It was 2am and my phone starting buzzing. I groggily grabbed my phone, checked the message, and dragged myself out of bed for the third time that night. I was on call as a Paramedic, which meant anytime that phone went off, I had 4 minutes to get myself ready and out the door to respond to whatever job had just come in.
Just as I was walking out of the bathroom after getting dressed, my 3 year old daugher woke up and started crying. My husband was there to console her, but by the time I got to the front door to pull my boots on, she was screaming for me, in full meltdown mode.
I had no choice, I had to go.
The mom guilt was heavy, and a feeling I knew all too well.
And I’m not alone.
What Is Mom Guilt?
Mom guilt is defined as the intense guilt that mothers feel when they’re unable to meet the demands of their children, and it’s something that almost all moms experience at one point or another.
It can be caused by a number of different things, such as working outside the home (or leaving to go to work in the middle of the night, as in my situation), not being able to spend enough time with your kids, not being able to give them what they want or need, or even just by the day-to-day stresses of motherhood.
One study by NUK found 87% of moms had experienced feeling mom guilt, with another study showing that moms felt, on average, 23 pangs of guilt per week. Furthermore, a survey found that mothers were twice as likely to feel guilty returning to work than fathers.
So, if mom guilt is so common, why do we feel so guilty all the time?
Why Do We Feel Mom Guilt?
There are a few different reasons why we as mothers tend to feel guilty.
For one, we’re constantly bombarded with images of the “perfect mother” who seems to be able to do it all. We see pictures on social media of moms who never seem to sweat, always have a smile on their face, and appear to be enjoying every second of motherhood.
These images can make us feel like we’re not good enough, that we’re doing something wrong, or that we’re not cut out for this whole motherhood gig.
Secondly, we live in a society that doesn’t always value mothers or motherhood.
We don’t need to look far to see this. The lack of paid maternity leave, the lack of support for new moms, the number of times moms are referred to as ‘overreacting’ or ‘being hysterical’, not to mention simply referring to dads or parters as ‘babysitting’ their own kids instead of parenting – it’s rooted deep and it’s doing so much harm.
We don’t have nearly as much support as we should, and it’s hard to find understanding or empathy from those who don’t have children of their own. This can make us feel isolated, and cause us to doubt our abilities as mothers.
Lastly, motherhood is hard. It’s really, really hard. And it’s okay to admit that.
We put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect and do everything right, but the truth is that there is no such thing as a perfect mother.
We’re all just doing the best we can, and that’s all our kids ever really need from us.
What Are the Effects of Mom Guilt?
Carrying around a lot of mom guilt can have some serious consequences. It can lead to anxiety and depression, an increase in stress and the stress hormone cortisol, which can have physically detrimental effects on the body, and it can simply make it hard to enjoy motherhood.
Mom guilt can also lead to unhealthy behaviors, like drinking or using drugs to cope with the stress. In extreme cases, it can even lead to thoughts of harming ourselves or our children, usually coupled with mental health concerns like Postnatal Anxiety and Depression.
If you feel your experience with mom guilt is affecting your mental health, it’s important to reach out for help. Talk to your doctor or a therapist, and join a support group if needed.
You don’t have to do this alone – there are people who can help.
How To Overcome Mom Guilt
If you’re struggling with mom guilt, firstly know that you’re not alone. Secondly, know that it’s okay to feel this way, and that you’re not a bad mother for feeling guilty.
Remember that you’re doing the best you can, and that’s all your kids need from you. It’s absolutely possible for you to overcome mom guilt, and at the very least, understand what it is a little more so you can recognize it, recognize the feelings of mom guilt, and allow these feelings to pass.
Here are a few tips to help you overcome mom guilt:
1 – Acknowledge Your Feelings
The first step is to acknowledge that you’re feeling guilty, and that it’s okay to feel that way. You’re not a bad mother for feeling this way, you’re just human.
Once you’ve acknowledged that you’re feeling guilty, take a moment to reflect on why. What is it that you’re feeling guilty about? Is it something that you can change or improve? If so, then make a plan to do so.
But a lot of the time we feel guilty for things that are out of our control. Take a moment to acknlowedge that this is out of your control, and that feeling guilty doesn’t serve anyone.
2 – Be Kind To Yourself
One of the best things you can do for yourself as a mother is to be kind to yourself. You are doing the best you can, and that is all anyone can ask of you.
