Mom Guilt: Causes & 13 Tips for Overcoming

April 11, 2023

View originally published article here:

Do you find yourself feeling guilty when it comes to your kids? Maybe there’s a little voice in the back of your mind telling you that you are not enough. The most important thing to remember is you’re not alone in feeling this way and you most certainly don’t have to accept the feelings of mom guilt.

There are lots of ways you can let go of mom guilt, like unfollowing “supermoms” on social media and reframing your thoughts on what it means to be a good mom. Additionally, a therapist is always available to help you with decreasing your feelings of mom guilt and a great way to start building the life you want.

What Is Mom Guilt?

Mom guilt refers to specific feelings of guilt mothers experience that relate to their role as a mother and their ability to meet their children’s needs. Despite research studies and terminology frequently referencing mothers or moms, guilt has the potential to extend to any and all parents and caregivers of children. With that being said, mothers are often the ones that society holds to higher standards, therefore the feelings of guilt tend to be more common among women.

Common Causes of Mom Guilt

Like anyone, mothers experience feelings of guilt for a wide variety of reasons, including feeling bad about working or having a desire to have time away from their kids.

Here are five common reasons for why women may experience mom guilt.

  1. Aggression

This encompasses physical, verbal or emotional aggression and is widely experienced. As a licensed therapist, I have worked with many families that have shown aggression towards their children, which at times has resulted in involvement with the Division of Children and Families (DCF). Whether DCF is involved or not, I have worked with many mothers who acted in anger and later expressed guilt or remorse. That being said, aggression towards a child is never appropriate, but like any person, we all have our limits.

It is our responsibility as adults to learn how to manage our anger and aggression in a healthy and non-toxic way, and modeling positive behavior is important for your child’s overall well-being.

  1. The Desire to Leave or “Exit”

One may compare this to the common saying “throwing in the towel.” Some of the mothers surveyed also admitted to having thoughts of suicide.1 For anyone feeling this way, seeking professional help is critical. There are 24/7 hotlines and chat options if you need immediate support. These feelings are very real and experienced by many parents, and should not be ignored.

  1. Working Mom Guilt

As you adjust to the role of being a mother, it’s okay to loosen your grip or shift how you show up in other parts of your life in order to manage all the stress you’re under. Most of the time, working parents have a really hard time with this shift in perspective. Your priorities have most likely changed and it is okay to take a step back and re-evaluate.

  1. Preferential Treatment

When you have more than one child, it can be hard not to compare experiences and personalities of your other children, and guilt can start to creep in. The things that make your children less than “perfect” is why we love them. It’s important to be mindful and pay attention to how you and other family members are treating each other. Try making sure each child gets some one-on-one time with you.

  1. The Motherhood Myth

Many women feel that their mom guilt is not situational, but instead is related to cultural expectations about being constantly loving, never being angry, and being ever-attentive.

Stay-at-home mothers who develop depression may often carry this same type of guilt; feeling symptoms of depression from being home with your child translates to somehow being ungrateful, not being happy to be home with your children and caring for them all the time.

How Does Mom Guilt Affect Mental Health?

Mom guilt can show up in many ways and lead to a number of mental health issues such as anxietydepression, or even dissociation as a response to your own past trauma and experiences of stress.

When you are mentally absent with your children, research has shown that this can make an impact on their overall wellbeing and sense of self. When mom guilt is ignored or left untreated, mom burnout begins and you may find yourself struggling with managing the needs of your own mental health while also tending to the needs of your children. You might even stay up late to try to regain control of some elements of your life (called revenge bedtime procrastination).

13 Tips for How to Overcome Mom Guilt

Taking care of yourself is equally as important as taking care of your babies. Take your time visualizing and strategizing how you can make a change in your life, but know that not every tip will work for everyone—find the best ways to support yourself and move forward.

Here are 13 strategies to help you overcome mom guilt:

  1. Practice Self-Compassion

Mom guilt is already placing enough blame and shame on you (or you might even have someone guilt-tripping you about your parenting, making the situation worse!), you certainly do not need anymore “comments” from the peanut gallery of your mind. It is natural to want to spiral into a cycle of guilt, shame, and negative self-talk. When you practice self-compassion, it allows room for you to forgive yourself for mistakes, love deeper, and open opportunities for growth.

You can begin by using the Ho’oponopono prayer, a Hawaiian prayer or meditation for self-love. Take a deep breath in and out through your nose and repeat the following about 7-8 times, or until you feel better. “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.”

  1. Communicate & Ask for Help

The most common problem when it comes to coping with mom guilt is not being able to communicate or share how you are feeling with others. Remember, no one is a mind reader, so try not to assume that your needs are obvious to those around you. What do you actually need—Is it a night alone, maybe even a night at a hotel? A hot, uninterrupted meal? Maybe it’s a long, warm shower. These things are within your reach, but you have to work on asking your partner or other supports for help in a way that is clear to each of you.

In the workplace, this may look like communicating with your employer to explore all of your options. Research the company where you work, as well as other similar companies in your industry, to get a sense of any applicable policies and details you are willing to disclose.4

  1. Identify Your Supports

Make a list of everyone you identify in your support network. Be creative with your support system and do your research. It may be worth your time connecting with an online or local support group—most support groups are free or relatively low cost.

