a fear of not being a good enough mom, a fear of making my kids resent me, a fear of failure. . . I started combatting the fear that manifested itself in guilt, and it has helped quite a bit.
    .-= Erika´s last blog ..A Love of Writing =-.

  3. Anitra

    There’s not too much I usually feel guilty about… but right now, I have horrible morning sickness (pregnant with #2) and feel guilty ALL the time, like I am neglecting my daughter.

    I have decided that as long as she is fed, clothed, and in a clean diaper, I am doing OK (for the next few weeks). I strive for some kind of balanced diet and some kind of outdoor play, but when those don’t happen right now, I cut myself some slack. If I can barely get off the couch or feed myself, why should I have high expectations for what I will provide for my child? A few weeks of TV and junk food is not going to permanently condition her against a healthy lifestyle.

    • Cheri

      I totally agree with that. Sometimes we just have to go into survival mode. I think any mom that has, had to deal with horrible morning sickness will understand where you are coming from.

      I had very bad morning sickness with my son and I know that if I had, had another child to take care of at that time a lot of the things that are normally important would’ve gotten set aside because they wouldn’t have been physically possible. This next few weeks (or months) will be hard but your daughter will never look back and think “why didn’t my mom take better care of me when she was dead sick with morning sickness”. 🙂

      I hope you feel better soon and are able to give yourself some grace.
      .-= Cheri´s last blog ..“Mom Guilt” on Simple Mom =-.

  4. maryann

    @ Lee,

    It’s funny you said that: “We all do the best we can the best way we know how.”

    When I had a 6 year old in soccer & was trying to arrange ways to get him to practice while I was working full-time, he had to miss a couple of sessions. I called the coach (a dad) with a whole spew of apologies & guilt. He said, “that’s okay. We’re all just doing the best we can.”

    Would you believe that sentence changed my whole perspective on everything? At that point I was trying to do everything and of course that wasn’t possible. Now, we’re making the most of things with what we have to work with. And I’m okay with that…

  5. Will Blog for Shoes

    I think I struggle the most because I feel so overwhelmed by my kids (I only have 2) in general. I feel the most guilty about that.

    • Cheri

      Some women were just meant to have lot’s of kids and not be phased by any of it, but I think most of us do get overwhelmed by it all, at least from time to time.

      I never grew up around little kids and sometimes I just honestly have no idea what I’m doing or how to get control of a situation. That’s when I feel overwhelmed. It doesn’t mean I love my son any less (because I love him to bits) but some things just don’t come as naturally to some people.

      I think it’s important to remember that even if we feel overwhelmed or like we need a break it doesn’t mean we love our children any less or are bad parents.
      .-= Cheri´s last blog ..“Mom Guilt” on Simple Mom =-.

      • Daisy

        Oh goodness yes — and each of us have more or less skill-sets to deal with different ages of children. At my law firm when I was pregnant, a partner with two children confided in me that she “did not take to being a mom like a duck to water.” That was helpful to hear.
        .-= Daisy´s last blog ..To Breed or Not To Breed — That Was the Question =-.

      • Anitra

        Yes! I am an only child and was raised by older parents (all their friends’ kids were 10+ years older than I). I really had NO experience with babies and toddlers until I became a mom. It’s getting easier, but I was totally overwhelmed for the first 6 months or so. Still am, some days. It took my husband to point out to me that I couldn’t expect to immediately be good at something I had never done before. And for a first-time mom, there’s always SOMETHING you haven’t done before, no matter what age your kid is.

        I also have very little experience dealing with multiple kids, but I’ll be getting that soon enough when baby #2 arrives…

  6. Tiffany

    Great post.

  7. Daisy

    Nice post. The best advice I got when I was pregnant was that the first 3 months are all about keeping the little critter ALIVE — if you manage that (assuming it’s in your hands, and I know in some cases it isn’t) then you have been a successful mom.

    In terms of buried guilt based on expectations, I do believe that much of the vitriole on the web about various parenting choices is defensiveness, which is often based on — you guessed it — guilt. Letting go of that guilt and embracing your decisions that were right for YOU can allow you to accept different decisions made by others with grace.
    .-= Daisy´s last blog ..To Breed or Not To Breed — That Was the Question =-.

  8. Amber

    This is awesome. Thanks for the post. I dealt with loads of guilt for “ignoring” my son when I had a work deadline (I work from home). But I had to give him whatever I could, and so far he’s doing just fine. When I face guilt for not signing him up for programs, buying him things, or even having a backyard to play in, I think of my friends who live abroad, working in poor countries, and realize that I have much to be thankful for. My son is more privileged than 99% of the world’s toddlers.

  9. Heidi

    Very wise advice Cheri! My daughter is doing a neurodevelopemental program & I really struggled with feeling guilty when we didn’t get it all (or any of it) done in a day. I would constantly remind myself though, of what I was told when we first started:
    “You’re not allowed to feel guilty if you can’t get it all done. (I laughed) No I’m serious…you’re not allowed! You’ll get even less done if you feel guilty & neither of you will have fun doing it. Every little bit counts…just do the best you can.” That has really stuck with me & really helped in the last year when I wasn’t able to do as much. I was finally able to let it go & know that it’s OK…everything I can do will help!

