It’s been more than a decade since I learned that I was going to be a mom for the first time. I was 25-years old and I had total control over my life. I knew exactly how to handle any situation and, for those situations that I didn’t, I would do research. It’s too bad I didn’t know that I should research how to ditch the mom guilt.
In fact, I didn’t even know that mom guilt was a thing.
I researched all the tactical things; how to nurse a baby, how to get your baby to sleep through the night, how to handle colic, what to do if you get mastitis.
It was like getting a 4-year college degree in biochemical engineering over the course of 9-months on a self-study program.
But, when my water broke at 6:30 am on May 14, 2006 – I felt completely prepared for what I thought would happen next.
And, at 12:37 pm my first-born taught me I didn’t know *** from shine-ola when she came out at 10lbs, 11oz, 22.5 inches long and practically split me in half.
And, the lessons just kept coming.
Less than 48-hours later, she taught me all about mom-guilt in the middle of the night when she was screaming hungry but wouldn’t nurse and I didn’t know how to help her.
And, again when she was 6-weeks old and I resented having her because it meant I couldn’t party at my friend’s wedding.
Then again when she was 3-months old and I had to drop her at daycare to go back to work.
And, pretty much once a month since then. But, since I’m a research-nerd, I started to learn everything that I could about mom-guilt and even started seeing a cognitive-behavioral therapist. I learned two very important lessons.
What is mom-guilt?
Everyone knows what guilt feels like. Mom-guilt is the feeling of guilt brought on by feeling ***ty about how you parent.
Basically, it’s the process of belittling your choices, approach or feelings with regards to parenting. Everyone wants to be a “good parent”. But, not everyone has the same definition of what a good parent is.
So, mom-guilt sneaks in when the parent you are in real life doesn’t align with the parent you think you should be. For instance, when I was a first-time mom I had read a book about sleep-training my baby. In the book, it said that I shouldn’t let her fall asleep on me.
During our middle of the night feedings, I would often doze off while she was nursing and I would literally feel guilty that I wasn’t able to stay awake and help her to sleep-train by keeping her from falling asleep on me.
That’s mom-guilt. You set a benchmark for what you should be doing and, you feel guilty when you’re not reaching that benchmark.
Can you get sick from feeling guilty?
I’m a big believer in mind over body. I’m a massage therapist and an herbalist. Before I quit my 9 to 5, I managed a collaborative care cancer clinic. And, I spent the first three years of my virtual assistant career specializing in health and wellness support.
I whole-heartedly believe that it is possible to carry around enough guilt, negative feelings, resentment, etc. to literally make yourself physically ill.
Now, before you go writing me off as some wooey-wooey hippie, there is actually scientific data that supports this. In fact, they did a study at UCLA to test the correlation between guilt and illness.
The design of the study was pretty simple. First, 60 people had their blood drawn to set their benchmark Next, 30 of them were asked to write about a fictional story they had heard. The other 30 people were asked to write down a real-life event that they felt guilty about in great detail. Both groups had another blood draw done after they were finished writing.
So, what were the results?
The study found that, for those 30 people who wrote about a fictional story, there were no significant changes to their blood markers.
However, the blood work of the people who wrote in detail about a real-life story that they felt guilty about, showed a significant increase of cytokines.
And, what are cytokines?
They are a group of secretions that are released by the immune system and indicate a higher level of inflammation in the body, which leads to illness and disease.
In other words, hanging on to guilt can literally make you sick. If you’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired … let that *** go mama.
What does mom-guilt feel like physically?
You know exactly what it feels like. You’re wrapped up in it every day like a giant blanket made of sand.
It feels heavy and it holds you back.
Mom-guilt is like the bad guy in a horror movie. No matter how fast you run or how far it seems like you’ve gotten … it’s right around the corner to knock you on your ***.
Ultimately though, mom-guilt is an emotion and not an illness. It’s something that we can learn to work through and let go of, just like any other emotion. If we receive the feeling of mom-guilt as a warning sign of something to deal with, we can actually make it work for us.
