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Are You Plagued by Mommy Guilt? These Tips Can Help You Get Over It

As a parent, take a minute (if you can find one) and imagine the way you would feel in these situations:

  • A late meeting at work means you’re the last one to pick up your child from daycare and they’re sulking.
  • You planned to breastfeed for six months, but it got to be too much and you switched to formula when your maternity leave ended.
  • You’re picking up fast food for dinner again, even though you’ve been meaning to try one of those healthy, 20-minute recipes you saved.
  • It’s a beautiful day for a bike ride together, but your kid is sprawled on the couch watching SpongeBob SquarePants while you’re cleaning the kitchen.
  • Every gift at a classmate’s birthday party seemed to be educational, organic, sustainable or all of the above. Your kid regifted a Target gift card.

If the feeling that comes to mind is guilt, you might be experiencing mommy guilt. Of course, parents of any gender may feel as though they aren’t doing enough. But social and family norms mean these feelings are more common in mothers.

We connected with Francia Day, PsyD, a psychologist with Banner Health, to learn more about mommy guilt and ways to cope. 

What is mommy guilt?

Mommy guilt is a feeling that you are not being a good enough parent, questioning your decisions and focusing on the mistakes you think you’ve made or how your shortcomings are affecting your children. 

“Mom guilt refers to the feelings we can experience when we don’t feel we are living up to our own expectations or the expectations of others,” Dr. Day said. “I refer to this as the ‘shoulds’ in psychotherapy because it stems from all those messages in our heads about how we should be doing something better, faster or more often. It is the idea that we are not living up to a standard of juggling work, life and parenting demands.”

Guilt is a feeling that makes you want to act the way society expects you to act. Things like these can trigger mommy guilt:

  • Social media posts about supermoms who are doing it all
  • Comments from friends or family
  • Your own idea of what a “good” parent should do
  • Feeling like you don’t spend enough time with your children
  • Comparing yourself to parents who seem to be doing it all effortlessly
  • Taking time for yourself, even if it’s to exercise or rest
  • Making parenting choices others disagree with, such as co-sleeping, daycare or screen time limits

“It can especially come up when we are trying to make decisions about competing responsibilities,” Dr. Day said.

Mommy guilt can harm your mental health

This type of guilt isn’t something you should ignore. After all, you’ve probably got a lot of hands-on parenting years ahead of you.

Unaddressed, mommy guilt can fester and lead to:

Acknowledging and addressing mommy guilt is crucial for your mental well-being and good family dynamics. By understanding and managing mommy guilt, you can foster a more positive and nurturing environment for yourself and your family.

Take care of yourself without piling on the mommy guilt

Self-care can recharge your energy levels. But it can be tough to find time for self-care when you already feel like you aren’t doing enough and that can lead to more feelings of guilt.

“A good metaphor to consider is a bank account. You can’t keep making withdrawals or giving yourself responsibilities and stressors without making some kind of deposit through self-care. If you do, you can experience stress, anxiety and depression. And depleting your energy stores can also affect your physical health,” Dr. Day said.

Self-care can be anything you enjoy — reading a book, going for a walk, watching your favorite TV show, taking deep breaths, meditating or spending time with friends. 

“Self-care takes us away from the thoughts of what we‘should be doing and allows us to just enjoy the moment for what it is,” Dr. Day said. “Self-care is unique to you, and the trick is finding out what your own self-care tools are.”

Part of self-care includes getting the sleep, nutritious food and physical activity you need. You’ll manage the challenges of parenting and cope with any feelings of guilt better when you take good care of yourself.

Try not to compare yourself with others

Other people — especially the social media versions of other people — can make parenting look so easy. That mommy vlogger with the perfect hair making whole wheat pancakes? She might have edited out the wrestling match she went through to get her toddler in the highchair. 

And even if other parents seem like they have it all together, so what? Every family is unique, and whatever works for them might not work for you. 

Be realistic about what you can — and can’t — do 

“It is important to realize that some of the demands we put on ourselves are high and unrealistic. There is only so much time in the day, and giving yourself some grace by asking, ‘Am I doing the best I can?’ can help,” Dr. Day said.

Focus on the things that are truly important to you as a parent. Let go of the pressures you’re putting on yourself and concentrate on what matters to you and your family. 

Try to be flexible. Clothes get dirty, babies cry, siblings fight, traffic backs up and people get sick. None of these things ever happen at a convenient time. When circumstances change, try to adapt without feeling guilty.

And know that you will make mistakes — everyone does. Instead of beating yourself up, see them as ways to learn and grow as a parent.

Connect with people who know what you’re going through

“Most of us experience some level of mom guilt but we don’t talk about it. It is a very common experience caused by the demands of our world. Connect with friends and family you trust — that sense of connectedness can make the guilt feel less heavy,” Dr. Day said.

Other parents can empathize, understand, share their experiences and remind you that you’re not alone in your struggles.

It’s also important to communicate with your partner about your feelings of guilt and how you can support each other. Making parenting decisions together and sharing responsibilities can help reduce your guilt.

Be present when you’re with your child

It’s tempting to check your email, add a few things to your shopping list or answer a text when you’re spending time with your child. Whether you’re playing, reading or chatting, try to give your child your full attention. Knowing that you’re present for your child when you’re together can help keep feelings of guilt away when you’re facing time constraints.

Look for activities you and your child enjoy doing together, whether that’s watching movies, walking your dog, cooking or making crafts. 

What to do when the guilt gets to be too much

Sometimes, emotions may get overwhelming. Here are a few strategies you can tap into if that happens:

  • Practice mindfulness: Try deep breathing exercises, meditation or focusing on your surroundings. Mindfulness can give you perspective on your thoughts and feelings.
  • Challenge negative thoughts: Ask yourself if your feelings of guilt are realistic or might be in response to social pressure or overly high standards you set for yourself.
  • Reflect on positive moments: Take time to think about your parenting achievements. Record moments of joy, pride and gratitude in a journal and revisit these thoughts to remind yourself of your success and the love and connection you share with your children.

When to talk to a professional

“Seek help when the stress and guilt you are experiencing is affecting your ability to function and enjoy life,” Dr. Day said. “If it is becoming so significant and consistent that you cannot enjoy things you used to, you’re having difficulty making decisions or it’s affecting your work, family and health, it may be time to seek professional help.”

A licensed therapist or counselor can provide a safe and supportive space to explore your feelings, develop coping strategies and gain perspective. You can connect with help through individual therapy, support groups or online resources. You need to prioritize your mental health so you can parent effectively and take care of your overall well-being.

The bottom line

Mommy guilt is the feeling that you’re letting your kids down because you can’t do everything you might like to do for them. It can come from unrealistic expectations you place on yourself as a parent. While it can happen to parents of all genders, social expectations and cultural traditions mean mothers are more likely to experience it.

If you find that mommy guilt is affecting your mental health, your relationships or your well-being, talking to a professional can help. Reach out to your primary care provider for recommendations or connect with an expert at Banner Health.

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