So cut yourself some slack and speak only kind words to yourself.
Don’t beat yourself up over every little thing. Instead, focus on the positive and what you are doing well.
Recognize that you are making a difference in your child’s life, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. And remind yourself that this is just a phase – it won’t last forever.
One day you will look back on this time and cherish it, even with all its challenges.
3 – Seek Support
A common reason moms feel guilty is because they feel isolated. They think they are the only ones feeling this way, and that they should be able to do it all on their own.
But this isn’t true! Moms need support, both emotional and practical. So don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Whether it’s hiring a babysitter so you can have some time to yourself, or simply talking to a friend who understands what you’re going through, seeking support will make a world of difference.
4 – Make Time For Yourself
It’s so important to make time for yourself, even if it’s just a few minutes a day.
Do something that makes you happy, and that is just for you. This can be something as simple as reading a book, taking a bath, or going for a walk.
All moms need alone time and need time to themselves. Unfortunately, this is one of the areas in which moms carry so much guilt. Understanding that this time for yourself is essential, and for the greater good, can help aleviate that guilt.
You might feel like you don’t have time for this, but trust us – it will make you a better mother.
5 – Be Present
One of the best things you can do for your children is to be present when you are with them.
Don’t focus on all the things you have to do, or what happened earlier in the day. Instead, focus on your children and the moment you are sharing with them.
This doesn’t mean that you have to be happy all the time, but it does mean being present and focused on your child when you are with them.
It can be helpful to set aside some “tech-free” time each day, where you put away your phone and focus on your child.
With that being said, also understand that it’s not possible to always be present. Sometimes we simply need to be on our phones, or doing other things while also entertaining our kids.
Be sure to set aside some time specifically to be present, and it can help offset this guilt.
6 – Let Go Of The Perfectionism
One of the main reasons moms feel guilty is because they are trying to be perfect. They have this idea in their head of what a perfect mother looks like, and they are falling short.
But here’s the thing – there is no such thing as a perfect mother.
Every mother has her own unique set of strengths and weaknesses, and that’s what makes us all special.
So instead of beating yourself up over not being perfect, focus on being the best mother you can be. This means accepting your imperfections and striving to be the best version of yourself.
7 – Keep Things In Perspective
Remember that your child is only going to be little for a short time.
One day you will look back on this time and miss it, even with all its challenges.
So instead of getting wrapped up in the guilt, take a step back and try to keep things in perspective.
Remember that your child loves you, no matter what. And that even on your worst days, you are still doing a great job.
An amazing child psychologist told me once that you only need to ‘get it right’ 30% of the time to be a good mom. This has been the most amazing advice I’ve ever heard and is a great reminder that perfection is not possible, and not needed.
8 – Seek Professional Help If Needed
If you find that you just can’t shake the guilt, it might be time to seek professional help.
This is nothing to be ashamed of, and can be extremely helpful.
A therapist can help you work through your guilt, and provide you with tools to deal with it in a healthy way.
If you’re struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety, seeking professional help is essential. These are real medical conditions that require treatment, and a therapist can help you get the help you need.
9 – Give Yourself A Break
Lastly, it’s so important to give yourself a break… as in a literal break away from the mental and physical demands of motherhood. Even if it’s just for an hour or two.
You are doing the best you can, and that is all anyone can ask of you, but now it’s time for you to ask for what you need.
So take some time for yourself, even if it’s just to relax and do nothing. This isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.
Our minds need a break from being switched on and in mom mode at all times, our bodies need a physical rest from everything we need to be always doing, and emotionally we need time to just be still and reconnect with ourselves.
This can be such a great tool to helping overcome mom guilt because it helps you to refill your cup, so you can keep going and be the amazing mom that you are.
Mom guilt is something that almost all mothers feel at some point. It’s normal, and it’s OK to feel this way. But it’s important to remember that you are doing a great job, and that your child loves you, no matter what.
If you find that you just can’t shake the guilt, seek professional help. A therapist can help you work through your guilt, and provide you with tools to deal with it in a healthy way.
In the meantime, remember you’re not alone, mom guilt is normal, and it’s something you can work through. It’s not a sign you’re a bad mom, it’s a sign you care about the kind of mom you are, and that alone proves just how amazing you are.