I have yet to see a study finding the biological source of mom guilt. Yet, I know it’s there somewhere. It is born along with the baby, and is something almost all moms feel at one time or another:
I work too much
I spend too much time away
I am too coddling
I don’t fix enough healthy meals
The list goes on and on. The particulars of each mom’s guilt are different, but the resulting thought is the same – “I’m not doing a good enough job as a parent.”
Someone recently asked me how one gets rid of Mom Guilt so that we can be free to parent and live our lives without that nasty (and typically unproductive) emotion. I responded by saying that if I knew the answer I would by lying poolside somewhere in Beverly Hills because I would be a zillionaire. In thinking more about it, I realize that we probably can’t totally rid ourselves of guilt over what we have or haven’t done as a parent, but we can do our best to minimize the impact the guilt has on our lives and self esteem. Here’s what I have come up with:
Surround yourself with supportive women. I’m constantly encouraging my kids to make good choices when it comes to friends and playmates. The same should apply to moms. Notice whether the women in your life are supportive, positive, and encouraging. If not, it may be time to find new friends. When we are surrounded by negative, critical people we often take on those traits ourselves. Luckily, when we have a support system who is positive and nurturing, we adopt those traits as well. As an added bonus, we will be less likely to cast a critical eye on our own parenting decisions when we have supportive friends.
Too much information can be the enemy. Some people manage anxiety by gathering as much information as they can about the problem. Sometimes this can be a good strategy, many times it can make the situation worse. This can definitely be true of parenting decisions. Take the problem of how to get your child to sleep through the night. A few minutes online will reveal many different and conflicting strategies. These might include crying it out, co-sleeping, and everything in between. Instead of spending your anxious moments reading parenting books, blogs, and other “helpful hints,” pick one or two people you trust (your pediatrician and mom, for example) and ask them their advice. Most of all, don’t forget to listen to your own voice.
Keep things in perspective. When all else fails and I am still feeling guilty, I try to keep things in perspective. There are many women and families not nearly as fortunate as me. Most women around the world don’t have the luxury of feeling guilty and/or comparing the merits of various parenting styles. Instead they are trying to find food for their children, locate affordable medical care for sick babies, and keep their families safe from violence. Keeping these women in mind helps me remember how lucky I am to be a mom in 21st century America, and just like that, much of my guilt and anxiety melts away.