12 Realistic Tips for Managing Mom Guilt, From Mothers Who Get It
In the era of supermom influencers and unrealistic expectations to “do it all”—including the often invisible labor of managing a household—of course many mothers feel like nothing is ever enough. Working full-time (or more), but also being fully present for your kids. Staying at home checking off a never-ending to-do list for no pay, doing draining work that isn’t considered a “real job.” If you’re a mom raising children of color, keeping your kids safe in a racist world. Oh, and don’t forget to prioritize self-care in the zero hours you have left in the day! The contradictions are relentless, and it’s no wonder research shows that mothers who feel like they’re coming up short are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and higher levels of stress.
The mix of shame and inadequacy commonly known as mom guilt plagues mothers across the board, Sarah Getch, PhD, program director of psychology at Kansas City University, tells SELF. It’s that voice in your head reminding you that no matter how much you sacrifice or how hard you try, you’re letting everyone—your kids, your partner if you have one, and yourself—down. “Oftentimes, we create inaccurate or unachievable standards around parenting, and not meeting these self-imposed expectations can be very painful for moms,” Dr. Getch says.
Some of this internal pressure can stem from personal insecurities—say, if you’re comparing yourself to one of the moms on Instagram who can seemingly balance a full-time job, a daily yoga practice, and their five kids with a smile (meanwhile, you’re struggling with your one kiddo at home). Dr. Getch also attributes mom guilt to deeper-rooted cultural issues. “Society has dictated gendered roles and taught us what it means to be a ‘good’ mom,” she says. For example, “in America, women are expected to be nurturing all of the time, or come by it naturally, which can contribute to mom guilt even more.”
You’ve probably already heard your fair share of cliché mom advice—perhaps in the form of inspirational Instagram quotes—meant to convince you that you’re enough. (You may have even rolled your eyes as you clicked on this article.) That’s why we thought it would be more helpful to ask 12 moms how they’ve managed the whirlwind of self-doubt that is mom guilt—and gotten to a point where they feel okay as they are. We hope their words of wisdom feel like a Mother’s Day gift. (And sorry to spoil the surprise, but most of them are about learning that, yep, you’re enough.)
“Understanding that my way is not the only way to get things done was a game changer.”
For a long time I found myself shouldering most of the parenting responsibility, never really allowing my husband to fully participate. When he did try to help, I would step in and correct him, thinking that my way was the only “right way.”
It wasn't until I let go of the idea that I had to do everything on my own and began leaning on my husband for support that I finally found some much-needed breathing room. By allowing him to do things his way, I was able to relinquish control and take some time for myself. Now I feel more energized and less resentful, knowing that we are both fully capable of taking care of our child and supporting each other in the process. —Cynthia Simpson, talent director and mother of a 4-year-old
“I keep a folder of my wins.”
Mom guilt shows up for me in so many different ways. I’m in a same-gender, loving relationship, and my partner and I are expecting. As excited as I am, I’ve also struggled because this time around, I will not be the birthing parent as I was for my first child. It makes me feel so guilty, and I ask myself, Will they like me?
On top of that, as an entrepreneur, I’ve been pulled away from my family so much over the last year, and felt like I was absent. Sometimes I cry when I feel like I’m not quite getting the parenting job done, so I’ve begun keeping a folder [on my phone] full of wins to ease that guilt. There are pictures of good days with our family, shoutouts from coworkers, and love from my community members. It reminds me that I’m capable and that I’m valued, and it gives me the push to keep going. —Mia Cooley, parenting coach, founder, and mother of a 5-year-old (and expecting)
“Being a mom doesn’t mean only being a mom.”
After I had my first son, I experienced so much guilt for doing anything that was just for me. Anytime I would leave (even just to go meet a friend for lunch), I would rush back. I declined invitations to hang out with people. I wasn’t going to the gym as frequently. If there was a work event after hours, I felt bad about saying yes. So I really isolated myself.
Moms often think it's selfish to want to pursue things that are just for us and don't have anything to do with our children, but having those desires isn’t selfish. It's not saying, “I matter above my family.” It’s just saying, “I matter too.” And the older I've gotten, I've come to accept that I cannot be the best mom to my children if I’m not at my best. —Alayna Curry, public relations professional, fitness instructor, and mother of a 3-year-old and 7-year-old
“It’s about allowing yourself to be imperfect.”
In order to process my guilt, I rely on reason, logic, and loved ones who can remind me what kind of mother I am. Guilt is often rooted in deeper insecurities, and we need to identify and process those. I personally have worked past my traumas to allow myself forgiveness for my faults and the things I wish I had (or hadn’t) done. Of course, the choices I made or the words I said at the time could have been more elegant or nurturing, but mothers (like all humans) are imperfect, no matter how hard we try. —Diana Stobo, author, entrepreneur, and mother of a 26-year-old and 30-year-old twins
“I realized my daughter needed her mom to have a healthy mind and body.”
When I was a new mom, I was having issues with breastfeeding. It was incredibly painful, and I was barely able to function. The guilt was overwhelming as I imagined all the damage I was doing to my daughter because all the experts were saying “breast is best.” One day I realized I had two options: I could keep up this fight where I was hardly present for my daughter and in excruciating pain, or I could put myself first and be there for my child as a result. The moment I made up my mind and committed to stop breastfeeding, the guilt floated away, and I was able to be the mom I wanted to be. —Wendy Woodhall, community organization executive director and mother of a 17-year-old
“For moms who have the support, it’s so important to let other people help you.”
