Before becoming a mother, I heard the term “mom guilt” tossed around a lot. I…
It was a week of exhaustion, meltdowns, yelling, and frustration. Both of my toddlers were sick. I was sick. Our house was under construction. And I was not showing up as the best version of myself. Cue mom guilt.
So, I decided the best thing to do was get lost in a documentary with my husband, a documentary about a serial killer with multiple personality disorder. Perfect choice for a toddler mom, low on sleep and sick, right? The serial killer grew up with a step-father whose goal in life was to torture this child. The trauma and abuse of his upbringing turned him into a psychotic murderer.
Immediately my mind started racing. Spinning. Spiraling.
I lost my patience and yelled at my kids multiple times this week…I am a bad parent…just like my husband’s step-father…my children are going to become serial killers.
I know it sounds ridiculous. Could my lack of patience and yelling at my kids a few times would turn them into sociopaths? Probably not. But those thoughts were so vivid to me that even now, I’m crying writing these words.
We’ve all been there— feeling like a crappy parent, worried if what we just did is going to be the thing that lands our child in therapy as an adult.
Even if you haven’t gone down the same spiral as me or any other mom, the thing is that every mom’s brain has told them the story “you’re a bad mom.” But that’s not the problem. The problem is that we believe our brains.
And honestly? It’s hard not to believe them. Especially if you’re dealing with some hard stuff.
- Maybe you’ve got a newborn and feel like you’ll never sleep again.
- Maybe you’re struggling to breastfeed.
- Maybe you’ve decided to switch to formula.
- Maybe you’re in the thick of toddler life and lost it with the meltdowns today.
- Maybe you’re parenting a special needs child.
- Maybe work is brutal and your house is a mess and your marriage is crumbling.
Whatever it is, I bet you feel that guilt. And I am here to tell you that that guilt is robbing you of so much. It sets you on the opposite path of where you want to go.
Because when you get stuck in guilt, you fester, mentally spin, and beat yourself up. You stop taking care of your basic needs of adequate sleep and nourishing foods. You stop giving yourself permission to practice self-care. You probably lash out at your partner. Or is that just me?
You might overcompensate for those guilty, “I’m not enough. I’m bad” feelings by not setting boundaries with your kids, your spouse, your work, and your friends. And not communicate your needs because you think you don’t deserve them. Or you have to make up for something.
It feels so crappy and it doesn’t empower you to parent the way you want to: in full alignment with your values. Which cues more guilt and more confirmation of the story “I’m a bad mom.” Can you see how easy it is to get caught in a cycle of doom?
So, what can you do about this? How can you break the cycle? Here are some steps to help you keep guilt from affecting your actions:
Become aware of what thoughts are making you feel guilty, like:
Sometimes I don’t like my child. I want to leave my family for a week. I feel like I should breastfeed, but I think formula would be better for my mental health. My older child feels abandoned since we had the baby. My child’s behavior embarrasses me.
Acknowledge the feelings, like:
Guilt. Sadness. Anger. Shame. Fear. Vulnerability.
Notice the actions you take from those feelings and start interrupting the cycle:
Instead of letting your mind spin after you haven’t parented in line with your values, think about what you can do differently and make a plan for how you’ll implement changes.
Instead of letting guilt take over the limited time you get to spend with your child, put your phone down and give them 5 minutes of undivided attention.
Instead of waiting till you’ve “earned” a break, take a break before you need it.
Look at your results:
When you give yourself a guilt-free break, are you then more present with your child? Are you more patient? Are you happier? More confident? When you’re happier, that is the energy you bring to and share with your family and kids. They will be happier too. I promise.
None of this is easy. It is a lifelong practice of awareness and interrupting the cycle. And here’s how I interrupted that night at my house.
After I convinced myself my toddlers were already morphing into serial killers with multiple personality disorder, I acknowledged the thoughts and feelings. The shame, guilt, and sadness. I sat and felt sad. I didn’t try to make the feelings go away or punish myself for having them. I felt them.
Then I told my husband I couldn’t watch the documentary anymore because it was making me emotionally spin. We turned it off and I shared everything I was feeling with him. We talked through the week’s events. About what happened that wasn’t in line with our parenting values. And we made a plan for moving forward, for parenting differently when circumstances get especially tough. Because we know it will happen again. And then we let it go and moved on. I was able to let it go.
Because here’s the thing: I am an amazing mom.
Yeah, I said it.
I think it’s frowned upon to think or vocalize these words in our society. But I’m a kickass, unconditionally loving, supportive, fun, silly, amazing mom. I think this regularly and I believe it to be true in my soul. And, I mess up. Regularly. Like a normal human being.
You are an amazing mom too. I bet you love your babies more than anything in the world. I bet you would do anything for them. You teach them, you keep them safe, you play with them, and you work hard for them.
But what story is your brain telling you? Is it telling you that you’re an amazing mom who is also human and makes mistakes sometimes? Or is your brain telling you a story that you are a screw up who is sometimes a good mom?
The truth is, you’re not going to outrun mom guilt. But you can have mom guilt that doesn’t consume you, that doesn’t dictate your actions, and that doesn’t rob you of the joy of motherhood. Because mama, there’s so much joy to be had and I want that for you.