Mom Guilt: Is It Helpful or Harmful?

Experiencing mom guilt is no fun. It can be a continuous cycle of worry, frustration, comparison, and anxiety. I pray this article helps in some way. 

Exhausted from the day of thinking, overthinking, working, and doing all things mom, I fell onto the couch phone in hand, and started my nightly scroll. My scroll to get away from it all. Sometimes I look at Facebook. Other times I scroll Instagram. But this night, I was Googling places to travel…by myself.

I remember looking at several spa resorts in Arizona. Then, mom guilt hit me. How could I be daydreaming about a trip by myself when my toddler has never even been to the beach? My whole family has been stuck at our house for months and here I am daydreaming about my escape into the quiet oasis of hot sun, sand, cacti, and serene water cascading from rocks. That is the moment, I noticed the mom guilt.

Deep down inside, I really needed several continuous moments of quiet with no immediate responsibility. On the surface, I knew my kids needed a moment away as well. Both were real needs. Both are still real needs. So, after a bit of thinking and researching “guilt,” I learned a few things.

  1. We all experience mom guilt. Whether you want to admit it or not. It is there.
  2. How we view guilt needs a facelift.
  3. The reason why we experience mom guilt is quite fixable.

 Experiencing Mom Guilt

I recently posted a question in a few moms' Facebook groups about whether or not the moms experience mom guilt. The responses were varied, but I was shocked at the number of moms who indicated they had never felt guilty for taking time for themselves or wanting more time for themselves. So that made me even more curious. Are we so busy that we don’t even realize the thoughts we have or do some really not experience mom guilt (like ever) surrounding taking time for ourselves?

So, after reading a few more articles, I have come to understand that we do experience mom guilt. It just looks different. For some, the act of doing something for oneself can cause guilt while for others it is the reverse. When some moms do not do for themselves and realize they have been more snappy, raising their voice a bit more, and/or being short-tempered, they feel guilty for not being emotionally present or exhibiting those unwanted behaviors. So, long story short, we all experience mom guilt.

So, let’s define it once and for all. Mom guilt is feeling responsible or regretful for not doing enough, not doing it “correctly,” or doing something that unintentionally messes the kid(s) up. So, we have all questioned our decisions. Period!

Mom Guilt as Information

Now that we understand we all experience mom guilt, let’s tackle this question:

Is the experience of feeling guilty really that bad?

Yes and no. It really depends on how you look at it. Mom guilt can become harmful when it becomes paralyzing or something we obsess over. When you continuously ask or wonder if you are doing it right and cannot see the good in the mom you are, perhaps it is time to speak with a mental wellness professional who can help you unpack and retool.

Contrarily Dr. Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., wrote an article for The Washington Post about this very topic. She states, “Guilt can be helpful as an uncomfortable emotion that motivates us to make amends and change hurtful behaviors.” I have never really thought of mom guilt as a helpful emotion, but like all emotions, feeling guilty does provide us with information that can be used to make a necessary change.

When I don’t take time for myself, I raise my voice more, take more deep inhalations, and I find myself needing to redo things because I cannot think clearly when overwhelmed. The mom guilt finally sets in and I start to wonder if I am raising emotionally unhealthy kids. Once I realize this thought, I remind myself that I can make mistakes, and I am working to know what I need before I reach a point of total frustration. I also take that information (the mom guilt) and put it into healthy action which starts with an apology to my son. Many times, this is followed by a discussion and a quiet moment for myself so I can find gratitude.

So, thinking of mom guilt as information has helped me find a clear path to continuously try to be respectful towards my kids while also honoring my needs. Both are very necessary and we don’t have to choose one over the other. That is not a sacrifice we need to be making. 

Connection is the Way

When I take a few minutes to do something for myself, I feel great (most of the time). I can find a connection with the individual within me and do something that brings me joy. It is so refreshing. When I am overwhelmed, frustrated, and/or angry, trying to carve out a minute for me becomes a session of continuous second-guessing, negative self-talk, and more (drumroll please) guilt. I feel most guilty for wanting more time for me and my desires or doing what I need for me when I do not feel connected to my kids.

For example, right now, I am in the final stages of launching Mothering Tea’s inaugural gift box. There are so many loose ends I need to tie. So, I found myself trying to work and spend time with my toddler at the same time. Please, don’t try this at home. Let me forewarn you, it does not work! Every two minutes I would give him a quick hug and try to get him to engage with a toy, the tablet, a snack, anything. Nothing was working and I found myself becoming a bit irritated. Then, I had to remember, this is actually his time. I am actually supposed to be spending time with him and working is not the toddler skill at hand. So, the computer went away and my attention turned to him. When it was time for lunch, my computer came back out, but guilt was not apart of the working team because I took minutes to foster the relationship that is most important to me: the relationship I have with my kids.

This same principle applies to me doing something for my wellness. When I spend time with my kids, I don’t feel as guilty and sometimes there is no guilt at all because I have honored the connection.

The connection with ourselves and the connection with those we love most are equally important. In today’s climate, one cannot exist without the other. We have to take time for ourselves so we can show up in the best way we know how for our kids (or whatever you are showing up for).

So, let’s ditch the “shoulds,” the “I’m supposed to be…,” and the “other moms are doing…” These thoughts cause us to feel more guilty which could lead to other mental wellness concerns.

What has worked for me may not work in whole for you and that is the beauty of motherhood. It has so many different faces. We literally could all be working to build similar connections that look drastically different or eerily similar. I find that to be comforting because there is no right way to do it.

There is the way we cannot do it and that is through comparison, trying to meet the unbelievable expectations society places on mothers and women, and not honoring ourselves. That time of complete mom sacrifice is over.

So, let’s sip to using the information as information and not as a determinate or grade for of our parenting efforts. How do you view mom guilt?

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