As a mother of two kids, a boy and a girl - both under 15years; I can safely say mom guilt is very real. According to licensed clinical psychotherapist (and mom) Nicole Grocki, mom guilt can strike at any time and can show itself in any number of “mom” situations.
Society, social media, family and friends place unrealistic and enormous expectations about what mothers “should be like” and what we “should do.” Is a woman any less because she gave birth by c-section instead of naturally? (Yes - c-section shaming is a thing too) Should she return to work or not? Breastfeed or not? Breastfeed in public or not? Be happy she is a mom?
The difference between a good day and a bad day is a lot more complicated than we care to admit. In my experience as a mother, there’s almost always a million things on your mind at the same time.
*insert visual of multiple tabs open on the browser of your computer*
We have to strike a balance between prioritising work, motherhood self care and a multitude of other things. There are many ways to experience mom guilt:
'I didn’t take them out to play and it’s a beautiful day outside'
'I’m too strict'
'I’m not strict enough'
'I yell too much'
'I’m not patient enough with them'
'I let them watch too much TV'
'I don’t plan enough educational activities for them to do on a regular basis'
'I didn’t take them to church 3 Sundays in a row'
'I didn’t attend the ‘end of week’ school assembly where they received a ‘student of the week’ certificate'
'I work too hard and I should spend more time hanging out with them'
'I travel for work too much and should really spend more time with them'
'I haven’t taken my daughter to a gymnastics class yet even though she’s expressed interest in the sport and is always doing perfect cartwheels at the slightest opportunity'
'I haven’t taken my son to drum practice even though I’ve found him, on many occasions playing imaginary drums'
'I didn’t buy them enough toys - why are they playing with dirt, sticks and bugs?
Anything can turn into a reason to feel guilty. If this happens for long enough, which it tends to for many mothers; it can also leave you feeling unhealed, anxious, stressed, too old, inexperienced, hurried, ugly, incapable, incompetent, unappreciated, alien, and unmoored. It is exhausting!
Childhood education (both at school and at home) is a long and tricky process. It requires passing along a body of knowledge that will allow a human being to exist among other human beings and, while the details change, the story is still the same: we want to ensure that our kids are happy, healthy, and smart. Although the family institution remains the same today, the dynamics today are far different than they were when we were growing up. It also looks like our biological clocks are built to have our kids during what should be the boom years of our careers. But let’s get real about modern day parenting:
Extended families live further apart.
The school day ends hours before the workday.
Home cooked meals aren’t possible on every day of the week.
Most households need two incomes.
Technology has provided ‘smarter’ ways for kids and their peers to engage.
Fresh fruit and vegetable shopping is ideal but it isn’t always possible to go to farmer’s markets.
You cannot be everything to everyone all of the time, not in this day and age at least.
I know that the mom guilt is not helpful or productive, yet I find, that getting rid of my guilt as a mother is next to impossible. So, instead, I’ve chosen to find a better use of my emotional energy by doing a few things to work on that guilt (and it’s still a process):
Inspire my kids with my work ethic
I’ve found meaning in my work; because we spend so much of our lives at work. According to this Harvard study working moms had daughters who were higher-achieving in their careers, and sons who grew up to help more with childcare. If I’m making their lives a tad better by working and modelling a great work ethic so they can be successful at whatever they dream of becoming, then I will continue to work hard.
Life is practice. If you’re getting up late, whining, and complaining and not getting your habits in order - that’s what you're ultimately setting yourself up for, for life, and presumably your kids who then take that as the norm. Practice who you want to be. Identify your own edges and contours of self as a mother to your kids and what works for them, given your circumstances
Accept that I don’t need to be super mum all the time.
I can’t do it all. I've embraced the chaos that comes with raising tiny humans and tried to stop punishing myself. It’s time I lost the guilt and lowered my expectations for everything. Yes, everything. The important thing is to try to make sure that everyone I'm in contact with is happy, healthy and safe. That is doable. Happiness is a human right.
More and more I’m starting to understand that there’s no such thing as the perfect balance when it comes to parenthood; it’s the biggest unicorn in life, for me at least. Serena Williams’ recent ‘Do you always put your family first’ survey can also confirm that this is an issue many millennials are struggling with as parents.
I find light hearted ways to cope like watching the film Bad Moms, where Amy Mitchell, played by Mila Kunis, reaches her breaking point. With the stress of trying to manage her kids' busy schedules, meet her boss's expectations, and earn respect from the "perfect mothers" in the PTA, Mitchell decides to let go of some of her responsibilities and be a ‘bad’ parent for once and guess what, nothing happened to her kids.
Count my blessings
I set aside time to be grateful for everything that's going well; in simpler terms, I count my blessings. When I reflect, there are so many things going right with my kids such as:
They have a relationship with God
They eat 3 meals everyday
They are healthy functioning little humans
Both their parents are alive, love them and are doing their very best for them.
They’re getting a good education (and not just in school)
Listen to my kids
Kids know when they’re being invested in, time is being put aside for them and when they’re not being given a break. They’re not just kids. They know when people think highly of them, they know when you don’t give a crap about them. I try to find small ways to do this in different ways everyday; talking to them - asking questions - and really listening for their answer. I put my phone away so that I can really focus on hearing all about the cool basketball dunk they tried at school that day.
Help them to dream big
Kids are born with an innate sense of what is possible, it’s my job to reinforce that in the best way I know how and not deplete it. I want to help them dream in a more limitless way that is not gender-based and is custom or curated for their own experience, not the way life has a tendency to limit us even when we don’t know it. I talk to them about dreaming more and getting to the point where they start doing things that will ultimately get them that dream.
As a mother there’s such a high expectation to be perfect for your kids. Perfection is impossible. No mother is ever completely a child’s idea of what a mother should be, and I suppose it works the other way around as well. Despite everything, if we work at not doing badly by one another, we are doing something right.. I wish my mother was here so I could tell her I finally know this; and I hope my kids will always remember the prime directive.
I’ll end with a quote from Michelle Obama ‘The biggest impact a woman can have is on her children’
Are you a mom? Or a dad? Have you ever experienced the same guilt? How have you worked through it? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below