And, that’s a huge relief because, for some of us, there are very few decisions that we make without considering the current level of mom-guilt that we’re feeling.
Making choices based on the level of guilt that you’re feeling isn’t a good way to live any part of your life. But, if you’re a parent, it’s especially important not to let guilt influence your decision-making.
Parents have a bajillion things to feel guilty about that could influence the choices they make for their kids.
For instance, if you don’t have as much money as you would like and your kids have to share a room, you might try to make up for that by taking them on a vacation that you can’t afford.
If you work full-time and don’t feel like you spend as much time with your kids as you should, you might try to balance that out by filling your kids’ room with toys.
If you yell at your kids about something in the morning, you might feel so guilty that you give in to their request to visit the waterpark that afternoon, even though you know you can’t afford it.
Basically, guilt-driven parenting results in you not really feeling any better and your child learning some bad habits. It took me a few years of therapy to learn, but guilt-driven parenting is not really a solution for anything.
How to ditch the mom guilt and end each day relieved
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you’re never going to feel mom-guilt again if you follow my advice. I’m just saying that mom-guilt is not good for your body or your parenting decisions and there is a way to make it work for you when you do feel it.
Set your goals for success
When you feel mom-guilt it’s because your behavior doesn’t align with your idea of what a good mom is. So, you need to change how you define “good mom”.
I mean, when you accepted your current benchmark of “good momming”, did you do it intentionally? Is it based on any amount of reality? Does it take into consideration your personal abilities and strengths?
Probably not, if you’re feeling mom-guilt.
Let go of whatever that definition is that rattles around in your head and set your own definition. What does “being successful” as a mom look like to you?
What do you have to achieve each day to feel like you were a successful mom?
For me, it’s
a) keep them alive
b) give them affection and say ‘i love you’ at least once
c) be proud of them for something
That’s it. Everything that makes me feel like a successful mom is on that list.
And, I reach my benchmark for success every day. Even on the days when I scream at them and want to call in sick to momming.
I still feel like a successful mom. That doesn’t mean that I don’t feel guilty when I yell at them. But, I have a trick for that too.
This sounds like bullcrap. Like, you’re just supposed to wrap your arms around that mom-guilt and snuggle it close like it’s your body pillow.
No. That’s not what this means.
It’s more of a mindset than anything.
So, when that guilt creeps in and you feel like a giant pile of crap … embrace it. Recognize that it’s your body’s natural response to an emotion that you’re having and you need to channel that emotion and release it.
What does that look like?
Okay, imagine that you screamed at your kids this morning for one reason or another and you’re feeling guilty. You’re thinking about their precious little psyches and how you’re probably turning them into serial killers and strippers.
You want to run upstairs, hold them close, and offer to take them for ice cream and the toy aisle at Target. No, don’t do that.
Sit down at the dining room table or on the couch and mindfully think about what your body feels like.
Do you have butterflies in your stomach? A lump in your throat? Are you crying and feeling that tightness in your chest?
Just sit and think about how your body is physically feeling.
Then, just go and tell your kiddos, “I’m sorry I yelled guys. I shouldn’t have lost my temper and I love you”.
And, leave it at that.
Listen, your kids are going to make you mad and you are going to yell, freak out, overreact, etc. That doesn’t mean that you have to make it up to them every time. An apology goes a long way.
And, ultimately, they just want to know that they are loved and safe. They’re totally self-centered and they’re only thinking about how terrible they are and that is why you yelled at them.
Just let them know that you take responsibility for losing your temper and you love them. End of story.
If you’re skeptical about this working for you, try this. When you put your kids to bed at night, start asking each of them these two questions,
1. What was your best part of the day today?
2. What was your worst part of the day?
Chances are, the answers that you get from them will have nothing to do with what you’ve been feeling guilty about. Kids don’t experience the world the same way that we do. They have a completely different perspective.
What do you usually feel mom-guilt about? What is your definition of successful momming?