Updated: Jul 10
As moms, it is impossible to always get things right. We spend countless hours thinking and re-thinking our decisions, second guessing ourselves, reading, researching, and asking for advice on our parenting struggles. We guilt and shame ourselves for not doing enough for our kids. We cry for the times that we have yelled at them, and the times that they yell back at us.
I think that a lot of times, we feel pressured to be a perfect mother. We feel like we are imperfect in some way, we are going to scar our children for life, and terrified by the idea of failure.
Yes, the idea of raising happy, well adjusted kids is a worthy goal.
Still, we can't always expect ourselves to be the image of a perfect mother that we have in our heads either. Perfect is unattainable, and if we try to achieve that we will always feel let down. Instead, if we try to be really good moms, there are many ways to do that every day.
Why do we feel guilty?
We may feel guilty for a wide variety of reasons as moms. Sometimes it can be due to the expectations that we have of ourselves, being mom-shamed by others, or because our partners want us to do things in a certain way.
Guilt can be a useful emotion if we actually did something wrong, or were thinking about doing something wrong. This type of guilt can motivate us to change and be better people. It can lead us to make amends with people that we have hurt in some way. I believe that this is the purpose of the guilt emotion.
According to Psychology Today, there are five different types of guilt:
Guilt for something that you did
Guilt for something you didn’t do, but want to.
Guilt for something you think you did.
Guilt that you didn’t do enough to help someone.
Guilt that you’re doing better than someone else.
When it comes to moms, I think that most often we are struggling with reason #4. Psychology Today explains it like this,
Perhaps you have a friend who is very ill or who is caring for an ill relative. You’ve given hours of your free time to help that person, but now you have other obligations that you absolutely must fulfill. Or perhaps your neighbors suffered a tragic loss such as the death of a relative or fire that destroyed their home. You’ve offered days and weeks of your free time but, again, you find you can’t continue to do so. The guilt now starts to get to you and you try desperately to figure out ways to help them despite the toll it’s taking on you. Psychologists use the term compassion fatigue to capture this feeling of burnout. Though used typically to describe professional helpers, it can also occur among people who offer continued informal support to others in need. Adding to the overall emotional drain of the situation is the guilt you overlay on top of the fatigue because you think you should be doing more.
I think that as parents, we learn early on to be very other-directed, and put our children's needs above our own. We do this initially because babies are helpless little things that need us for their survival. As our kids get older though, I think we just get used to being everything to them, because we have done it for so long. We don't stop to question if a 12 year old actually still needs as much help as a 12 month old.
This is when compassion fatigue can develop. It is after years and years of giving our children everything, often at the expense of ourselves. According to the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project (aimed at professional caregivers like nurses),
Compassion fatigue symptoms are elevated displays of chronic stress resulting from the caregiving work we choose to do. Leading traumatologist J. Eric Gentry suggests that people who are attracted to caregiving often enter the field already displaying symptoms of compassion fatigue. A strong identification with helpless, suffering or traumatized people or animals is possibly the motive. It is common for us to hail from a tradition of what is labeled “other-directedness.” Simply put, we were taught to care for the needs of those around us before caring for our own needs. Authentic, sustainable daily self-care practices have been absent from our lives.
In short, we feel guilty because we have been doing too much for too long and can't sustain it anymore. We have to tell our kids no, or finally take time for ourselves, and it feels as though we have done something wrong.
It isn't wrong.
As moms, we do need to take time for selfcare so that our energy isn't completely depleted. We can't pour from an empty cup. That means, we can't give when we have no energy left. To stay healthier as moms, and to experience less guilt, it is important to make daily selfcare a priority.
Here are some Self Care Tips. Most importantly, realizing that selfcare isn't selfish, can help you overcome the mom guilt at taking time for ourselves.
When we take time to replenish our energy, then we are more able to do the things with our kids that we want to do. That means, taking time for selfcare not only benefits us ourselves, but benefits our kids as well.
Apologizing to our kids.
Most of our guilt is for thinking we can't do enough. But sometimes, the guilt that we feel towards ourselves is for things that we actually did. If we did something to hurt our kids feelings, from yelling at them too loudly for doing something obnoxious, to missing an important event of theirs, it is best to apologize.
Apologizing is important, because it shows our kids that we think that their feelings are just as important as ours. Sometimes parents fall into the trap of acting like we are infallible, what we say always goes, and that our way is always the right way. But we are human too. So it is great if we acknowledge that to our kids by apologizing when we make a mistake.
Everyone makes mistakes. I try to teach that to my 4 year old, by explaining that sometimes we do something mean by accident, and it is good to apologize. So if I walk past my daughter and accidentally spill her juice, I apologize.
This applies to bigger things in life too. I have apologized to my teenager for not being around all the time when she was little, because I was always working. This is something that I have always regretted. But when I apologized to her, it turns out that she wasn't even upset, she understood.
Along with apologizing, it is important that we make amends through action. For example, if I apologize for missing my daughter's soccer game, it is important that I make it to the next game and am watching attentively.
It doesn't do any good to apologize continuously for the same thing. That can corrode kids' trust in us further. Just like if you are always apologizing for being late to work, if we are constantly apologizing to our kids for not paying attention, the apology isn't going to get us very far.
It is when we truly make amends for something we have done wrong, and show a change in our actions, that an apology means so much more.
When we apologize, we create the opportunity for forgiveness. Our kids can forgive us for what we did, and we can also learn to forgive ourselves. Forgiveness can also be very healing, and absolve us from continuing to feel guilt about the past. When we forgive and heal, we can let go of past circumstances when things went wrong.
According to the Chopra Center, there are many benefits to forgiveness. "When we refuse to forgive, our brains remain in a state of alertness that can lead to negative health effects. You tend to stay focused on the pain you feel, creating stress and setting you up for further pain
Symptoms such as ulcers, backaches and migraines have all been associated with not choosing to forgive
When you can let go and forgive the person who hurt you, sleep improves. During sleep, the brain heals the ailments within your body. There is a chemical in the brain called oxytocin. When oxytocin is present, the feeling of fear is overcome. Forgiveness allows your brain to produce more oxytocin. Meaning, you have less fear of betrayal and more ability to move on from a hurtful situation."
This means that when we apologize, we are allowing an opportunity for our kids, and ourselves to heal. We don't just heal our relationship, we actually physically heal.
It is important to let go of guilt feelings, not just because they are upsetting, but because holding onto guilt can actually impact our health. Instead of feeling guilty, open up to forgiveness and love. We all love our kids and want to do our best for them. If at times we haven't, it is important to let them know that we are truly sorry. The forgiveness that follows can benefit both us and our kids!
Let me know what you think in the comments, and if this article resonates with you. Also, if there are any other topics that you would like me to cover in the blog, send me a message and let me know. I always love hearing from you!
If you find this article helpful, and would like to be kept in the loop with announcements from Millenial Mom, sign up for my mailing list! When you sign up, you will also receive my FREE Resource Toolkit which contains:
Over 30 Pages worth of FREE Resources! Self Care Checklist Morning Routine Checklist Study Skills Checklist Health and Wellness Checklist Affirmations Goal Planning Worksheets Some for you, and some to use for the kids.
If you are looking for additional communication tools for working with your child from a positive standpoint, check out the classes available from Positive Parenting Solutions.
This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information. If not otherwise stated, all prices are intended in US$.