  1. Let Go of Expectations

Social media and sites like Pinterest do wonders at reminding us that we’re all not crafty and creative or that parenting isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as we may have thought. In addition to letting go of your own expectations of motherhood, you also have to let go of expectations of what support or help looks like. Of course your child’s safety should always come first, but beyond that, it’s okay if things are done differently than how you normally would have done them.

Remind yourself that just because you have your own preferences for bedtime or dinner, allow room for your partner or supports to also create their own rhythm and routine.

  1. If Possible, Hire an Extra Hand

There is nothing more stressful than caring for your newborn while also managing to remember to feed yourself, your partner(s) and your kids—not to mention the constant stream of laundry. In my own experience, I never felt like I could truly relax knowing that the dishes needed washing, laundry needed folding, toilets needed scrubbing, etc. I found so much value in hiring an extra hand rather than trying to split the responsibilities between two people who work full-time to get everything done week after week—while also trying to carve out precious time to enjoy with my growing family.

This hired help can be something that happens once a month or as-needed, the frequency depends on your budget and needs.

  1. Remember Who You Are Beyond Motherhood

It is incredibly easy to lose yourself in the mix of caring for your children. Try to take time regularly to do things that you truly enjoy. Think of old hobbies or something that you’ve always been curious about. You’ll thank yourself in a few years as your children start to rely on you less. This may mean signing up for an online class or two, attending a group event, or asking a friend to join you at a yoga class. This will not only help with getting your feet wet in exploring your interests, but it’s a great way to socialize with other adults.

  1. Schedule Some Time to Relax

Taking time to recharge is an absolute must in dealing with mom guilt. Whether you are a working mom, stay-at-home mom or a mompreneur, unplugging from your obligations and taking the time for self-care to “fill your cup” is so important. That may mean planning an evening of pampering or a morning to sleep in. Engaging in self care will help improve your overall performance in multiple areas of your life.

  1. Practice Gratitude Often

As easy as it is to get caught up in life’s stressors and demands, take time to practice gratitude. When you practice gratitude regularly, your mindset begins to shift and you start to notice the little things that make it brighter. Right before bed, practice reflecting on three things that made you smile, even if it was just for a brief moment. Maybe it was something sweet that happened with your children, or something that you did for yourself, even if it feels “too small to mention.” Staying mindful of these moments can be a big help.

When starting to practice gratitude with my clients I am often met with an eye roll and some resistance, but trust me, it gets easier and begins to happen more naturally and those feelings of gratitude happen more automatically.

  1. Take One Tantrum at a Time

One day, out of nowhere, it will be the last time your child will need your help to complete certain tasks. You really cannot predict when the last package of fruit snacks will be impatiently demanded to be opened, or the last time the bedtime story is read. For many, you will feel like you have time traveled into the future and lost all sense of time. You’ll be attending your child’s graduation and asking yourself, “where has the time gone?” So, mama, try and see the light. Only focus on one tantrum and meltdown at a time—even if they are back to back!

  1. Identify the Sources of Guilt

Understanding the root of the guilt can help open your eyes to areas of your life that need more attention. Sometimes that source is internal with the expectations you’ve put on yourself to perform at a certain standard. Sometimes that source is outside of us, such as social media or family, who expect certain behaviors from mothers. Decide what source matters most and work to uncover what your true values are as a parent.

  1. Recognize Irrational Thoughts

While it can be hard to sit with the discomfort, it’s important to lean into the thoughts to examine what is rational and irrational. You are allowed to feel how you feel, however people many times have irrational thoughts that shape their opinions of themselves. Think about what you are saying to yourself and challenge those irrational thoughts.

  1. Leave the Haters Behind

Take time to decide if people who are bringing you down or criticizing you are the kinds of people that deserve a seat at your table. It can be challenging to go against the status quo, but there are many women who would benefit from a different perspective, especially when it comes to mom guilt.

  1. Listen to Your Children & Your Intuition

Take time to learn what your gut says and most importantly, what your children say and feel. Raising little people takes some introspection, but feedback from your children can help to validate your feelings or give you information that may inspire you to make a change. Think about this as an opportunity to grow closer to your children and grow as a person.

When to Get Help

When kept to yourself, mom guilt can feel very isolating and lead to even more mental health problems, so it’s important to seek help if you start feeling overwhelmed. Although it’s not technically a diagnosis, the heaviness and impact that guilt can have on overall daily functioning is alarming.

Finding healthy supports, both peer and professional support groups, can be extremely validating. Talking to a therapist on a regular basis can help you build insight and navigate how to manage these feelings.

How to Find a Therapist

It is helpful to find a therapist that specializes in parenting concerns, as they are more likely to understand all the layers that are involved in dealing with guilt as a parent. Using an online therapist directory is a great place to start, or you may want a referral from a fellow mom. Your primary doctor or OB/GYN may also be a great resource. Even mothers who are stretched between work and parenting obligations can find time for therapy since most therapists now offer convenient online therapy which allows you to cut out commute time.