There are so many moms in my life that I love and admire. One of the reasons I focus on providing therapy for parents and moms is because I see how much support they don’t get and how much the culture in this country is not always behind them. Sometimes it feels like moms are invisible and so their concerns and struggles become invisible too. One area in particular that can be a difficult for many parents is the feeling of guilt.
Feeling guilty as a mom may look like asking yourself any of the following questions or having any of the following thoughts:
“Am I doing enough?”
“I feel bad I have to go to work today.”
“Are my kids going to be okay while I’m at work?”
“Do I spend enough time with my kids?”
“Do my kids know I love them even though I am not with them during the day?”
“How can I make up for being gone?”
“I feel bad my kids can tell I am frustrated.”
“I am afraid I am messing my kids up.”
All these questions and thoughts suggest that maybe your feeling guilty, even if you are doing the best you can, it can be difficult to know what is enough. On top of the typical difficulties of parenting, an ongoing pandemic can make it even more challenging to feel like you are doing enough and to manage feelings of doubt, self-criticism, and guilt.
Why do these feelings arise in the first place?
Feeling guilty sometimes comes from comparing ourselves to unrealistic and impossible standards cultivated and perpetuated by the media, in mom groups, in our culture. Messages about how perfect moms are supposed to be can be as subtle as watching a show where a mom is working full time, self-sacrifices her leisure time to take care of her kids, and manages to make them dinner and take them to all their practices while smiling. That’s not realistic, crying at least once in the midst of such a busy schedule is more likely. And sometimes moms receive more overt messages from family members, school systems, or total strangers… telling them they need to spend more time with their kids or control their kids or get their kids more involved in activities or help them achieve more academically… As though you don’t already have enough on your plate. If we buy into this standard, and it’s hard not to when it’s so consistently represented, we are being set up for “failure.” No one can be a “perfect” mom, it’s not possible, and yet moms hold themselves to perfection all the time.
Sometimes moms feel guilty because they love their kids so much, they wish they didn’t have to work and that they had more time. This can be especially challenging when we have anxious attachment styles that mean we may worry more than the average person about our kids when they are not with us. Anxious attachment styles can develop for so many reasons, perhaps you did not have the best relationship with your parents growing up. Regardless, it is not uncommon to feel anxious when our kids are not with us and our worry thoughts can drive feelings of guilt: “What if something happens when I am not there?” “What if they don’t feel close to me or like I love them?” and on and on...
Ultimately, feelings of guilt can be difficult to manage and cope with when you are a mom who loves her kids.
What can you do to feel less guilty?
The first thing is to understand you are not alone. Many moms struggle with this feeling and finding other women writing, talking, sharing about their experiences can be incredibly helpful.
Next, assess your expectations for any given moment or situation and think if you would tell a mom friend that she needs to meet these expectations. Do they still sound reasonable? Would you tell other moms they are doing good enough? If you are finding that you are holding yourself to standards you wouldn’t hold others to, try to change your standards.
Then, set realistic mom goals. What is something you would like to do with your kids that would help you feel connected and reassured about them and your relationship? Maybe it’s reading to them once or twice a week. Maybe it’s taking them to their favorite park for 45min every Sunday. Keep your goals realistic and manageable. And if you can’t meet them one week, give yourself some grace and remind yourself that you’ll get back to it the next week.
Finally, if the feelings of guilt are isolating, or even with trying to manage them you find you still struggle and are feeling stressed… well give therapy a try. We can help you figure out what’s going on and help you make the change you need to not only feel less guilty but also to feel more confident as a parent. Therapy is always a safe bet when you feel like after taking care of others all day, you may just need some extra help taking care of yourself.