  10. Tina

    I think I suffer most when I put myself under the pressure of unrealistic expectations. I want to do everything to the best of my ability and the fear of failing as a mom is troublesome. I’ve learned that taking a little time with other mom friends helps me stay grounded and better able to able to accept things for what they are. Great post!
    .-= Tina´s last blog ..The Five Person Pedal Surrey Is Fun For The Entire Family =-.

  11. Tina Neufeld

    Great Post Cheri ! I so agree when we come to the end of the day and we did not get accomplished what we wanted . Let it go . And if it something that really would have made a difference for the future pray for God to help you accomplish it the next time .
    And for you stay at Home Moms . You have the best job ever .

  12. Alison @ Femita

    As a mom you want the best for your child and it’s so easy to get caught up in parenting. You never feel that what you do is enough. I can promise you, it is! As a mom we are at our best when we are relaxed and free of any feelings of guilt.

  13. FindSavings

    Oh this rings so very true as a first time mom. You have these expectations you want to live up to whether you or someone else created them for you. When you try and do not achieve the level of success you expect, you have this huge amount of guilt that you carry with yourself. Letting go sounds so easy, but at times is challenging so your advice of thinking about where the guilt fits is excellent advice. Thanks for sharing.
    .-= FindSavings´s last blog ..Anne Klein – Receive FREE Shipping with any footwear purchase! Limited time only! =-.

  14. LaToya

    I struggle with everything it seems. As a single mom, in school full-time I also “fail” to do something and feel guilty about it.

    I’ve been writing about Mommy Guilt over at my blog lately as well.
    .-= LaToya´s last blog ..Dealing with Mommy Guilt Pt. 2 =-.

  15. Dena

    I guess I most struggle with guilt when I can’t take my daughter outside as much as I want or I can’t hold her when she wants me to when I’m nursing the baby. I so wish we could live in a house so I could sit and watch her play outside without having to be right there every moment but we live in a country where NO ONE lives in houses so it’s impossible. And there’s always other times to hold her when the baby is not eating so I just have to focus on what I can do and leave what I can’t, I know. Sometimes it’s hard to just let things go though when you’re overwhelmed. I love being a mother but right now I feel too tired to really enjoy it.

  16. Mary 588

    Si quello che dici è giusto ma a volte è l’insicurezza o l’inesperienza che ci fa provare sensi di colpa,ma penso che se ci comportiamo in modo naturale impariamo insieme ai nostri bimbi a fare i genitori,facendo del nostro meglio per educarli e crescere.
    A volte è logico faremo degli errori ma la cosa importante è essere coerenti con noi stessi e se necessario ammettere i nostri errori e sapere chiedere scusa a nostro figlio,se per stanchezza o malumore ci siamo arrabbiati senza motivo,o abbiamo sottovalutato una sua richiesta pensando che non fosse importante ricordandoci che loro hanno soprattutto bisogno di amore.

  17. Alison

    Great post, and perfect timing for me to read it! I’m going to put a sticky note on my vanity mirror that says, “Am I moving forward?” 🙂 I’m not a mom yet, but this is still a good one for all to read.


  18. Keya

    Thanks Cheri! What a wonderful and timely post. I usually don’t consider myself to be a guilt feeling kinda girl, but just recenlty I have been really feeling something like guilt about my mother’s expectations of me. I’m sure I’m not the first adult child that has felt as if he/she is somehow falling below the standards of a parent. But right now I’m trying to do just what you have suggested in your post. Let it go and realize that her expectations of me, are not necessarily my expectations of me. And that we all have our own unique gifts, talents, and journey to go on throughout our life. Right now my journey is simply not what she approves of, and that’s okay.

  19. Becky

    What a wonderful post and great comments!
    I have been blessed to know many smart and strong women and your article expanded on advice I have received through the years:
    From Mom: “Are you happy with that? No? Then do something about it!” Also very empowering to know that I had the power to change my attitude / situation / etc.
    From a girlfriend Katy: You can (and should) say “No.” You are not obligated to do everything you are asked to do. (Probably my biggest struggle!)
    From a girlfriend Lottie: “If it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.” Don’t get too worked up about the little things and the things you have no control over.

  20. Heidi

    Strange. I left a comment here the other day & now it’s not showing up. Anyway, I think what you said is so true Cheri! I have started to learn this through the neurodevelopmental program my daughter does. When she started they told me that I was not allowed to feel guilty if I couldn’t get it all done. I laughed lightly, thinking that was kind of a strange thing to say. She repeated to me that she was serious, I wasn’t allowed to feel guilty because every bit counts & I’m going to get even less done if I feel guilty. That really helped last year when I just wasn’t able to do a lot. I was able to let it go & know that the bits I could do mattered. Thanks so much for sharing these ideas of how to move past that guilt Cheri!

