If you don’t know what “mom guilt” is then you don’t have kids.
Or you’re a dad.
Mom guilt is that insidious thing that keeps us up at night counting all the ways we are failing our kids. It interrupts us at Target as we try to buy the baby wipes with the least amount of cancer causing chemicals in them. It intrudes on date night when all we can wonder is whether or not we should have left our kids after a week of working full time to spend time with our husbands. Surely our husbands will just keep for the next ten years, right?
If you have found yourself struggling with mom guilt, then I have a one step solution for you. Okay, solution might be too strong of a word. I mean we carried these little ones inside of us. They are a part of us. How can we feel like we’re doing a good enough job?
Maybe you’re wondering why you even need to end mom guilt. Maybe you think that it’s just a normal part of parenting. Maybe the thought of being free from this seems impossible. The truth is mom guilt is just like shame; it makes it feel like you’re doing something, but in reality you are paralyzed by the fear that you are never enough. Mom guilt won’t actually make you a better mom. In fact, all that anxiety can lead us to respond to our kids in ways that aren’t helpful to them at all.
I have a unique perspective as a mom who is also a therapist. One the one hand I am intently aware of exact what I’m doing to screw up my children. In fact, sometimes I think I can hear their future therapy sessions in my head. But on the other hand I am frequently exposed to parents (this is going to sound bad) who are doing a worse job than I am. Through the stories my client share with me about their childhoods growing up, or the families I have been able to work with who are involved in the child protection system, I have heard it all. And what I hear is not good. Now it is true that I have a skewed sample. People who are killing it as parents, or who had parents who raised them in a healthy way don’t end up on my couch as often as the ones who have really struggled. As sad as this is, in a lot of ways, that has really helped me feel pretty good about my parenting.
My solution isn’t to spend most of your time around bad parents so you can feel good about yourself. Although sometimes that might be tempting. No my solution is something you need to do for yourself. You need a mothering motto!
We have mottos for all sorts of things in life – businesses, Girl Scouts, even kids have mottos. My kids seem to have a life motto that say, “Let’s see if we can drive mom crazy by asking her to turn on the radio, and then ten seconds later asking her a question so she has to turn it off again, and then complaining that she turned it off. Then we will repeat that one hundred times on the way home from school.” I know it’s super wordy. I really need to work with them on that.
You need a mothering motto because it will give you a touchstone; an anchor on those days when you feel like you are failing at every turn. A motto gives us something to go back to when we feel lost. It gives us a metric at the end of the day. Instead of worrying about every thing, it let’s you worry about one thing.
Your mothering motto needs to be broad, and it needs to be about what’s really important. If your motto is as long as the ones my kids have about driving me to the brink of insanity in the car, then it likely won’t help reduce your mom guilt at all.
It also needs to be something attainable. If your motto is to never fail your kids, and never have them feel sad – then you are going to fail (yep, I said it), and your mom guilt will skyrocket.
Unsure of where to start?
I formed my mothering motto by asking myself one question at the end of those days when I felt like I had failed as a mom: When my kids fell asleep tonight did they know that I loved them?
That’s it. Those night when I was awake in bed with that mom guilt starting to creep in around the edges of my mind, I would ask myself that question. There was never a night I couldn’t answer yes.
Kids don’t need perfect parents. All my training and experience as a therapist has taught me that what kids really need is to feel safe, loved, and protected. They need to feel that we value them for who they are as individuals; that we really see them.
Notice that nothing on my list included going to Disney World, taking every kind of dance lesson available, or them getting straight A’s so that we can feel good as parents. The kinds of things that we tend to feel mom guilt about are usually the things that don’t really matter to the healthy development of our kids. We get trapped by mom guilt, because we are worrying about the wrong things.
Achieving this motto, which I would word as: I have succeeded at the end of the day if my kids know and believe that I love them, involves my ability to humble myself and ask for forgiveness when I do fail as a parent. It involves me keeping my eye on the prize, which is sending a healthy adult into the world. A healthy adult may have gotten some bad grades on his report card once in a while, but he always knew that he was loved unconditionally by his parents. A healthy adult may have thrown one too many temper tantrums as a kids, but she knew that her parents cared more about helping her learn to control that reaction than they did about how that tantrum made them look in front of others. A healthy adult is raised by parents who are relatively healthy adults.
Not perfect adults. “Good enough” adults.
Maybe you are reading this, and thinking that even this would be hard for you. Maybe you have some personal issues that are preventing you from being the type of parent you wish you could be. Getting some good therapy for yourself could be the greatest gift you give your kids. You can click on the link on the menu at the top of the page for my recommendations on how to find a good counselor.
Find a motto, or a purpose statement, or whatever you want to call it. Find something you can use to keep yourself on track through these treacherous waters of parenthood. It will not only benefit your kids, but you might just sleep better at night too.