Some of my mom guilt stems from me overthinking and doubting that I’m making the correct choices on behalf of my child, even though I do a lot of research online before making a big parenting decision. Some days, life gets overwhelming, or I'm busy and can't spend much time with my daughter one-on-one. I’ve learned to accept that it’s not possible to be perfect in all aspects of life, and that’s okay. It’s an important concept for new moms to realize that you can’t be in two places at once, and you can’t be everything, all the time—and it doesn’t make you a worse mother to ask for some help. —Lisa Andrews, stay-at-home mother of a 7-year-old
“You don’t have to be everything to everyone all the time.”
You have to give yourself grace. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, and it’s okay to really focus on your work sometimes or to give all your attention to your kids and keep your laptop shut for the night. My boys are old enough now that they understand I work hard to provide for them, and I remind myself that I get to be an excellent role model for them in showing them my success as a business owner. My goal with everything I do is to focus 100% of my energy on whatever plate (or component of my life) I’m served at that time. I can’t do it all, but I’m always trying to give each area of my life the very best that I can, and at the end of the day that’s what matters the most. —Beth Booker, CEO of a public relations agency and mother of a 7-year-old and 4-year-old
“Don’t let unrealistic expectations rob the joy of the present moment.”
I have moments when I feel like I “fail” my kids because of the standards I hold myself to in my head, and this is something that I continually work on through daily reflective journaling and other mindfulness practices. I’ve found that aiming to be more present in all aspects of life is the way to ease mom guilt. When I’m working, it gets my full attention. When I’m with my kids, they get my full attention. When I’m one-on-one with my husband, he gets my full attention. Quality over quantity is a philosophy I try to live by; the people in my life deserve the best version of me, even if that equates to shorter amounts of time rather than a spread-thin, stressed-out, or distracted me for more hours of the day. —Jordan Harper, CEO of a skincare brand and mother of a 4-year-old, 2-year-old, and 11-month-old twins
“I had to learn that mom guilt isn’t something that simply goes away as your kids get older.”
I experience some level of mom guilt on a daily basis because I know there’s always more I could do for my kids. I’ve felt it while speeding from work to after-school pickup, hoping my children aren’t the last ones waiting. There are times I’ve felt it after snapping at my kids while trying to clean the house. Or when I gave them EasyMac for dinner because I didn’t have time to prepare anything beforehand. Over the past five years (and three kids later), I’ve come to realize that this feeling of guilt doesn’t necessarily go away as your children get older. But, more importantly, I’ve also learned that experiencing this self-doubt and self-rejection doesn’t make me a bad mom, and the stress from the pressure to be “perfect” will never help me become any better for my kids. —Christina Kim, operations manager and mother of a 5-year-old, 3-year-old, and 3-month-old
“My kids don’t expect perfection from me. They just want me as I am, completely flawed but loving and committed.”
Mom guilt manifested for me when I returned to full-time work earlier this year. I rarely feel as if I have enough time for my two littles. I also rarely feel like I have enough time for myself, and when I take that time, it’s hard to shake the feeling that I am doing them a disservice by not being present. However, I’ve managed the feeling of not being enough by tempering my expectations and not comparing myself to an unrealistic standard of a “good mom” in my head. Many mothers overthink what being that really means, but “good” is subjective, and what might be good for you and your family may not be good for me and mine. Overcoming the feeling of mom guilt is something I’m forced to confront daily, but I do think, with time, I’ve learned not to let it get the best of me. —Lauren Winfrey, TV news journalist and mother of a 3-year-old and 11-month-old
“Forgive yourself, and allow yourself to do what you feel is right in that moment.”
One of my very first experiences with mom guilt was when our nanny took my oldest child to one of those baby classes. He was crying while the other kids were playing, and our nanny called me to tell me this. I just remember sitting in the office and starting to cry. I was like, Am I not paying enough attention to my kid? Am I not doing what I need to do as a mom? I try to remind myself during those moments, when I feel like I’m working too much, that I’m also setting a great example for my kids, who will know and remember their mom worked really hard. For moms who work a lot, I think it’s about constantly reminding yourself to balance the guilt in your head, with the acknowledgment of all the good you’re doing for your family—and not letting the shame get to you. —Margaret Wishingrad, CEO, entrepreneur, and mother of a 6-year-old and 2-year-old
“I get exhausted, but I know everything I do for my kids is worth it.”
In terms of juggling so many things at once, I'm not sure anyone has the perfect solution. But, when I’m confronted by requests for help with this and that, or I start to feel myself going into a spiral of both guilt and exhaustion, I take a deep breath to give myself a little reset.
What’s also really helped me is acknowledging that at the end of the day, I know I’m one of the lucky ones who wholeheartedly enjoys spending time with my kids. They are now delightful young adults—kind, funny, warm, and empathic. I’m blessed to have a good relationship with them, and when I get to spend time with them, all of the stress, the tiredness, and the never-ending list of things to do sort of falls by the wayside. The time we get together is precious and uplifting. —Janel Hastings, educational consultant, adjunct professor, and mother of a 16-year-old and 19-year-old
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Originally Appeared on SELF