Psychotherapist and mom of 4 recalls her biggest source of 'mom guilt'

It’s been seven years since the traumatic event (trauma with a little T) — seven years of sprinting to soccer, basketball and lacrosse several times a week, working from the parking lot when practice runs late; seven years of signing permission slips for museum trips, musicals and field days, and volunteering when possible with my packed patient schedule; seven years of dropping off cupcakes and allergy-free rainbow pencils for class birthdays.

And yet for years, my 10-year-old, Carolina, recalled with unbelievable clarity the day I forgot to send her to preschool in pajamas for PJ day.

I’m a therapist specializing in anxiety. This is my No. 1 source of mom guilt (Courtesy Niro Feliciano)
I’m a therapist specializing in anxiety. This is my No. 1 source of mom guilt (Courtesy Niro Feliciano)


“Do you remember when you forgot my Frozen PJs, and I came to school in my clothes when everyone else wore their PJs? Then you brought them and I had to change in the bathroom and my whole class knew? It was so embarrassing.”

Oh, yes, I ran home frantically, went back to school and made myself 15 minutes late for my first patient. It’s no wonder mom guilt is a real thing.

This is not to say that my kids aren’t grateful. They are. But these moments when I’ve dropped the ball — and they feel constant when you have four kids with busy lives — can be hard to let go of. When my kids feel embarrassed, left out or miss an opportunity because of something I forgot, the mom guilt feels like a 60-pound weight pressing on my heart.

What is mom guilt?

Simply put, mom guilt is what you feel when you criticize yourself because you didn’t live up to an expectation that you set for yourself as a parent.

Recently, I polled moms on my Instagram to ask if they've felt mom guilt and what triggered it. Many working moms responded that they felt it most when work prevented them from attending their kids’ events, whereas many stay-at-home moms felt bad for not doing enough around the house, even though they’re often at home. Other moms said they felt guilty when they encounter another mom who seems to be more successful at balancing their many responsibilities.

I’m a therapist specializing in anxiety. This is my No. 1 source of mom guilt (Courtesy Niro Feliciano)
I’m a therapist specializing in anxiety. This is my No. 1 source of mom guilt (Courtesy Niro Feliciano)

“I feel guilty that I can’t be at all the games or concerts,” one mom wrote to me.

“I can’t stay on top of my house, and I feel like I should because I am home, but there is no time,” added another.

“I feel guilty that I couldn’t manage my career and a family and I see so many others that do,” said a third.

My own pediatrician immigrant mom, who created an amazing life for our family from scratch, felt it too. “I would feel terrible when I said, ‘Don’t swim until I get home,’ and I’d get home late only to see you asleep in your bathing suit,” she once told me. (For the record, I have no recollection of this but plenty of fun memories with neighborhood friends on hot summer days in our backyard pool.)

Is mom guilt normal?

Yes, mom guilt is completely normal. In fact, a study that interviewed mothers in Sweden, Germany and Italy, which have better maternal leave and more parent-friendly policies than the U.S., found that mothers in these countries still felt guilt.

However, as I wrote in my book, “This Book Won’t Make You Happy: 8 Keys To Finding True Contentment,” normal should not be confused with healthy.

What has been asked of us as parents in this fast-paced, digital society is too much — too many emails, apps, extracurriculars, screen-time battles and fears over school safety. We sacrifice self-care and instead self-medicate and self-flagellate with social media.

I also believe how we’ve been taught about work-life balance is unrealistic. Balance implies everything is steady, virtually impossible when dealing with real adults and kids with unpredictable lives and emotions. But the pervasive belief is we should be crushing it at work, showing up to every school event and taking our kids home to an immaculate house. Of course so many of us feel like we are not enough.

Women between puberty and age 50 are twice as likely to experience anxiety compared to men, but as a therapist specializing in anxiety, I would say that mom guilt is different. Anxiety is excessive worry accompanied by specific emotional and cognitive symptoms. Mom guilt tends to be more constant, self-critical thoughts that can lead to anxious or depressed feelings.

If you’re struggling with mom guilt and notice it is negatively affecting your mood, energy and ability to function as a parent, talk to your doctor or seek out a mental health professional.

I’m a therapist specializing in anxiety. This is my No. 1 source of mom guilt (Courtesy Niro Feliciano)
I’m a therapist specializing in anxiety. This is my No. 1 source of mom guilt (Courtesy Niro Feliciano)

How to manage mom guilt

Here are some strategies that I’ve learned as a mom of four and psychotherapist to help manage mom guilt.

Stop “shoulding” on yourself. “Should” statements often result in guilt and, even worse, shame. We have to accept that we truly are doing the best we can on any given day and making the best decisions given what we know at that time.

Consider the positives of mom guilt. A little bit can actually help change behavior and prevent unfortunate situations from happening again. But mom shame is never acceptable. Remind yourself: That was a mom fail, but I’m not a failure as a mom. Separate the incident from your identity.

Talk to other empathetic moms. This can alleviate shame and help you realize we all have these moments. Even the moms who look like they have it all together will be the first to tell you they don’t. Shame always grows in silence, so let’s share our stories and laugh with each other.

Focus on your wins. When I fall short, I try to remember what I actually did accomplish that day or week and it’s a lot. When we stop to remember, it provides a more balanced perspective and often some much-needed compassion toward yourself.

Think about the parent you want your kids to be. It’s not the one who has it all together. It’s someone who gives grace, tries to be present, makes time to take care of their own needs and finds joy outside their kids. If I want them to know this, I need to model it.

Put it all in perspective. My faith helps me remember that I am not alone in parenting my kids, that one decision won’t make or break them, and that perhaps I was chosen to be their mom for a good reason, with all my challenges and my strengths.

After all, it’s our strength that pushes us to keep trying as moms and, in my experience, is what our kids end up remembering the most.

This afternoon, as I sat with my 10-year-old waiting to see her doctor, I told her I was writing my first piece on a mom fail, something I didn’t do.

“It’s about the PJs, right?” she asked.

“You guessed it. What do you remember about that day now?”

She thought for a minute and smiled. “I remember I wore my favorite ones.”

Niro Feliciano is a mom of four, psychotherapist, author and host of the podcast “All Things Life.” For more on Niro, visit

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