Mom guilt involves feeling inadequate or like you’re not fulfilling your responsibilities as a mother. Mothers from all walks of life experience mom guilt, which stems from the desire to ensure that their children have happy, successful lives and invested parents. Sometimes, however, it’s important to slow down, be mindful, and allow yourself to forgive yourself.
Mom guilt comes from many places. In most Western societies, women work outside the home, and many women have fulfilling careers that they consider part of their identity. With the expectation that women should have success in the workplace as well as a happy family, it’s no wonder that busy moms feel guilty when they aren’t able to keep up. Sources of mom guilt are common, such as:
- Returning to work
In the US, most maternity leaves are six weeks to three months, depending on the state, company, and other factors. Taking time away from your job for legally protected FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) time when you have a baby can be a stressful time for some women.
Some families rely on two incomes to maintain their lifestyle and financial responsibilities. With the high cost of childcare in many areas, opting for one partner to not work can be a challenge for many. Returning to work creates the emotional stress of leaving the tiny human you just created.
- Not breastfeeding
The “Breast Is Best” campaign has helped many mothers embrace breastfeeding. However, sometimes breastfeeding isn’t possible or practical. Difficulty latching is a common issue, as is insufficient milk production. In addition, mastectomy or other breast surgeries can make breastfeeding impossible.
However, there is nothing wrong with formula feeding your baby or supplementing breast milk with formula. The most important thing is that the baby receives enough food and is growing properly.
- Leaving your child with other people
Mom guilt over dropping the baby off at childcare, even for mothers who have a relative watch their baby while they’re at work, is huge for many mothers. Babies change fast, and a lot of women worry about missing “firsts,” including first smiles, crawling, and first steps.
In addition, some women feel guilty or worried about having someone else watch their child. Do your homework when selecting a childcare provider, and don’t be afraid to trust your gut when leaving your baby with a nanny or sitter.
- Losing patience
Colicky, crying babies, midnight feedings, and constant clean-up can easily make a person feel frazzled. It’s normal to lose your patience with your baby, especially when you aren't used to having someone depend on you 24/7. When you start to feel overwhelmed, try to remember to take a few deep breaths to help you calm down.
- Comparing yourself to other moms
Seeing other mothers on social media heading off to a baby music class or making homemade, organic baby food can be a source of guilt for many moms. Just remember that what you see on social media, or even what you may see briefly at Mommy & Me classes or the grocery store, isn’t representative of that person’s actual life — it’s only what they feel like sharing, which is typically the good stuff. It’s normal to compare yourself to other mothers, but be careful about coming down too hard on yourself. Chances are other moms are just as stressed and overwhelmed as you are.
- Taking time for yourself
Everyone needs time for themselves to relax, decompress, and feel refreshed. Many new moms feel guilty when they indulge in a favorite hobby or even just curl up with a book. It seems with a baby, there’s always something that needs to be done around the house. However, it’s important to have balance in your life. Mothers who have hobbies and an identity outside of just being a mom tend to have a more positive outlook on life.
Mom guilt can be challenging, but there are several ways to tackle things that make you feel worried or guilty.
It’s OK to feel guilty! Most mothers feel guilty from time to time. Having a baby and raising children is a difficult task, and it’s unreasonable to be expected to do everything all the time. You’re human, not a superhero.
Once you've accepted that you feel guilty, see if you can pinpoint exactly what it is that’s causing you to feel that way. You may be able to brainstorm some solutions with a partner or friend to help alleviate some of your guilty feelings.
Make sure to take time to praise yourself. You may have completed meal prep for the week, finished several loads of laundry, or deep-cleaned your home. Or perhaps you took your baby to the park to feed the ducks or play on the playground. Focus on what you have accomplished, instead of all the things you wish you had.
While you may not be able to completely avoid that relative who seems to judge every action you take, try to minimize your interactions with people who make you feel guilty in conversation. This includes social media — it’s OK to hide or unfriend someone who regularly makes you feel bad. Take time to surround yourself with people who support and uplift you.
It’s important to practice self-care so that you can give your baby the best care possible. If you're aren’t taking time to eat properly or get enough sleep, you can’t give yourself or your baby the care you both deserve. Take time to care for yourself so you feel your best and have more patience with your baby.
For working mothers, it can be difficult to balance a career and time with the baby. Make sure to make time for just you and your child, even if it’s simply a cuddle session. When you do spend time with the baby, turn off your phone and focus on them to strengthen your bond.
As a mother, you may feel pulled in many directions, as though everything needs your attention, which can make it easy to forget about your partner. It’s also not uncommon to feel like they aren’t doing as much as you are. Take time out each week to reconnect and have one-on-one time with your partner to talk about things that aren't related to your child or household chores. This kind of communication is important for maintaining a healthy relationship.
Once you’ve looked at areas where you feel guilty, you may find there are ways you can delegate your responsibilities. Maybe your partner can do more household chores, or you could look into hiring a part-time nanny or housekeeper to help lift some of your burdens. You may try talking to family and friends, as well, offering to trade babysitting with your mom friends so that each of you can have some precious time to yourself.
If you feel overwhelmed, depressed, or constantly anxious, you may benefit from talking to a professional. Many mothers experience postpartum depression, and mom guilt can add to that. A licensed therapist or a counselor who specializes in issues facing new mothers can give you a space to talk through your experience and feelings.
Mom guilt is normal, and the responsibilities of motherhood, a career, and running a household can be overwhelming, especially for new mothers. Don't be afraid to say that you feel guilty, and make sure to prioritize investing in yourself, so you can be the best mom you can be.