  21. Nina

    I think I feel guilt about everything. and then…I get over it. (strong early catholic roots ;))
    I feel guilty that my son’s father isn’t involved. then he emails me and displays all the mental health issues that he has and I know I’ve made the right decision.

    I feel guilty that I have to work ft (when i am employed) and can’t do all the fun things that are scheduled seemingly only during the day here but then I know we do fun things when we can and its not like my son knows.

    I could go on and on but it is something I constantly struggle with…but I grew up poor and in a blended family with myriad other issues and turned out ok and really didn’t understand many of those things until I was older.

    so I step back and ask – is my son healthy? happy? full? learning? enjoying and growing into a great person? yes yes yes yes and yes so all is well 🙂

  22. Melody

    Perfect timely post for our family. We just had baby #2 last Friday and I am driving myself a little nuts trying to figure out how I will give all my love to both boys after my husband goes back to work and my mom goes home. I know in my heart of hearts that I am a good mom and I do the best I can, but I just want the best for my kids. Just knowing that I won’t be able to give as much as I was before to my first son breaks my heart. Reading this post reminded me that we can’t do it all and as long as my son knows he is loved and is surrounded by love, then we will all survive.

    And I totally agree with a comment from above, that the first six weeks or so is all about SURVIVAL! As long as everyone gets a few hours sleep and everyone is fed most of the time, you’re doing perfect! There should be zero expectations in those first harrowing weeks. 🙂
    .-= Melody´s last blog ..LAST CHANCE TO ENTER FOR $100 GROCERY GIFT CARD =-.

  23. Hannah

    Ooooh, this issue is particularly poignant for me right now since we almost lost our daughter in a near-drowning incident a few days ago. The urge to go back, re-live, and ask all kinds of what-ifs, is always a temptation to be resisted. One result, though, is that I more than ever find myself embracing a less than perfect life and my less than perfect mommy moments, because these flaws pale in comparison to the fact that we’re alive and together.

  24. Julia L

    I remember how this very familiar phenomenon of “mom’s guilt” would strike me on a daily basis. “I’m not doing enough, I am failing” would be my regular pattern of thinking. I found that repeating one simple phrase could actually confront this destructive thinking – “I am doing the best I can!” I immediately felt better and could relax a bit. I am just human after all.

  25. Ann

    When you feel guilty, I agree that the best thing to do is to find the source of that guilt and to make a change that will improve your life and transform the guilt.

  26. Ann

    I agree that when you feel guilty, the best thing to do is to go to the source of that guilt, find out what the guilt is trying to accomplish, and make a change to take care of the guilt that will improve your life.

  27. Jessica

    I am a working mom of 3 and 5 year old boys and have suffered from mom guilt for all 5 years, not having time to make mom friendships and find playmates for my little ones. Now that my 5 year old is in Kindergarten, we are being invited to birthday parties on weekends and I feel like we have finally arrived . . . being able to meet parents of classmates and find kids who they like to be around to invite to playdates and vice versa. Today was one of those days where we attended a classmate’s 6th birthday party and I connected with a mom with a boy my kids age. Soon we may have a play date and they live within a mile of my house. The guilt is subsiding more and more with these events and I feel like it will all work out now that they are in school (youngest in a new preschool with similar benefits). It’s hard being a working mom and being spread so thin but its days like today that give me joy and balance.

  28. Mariec

    My son is 4. But for some reason, I suddently feel guilty for things that happend when he was a baby…
    Guilt 1. He had colics and I didn’t know what to do about them. Later, we found that he had some food allergies. I remember looking at the items I should try to remove from my diet while nursing…There were so many that I end up not knowing what to eat anymore! Yet if I tried to cut the most common ones…It may have done a difference.

    Guilt 2. He would constantly ask for food (every 45 minutes day and nights) I put him on a schedule feeding him a soother to wait untill the next feed…Was it the best thing to do? I simply don’t know.

    Guilt 3. I used to put him in bed around 7 or 8 p.m. Because I have been told that is the time babies should go in bed (if not they may get overtired). However, he was wide awake for a while…I guess I should have just listen to my instincts and let him cuddle with us untill he was tired.

    Guilt 4. My biggest guilt is not noticing that my son had a sprang neck at birth. That made nursing, cuddling and tummy time painfull for him. It’s only after I met with another doctor that I found out. Then, he had an helmet for his head shape, physio for his neck…All that pain and I wasn’t helping him. I feel I let him alone to fight this pain. Not helping him. Having no idea how to confort him. I am the one who is suppose to protect him but wasn’t doing a good job at it.

    I guess I need some perspective on this…

    • Cheri

      We ALL have things that we could/do feel guilty about. And, when we look back we feel like we should have known the better way of doing things or we wonder if we did and we ignored it… but the fact is that none of us are perfect, none of us know what to do and how to handle every situation. So please don’t beat yourself up over this. Every parent has to make these kinds of decisions and sometimes we don’t make the best ones. But, you did your best for what you knew and that is all that matters.

      • Mariec

        Thank you for your answer.

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