No one prepared me for Mom Guilt. Since becoming a mom, and particularly since going back to work, I feel guilty all the time. Some days are guiltier than others. Take today, for instance. It all started when my son wanted to nurse an extra round in the morning and there wasn’t time, so I placated him instead with a smoothie and some toys. Meanwhile, we get out the door and load up the car. I’m in a mental state because already my clean shirt is dirty and I may be late to work… again. When we arrive at the babysitter’s, I open the hatch door, unload the stroller, and there’s my son, beaming at me. His smile reminds me to get out of my head and be in the moment. I need to stop stressing and take a breath.
We unload and I hand him off to his babysitter. Crying -the big tear type – ensues. He won’t let go of me. The sitter pulls him off while I simultaneously hand him over, apologizing profusely and telling him I love him. As she gets him into his stroller I walk away. I look back to blow him a kiss and notice him watching me, craning his head over the side of the stroller. He’s got a pout and a betrayed questioning look on his face that says, “What’s going on? I thought we were hanging out today.” I feel like a complete jerk. What kind of mom am I making my kid feel that way? Clearly, I suck.
I know he’s fine, and that he’ll have a great time playing the day away, hanging out with his playmates. But a good part of my morning is spent feeling guilt-ridden. It takes me almost my entire workday to shake the pervasive feeling of being an awful mom.
There are days that I feel guilty for no reason. I don’t even know what I did or didn’t do. Then, there are days that the guilt shines through like a homing beacon, illuminating my faults, in all their shameful glory. Take, for instance, when my son isn’t doing something I want him to do in the time I want him to do it. Usually, this comes on when I’m not able to accomplish what I want on my timeline: like trying to have (or maintain) a modicum of cleanliness in the house, doing something nice for myself, or getting out the door on time. I get frustrated and exasperated. Then common sense kicks in. Why should a one-year-old care if I’m on time or not? He’s innocent, relishing his own agenda, experiencing each moment to the fullest, as any one-year-old should. I catch myself, and the guilt seeps in. I’m projecting my associations with time, schedules, and the pressure to do everything “just so” onto others – in this case, my boy. Ouch! But, there is a silver lining. The instances that bring on the guilt let me know where I need to grow and how I can make myself a better parent and person through change and acceptance.
Guilt reminds me of how imperfect I am. A mother is always trying to do everything just right, the best she can, because that’s what we moms do. We’re all imperfect. Yet I think all of us strive to be the best possible human beings we can be for our children. And it’s in always striving to be the best, to do the best we can, that guilt shows up to remind us…buah hah hah hah ha….that we’re not.
So what do you do about Mom Guilt? Well, according to friends and colleagues, it’s a life-long affliction. For me personally, the solution I’ve found is to reflect and to acknowledge that it’s something that’s an inherent part of motherhood. I have to accept it, grow with it, and not let it control or define me. There are a couple of ways I do this:
I talk about it.
I write/reflect/exercise – find a way to just be with myself – and then I cry.
And if I still don’t feel better, I resort to my imaginary mantle of guilt (kind of like an invisibility cloak). When I’ve had enough guilt-wallowing, I envision flinging it onto a tree or wire outside that’s at least several hundred feet to a few miles away from me. Then, I imagine all the guilt I’m feeling being sucked into it. This makes me feel better in that at least I can pretend the guilt is leaving me. And in my book, there’s nothing wrong with pretending; I think we’re all faking it ‘til we make it.
So that’s it. I don’t think there’s any “getting over it,” but I do think there’s power in owning it to uncover a silver lining. And that’s all I’ve got so far. What do you do to cope with mom guilt?